December 11, 2013 9:53:41 AM
Jan Swoope - email@example.com
Admit it, some of us dread kitchen time and everything that goes with it -- the "what am I going to make?", the shopping list, check-out lines, the spills and dirty pans. And then, there's Fay Bell. The Columbus cook is the first to say there are days she wakes up and doesn't want to do a single thing except cook. And for a dessert specialist, what better time than the holidays to indulge in that pastime?
"I keep something sweet all the time," said Bell. It's something her husband of 56 years, Fred, and grown children -- Petie and Brent -- have always appreciated. While Fay may not cook the full meals she prepared daily before the children moved into homes of their own, everyone in the family knows where to go when sweet cravings hit.
On a recent Saturday, Fay Bell's kitchen counter was decked out for the holidays in pecan pies, orange slice cakes, coconut cake, sugar cookies and one of her favorite desserts to make, fruitcakes.
Fruitcake has fallen victim to a bad rap in some circles throughout the years, but a slice of Fay's moist, flavorful cake could change that.
Her preferred recipe yields a festive dessert filled with red and green cherries, pineapple wedges, dried apples, dates, raisins and nuts. Molasses, ground cinnamon and light brown sugar add to its aromatic yuletide appeal.
"I can eat fruitcake year-round," said Fay. "I like them, and I like to share." Share she does -- with neighbors, friends and fellow congregants at Grace Baptist Church in Columbus, where she often takes her coconut cakes, pies, banana puddings and other treats.
"Mama makes a good peanut butter pie, too," said Petie, who remembers the days she and her brother used to squabble over their mother's pound cake crust.
One cake in Bell's repertoire takes a month to make. One was in progress on the day of our visit. Like sourdough bread, the friendship cake begins with a starter -- from a friend. (If that friend doesn't materialize, there are recipes online for making the liquid starter, but you'll invest 50 days in your cake.)
Bell stirred the fruity mixture in a glass gallon jar on the kitchen counter.
"You're only supposed to use a wooden spoon," said the cook. (An Internet search reveals the "wooden only" rule seems based on the premise that acids in the starter liquid can cause some metals to begin to dissolve into the mixture.) Fay faithfully adds a new ingredient and more sugar to the jar every 10 days. The contents must be stirred daily.
"We can't even go out of town when she's making a friendship cake," said her good-natured husband, who is well known for his humor and community volunteerism.
Fay's experience makes her a fountain of practical tips. When it comes to pie crusts, for example, she recommends baking the crust for about five minutes before adding the filling. "It helps set the crust; it especially helps on pecan pies," she said.
Squeezing lemons? Fay first submerges her lemons in water and brings them just to a boil. "As soon as they're cool enough to handle, I squeeze them and they give more juice," she explained. Rolling lemons on the countertop also allows the juices to run more freely.
Like any good cook, Fay values her tried-and-true implements.
"I've got a special pan I've had for a very long time that I make my cakes in; I told Petie she better take care of that pan!" the baker smiled. The same goes for her wooden rolling pin that has made many a biscuit and pie crust.
When Fay Bell isn't cooking for Fred or friends, or planning for the weekly Monday dinners when Petie, Brent and their families join mom and dad around the table, the former pink lady volunteer might be found working in the backyard vegetable garden, making jellies or ringing a bell at a Salvation Army Christmas kettle, as she will, with Fred, at the Sunflower store in east Columbus Saturday.
Whether it's by giving away sweet desserts, or giving of time in the community, the Bells believe in the late Helen Walton's favorite saying: "It's not what you gather, but what you scatter that tells what kind of life you have lived."
FESTIVE HOLIDAY FRUITCAKE
(Makes 1 large or 2 small fruitcakes)
1 16-ounce Kroger fruitcake mix
1 16-ounce Kroger pineapples wedges (assorted colors)
1 8-ounce Kroger red cherries
1 8-ounce Kroger green cherries
1 cup dried apples, coarsely chopped
1 cup pitted dates, coarsely chopped
2 cups currants or dark raisins
1 cup slivered almonds
1 cup walnut halves
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup butter or margarine, softened
2 tablespoons dark molasses
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup bourbon or rum
ORANGE SLICE CAKE
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 pound orange slice candy, cut up
1 8-ounce package chopped dates
1 3-1/2-ounce can coconut
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups pecans, chopped
3/4 cup margarine
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup orange juice
For the glaze:
2/3 cup orange juice
1 2/3 cups powdered sugar
SOUR CREAM COCONUT CAKE
1 package Duncan Hines white cake mix
1 10-ounce tub Cool Whip
1 8-ounce tub sour cream
2 cups flaked coconut
1 cup sugar
DAY ONE: Pour one pint of starter liquid into a gallon glass jar. Add 1 29-1/2 ounce can of sliced peaches, after cutting each peach into four pieces. Add the juice to the starter, and add 2 1/2 cups of sugar. Stir every day for 10 days. Cover the jar with a saucer and leave out at room temperature. DO NOT cover tightly or refrigerate. Use only a wooden spoon to stir.
DAY 10: Add one 16-ounce can of chunk pineapple, cutting each chunk in half. Add the juice plus 2 1/2 cups of sugar. Stir each day for the next 10 days. The color will have changed, and your fruit will foam when stirred.
DAY 20: Add two 10-ounce jars of maraschino cherries, after slicing each cherry in half. DO NOT add the cherry juice. Add 2 1/2 cups of sugar and stir each day for another 10 days. The cherries will give the juice back its pinkish color.
After 30 days, you are ready to bake the cake. You will need ingredients for four cakes:
4 boxes Duncan Hines Butter Recipe Golden Cake mix (not Betty Crocker)
4 3 1/2-ounce boxes instant vanilla pudding
1 bottle vegetable oil
4 cups raisins (use 1/2 golden raisins)
4 cups walnuts, chopped
4 cups pecans, chopped
4 cups coconut (14-ounce package)
(Raisins, nuts and coconut are options, but all are very good together.)
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.