My parents did not have much money when I was growing up, but my mom had the purist “servant” attitude around. She had no money to give, but instead offered her time and energy for helping others in need. Our most valuable non-renewable resource, time, is what she gave freely to others. She offered her time in many ways, and never as the “Chair” of a committee or the coach of a sports team. She was the one who was always behind the scenes doing the grunt work, with little or no recognition and of course, expecting none. She would be the one cleaning the old house or scouring the new home when a family member or friends were moving. No job was too dirty or disgusting for her and she could fix almost anything! (I don’t hold a candle to my mom in this department, but what I learned, I learned from her and my husband, not my dad. My mom taught him which end of the hammer to use!) Her “gifts” to others were often very subtle ~ listening to a friend in need for hours on end, helping others with house cleaning (seems funny as ours was usually a mess) or other home repairs and providing home-baked goods for any one going through a tough time. She volunteered many hours at church and loved to counsel those in need. She had a very giving spirit and gave with the only means she had ~ time and effort. When she died, we were flooded with stories of how my mom had touched the lives of others through her kindness and selflessness. There were many stories from people we didn’t even know and who were virtual strangers to my mom as well. Bottom line, she always made time for others. I so wish I could be more like her.
Sadly, 14 1/2 years ago, my mom passed away. She had been sick for a few months and although there is never enough time, I tried to think of all the questions I had and advice I might need. We spent many hours talking and we both tried to make sure that there was nothing left unsaid. I think we did a pretty good job, except for one thing ….. my mom’s Matrimonial Cake Recipe!!
During the months that mom was sick, she walked me through the steps for making her delicious borscht and Christmas Cake (it is actually good too and I am not a big fan). I really tried to think of everything, but some how, her Matrimonial Cake Recipe did not come up in our conversations. I really can’t believe that I never thought of it as it was like her signature dish. She delivered more Matrimonial Cake to people in need and potluck dinners than I could venture to guess. It was kind of like “have cake will travel“. Her matrimonial cake was delicious and because it was inexpensive to make, this was a natural choice. Needless to say, dates were a staple in our pantry.
Since she passed, I have tasted many “date squares” trying to find a taste the replicated my mother’s. I scoured through the chicken scratch in her recipe books, but came up empty. I suppose that she made it so often, she never really needed a recipe and therefore I didn’t know its origin. I asked her sister, Lynn, shortly after she died, as I thought it might have been a family recipe, but she wasn’t sure what recipe mom had used. I did recall my mom saying something about the lemon juice being the key, but have never felt like I found the correct recipe. Last winter, I was in a local bakery and purchased some Matrimonial Cake, after sharing my story of how I was searching for this recipe. The owner of the bakery told me that her Matrimonial Cake was her mother’s recipe and was taken from an early edition (1946 or something) of the Five Roses Flour Cookbook. She also said that people travel across the city specifically for her date squares and that perhaps it was the same recipe. I bought the squares and they were indeed delicious and I was almost certain I had found the origin of the recipe, but was now on a hunt for an early edition of the cookbook. Several weeks later, my Grandma passed away and I got talking to another sister of my mom’s, my Auntie Joan. She lives in Alberta, so I had never asked her about the recipe before, but she said she did in fact have a family recipe that mom might have used. I had two great leads, but still no recipe in hand.
Just before we left on holidays, I was able to find a 1938 edition of the Five Roses Flour Cookbook in a local antique store and it did in fact have a recipe for “Date Shortbread” (Matrimony Cake) and a separate recipe for the Date Filling. I read over the recipe and it called for lemon juice, so I was pretty sure I found the source of her delicious cake. I bought the book for $8 and returned home excited. I knew I wouldn’t have time to test the recipe out before we left for holidays, but was looking forward to giving it a try when we got home. When we arrived home from our vacation, I began the daunting task of going through the many emails in our “in box” and I was so excited to find an email from my Auntie Joan, complete with the recipe she had promised. Thanks Auntie!! I compared the two recipes and found that the only difference was that my Aunt’s called for a pinch of salt and the cookbook said to add 1/4 teaspoon. I organized the ingredients and made a batch last night.
My kids had never tried Matrimonial Cake before as they always thought it looked gross and would opt for something different on the dainty trays or at the bakery counter. I wasn’t sure if it would pass the kid test or if they would even try it. The recipe is simple and the cake turned out really well. It didn’t cut perfectly, but I am sure that I can take responsibility for that as I was unable to restrain myself long enough to let it cool completely. We each had a piece (or two), warm, shortly after being removed from the oven. Mmmm good! (When completely cooled it cut fine.) The whole family loved it and now “Grandma Ruth’s” recipe can be passed on for future generations to enjoy. My dad popped over for a visit this morning and luckily there were still a few (and I mean very few) pieces left and he got to try it out as well. He agreed it was as good as mom’s and took a copy of the recipe for himself.
Grandma Ruth’s Best Ever Matrimonial Cake
This recipe is my Aunt’s Recipe, but I am pretty sure it was originally taken from A Guide to Good Cooking Five Roses Flour (1938).
*Use a pan that is approximately 8 X 14″ in size. (I wouldn’t go larger, but smaller will just make the layers thicker!)
The Moral of the Story:
Never give up!
I hope you enjoy this cake as much as we have over the years!