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What's Cooking for the Holidays?

A Celebration of Georgia Piedmont Baking Traditions

On November 1, 2003, the Center for Public History presented an exhibit on southern baking traditions for the Carrollton Junior Women's Club "Art on the Square" event. We asked several of the women we have interviewed for our oral history project to make their favorite holiday treats. Below are the recipes and photographs from this event. We encourage you to enjoy these for the holidays, or any time of the year!

This program offered a preview of our new exhibit entitled "Biscuits, Cornbread, and Teacakes: Baking Traditions in the West Georgia Piedmont," available for display at no cost from the Center for Public History. Contact us for more information.

Caramel Cake, by Eloise Merrell


The recipe for Eloise Merrell's Caramel Cake is a traditional family recipe, with a few adaptations. Mrs. Merrell fondly recalls that her "Mother, grandmother, everyone made a 1-2-3-4 cake," but they would put different kinds of icings on it, such as coconut or caramel. She particularly enjoyed the caramel icing that Lenora Lane, a Carrollton resident, made. "I was always asking for the recipe," Mrs. Merrell recalls, and finally Mrs. Lane passed it along.

Mrs. Merrell first makes the traditional recipe for a 1-2-3-4 yellow cake. The secrets to making a good yellow cake are to fold in the beaten egg whites at the end and to not overcook it. She serves this cake on holidays and for her daughter's birthday, because this is her favorite cake.

3 cups plain flour
1 cup butter
5 eggs
3 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups sugar
1 cup sweet milk

Cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg yellows one by one. Add 1/3 of the flour, then 1/2 of the milk, 1/3 of the flour, 1/2 of the milk and then the last cup of the flour. Beat all the egg whites. Check it with a toothpick to see if it is done.

Caramel Icing
1/2 lb butter
12 box light and brown sugar
3/4 cup sweet milk
1 box confectioner's sugar

Melt butter, add brown sugar and milk. Boil 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add confectioner's sugar and beat with electric beaters until stiff. Cover cake.


Punchbowl Cake, by Eula Stitcher


Eula Stitcher found this recipe in the Carrollton newspaper, the Times-Georgian, about twenty-five years ago in an article for holiday recipes and she decided to give it a try. She liked nuts and pineapple and enjoyed trying new recipes. This punchbowl cake has now become a tradition in her family, and she always makes it for Thanksgiving and Christmas. It has become so popular among those she knows, that friends and family have asked for the recipe and they are now making it for their families.

The recipe can be adapted to different tastes, replacing the cherries with other pie fillings such as blueberry or strawberry. One of the reasons why this cake is so practical for the holidays is because it can feed a big family; this recipe serves between 25 and 30 people. It is literally prepared in a punchbowl and is not sliced but spooned onto a serving dish.

1 box yellow cake mix (Duncan Hines Butter mix is recommended)
1 large box vanilla instant pudding mix
1 large 20 ounce can cherry pie filling
1 large 20 ounce can crushed pineapple (drained)
1 large tub Cool Whip
1 cup chopped nuts (chopped for sprinkling)

Bake cake as directed on package. Cool and crumble. Prepare pudding as directed.

Place 1/2 cake crumbs in bottom of punchbowl.
Layer 1/2 pudding over crumbs.
Layer 1/2 pineapple next.
Layer 1/2 Cool Whip next.
Then layer 1/2 nuts.

Repeat the second layer in the same order. Refrigerate several hours or over night before serving.


Red Velvet Cake, by Sandy Pollard

Courtesy of Nellie Bennett


"For a short time in my childhood, we lived in Atlanta while my father finished his seminary work. My mother worked to support the family, and we stayed after school with 'Miss Marie,' a lady from church. Miss Marie was still a part of that 50s phenomenon, even in the late 1960s. She stayed at home, kept house, and cooked hot lunch for her husband, who came home from work to eat every day. Miss Marie introduced my family to Red Velvet Cakes."

"One cold day in November, Daddy came to pick up us kids from Miss Marie's house. She would not let us leave until we had a piece of her Red Velvet Cake. I thought it was the best thing I had ever eaten. True to its name, the cake was bright red, iced with a creamy, sugary white confection. With a wonderfully delicate 'velvety' texture, it just melted in our mouths. Later, my mother would tell me I had just eaten Crisco with lots of sugar in it; Miss Marie was too poor to afford butter. I didn't care; I thought it was the best thing I had ever eaten."

"We moved north when my Dad graduated from seminary, but we eventually came back to Georgia. When the holidays rolled around, women brought Red Velvet Cakes to the parsonage for Christmas presents. My mouth watered in anticipation of that wonderfully unique, moist, and velvety cake. Finally, I got the courage to ask for the recipe. . ."

" 'Vinegar? You put vinegar in this cake?? And a whole bottle of red food coloring??' Surely, that could not be correct. Perhaps someone made a mistake. How could something so wonderful have vinegar in it? But I tried the recipe, and sure enough, there was that wonderful cake. Miss Nellie, who gave me the recipe, used a cream cheese/butter cream icing on hers, and just sprinkled a few pecans on top. I actually prefer that icing now, although I can still tast Miss Marie's 'Crisco' icing every time I cut into a moist slice of Red Velvet Cake.

"Christmas is incomplete without Red Velvet Cake. It is almost as good as opening presents. There, on my footed Christmas cake plate, stands three layers of glistening white, crowned with pecans. Oh, but what a surprise awaits the cut of the knife. Red crumbs escape the cake as the first slice comes out, quivering in its height and moistness. The flavors blend in exquisite layers. It is worth an eleven-month wait. Oh yes; you know you are in the South when Red Velvet Cake is served at Christmas."

Red Velvet Cake:
2 1/2 c. self-rising flour
2 T. cocoa
Sift above ingredients and set aside

Beat until smooth:
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/3 cups oil
1 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla
Add flour misture and beat until smooth

1 (1 oz.) bottle red food coloring
1 t. vinegar
Beat until smooth.

Pour batter into 3 9-inch cake pans that have been greased and floured. Bake at 350 degrees until top springs back when touched lightly with fingertips and sides have begun to pull away from the pan, about 30 minutes.

1 stick softened butter
8 ox. softened cream cheese
1 box powdered sugar
1 t. vanilla
Beat butter and cream cheese until fluffy. Gradually add powdered sugar. Last, add vanilla. Frost cake with cream cheese frosting and sprinkle with chopped pecans.


Old Time Chocolate Pie, by Polly Suddeth


Pollyanna Suddeth's Old Time Chocolate Pie recipe is an ideal example of how traditional the ingredients and methods used in family recipes can give way to modern convenience. The first problem she confronted was deciding which traditional baked good she would bake. Mrs. Suddeth wrote, "In the old days we would just bake it ourselves, but now it's there for us to buy. . . I was tempted just to call Mike McGee at McGee's Bakery and ask him to bake up something nice." Eventually, Mrs. Suddeth decided to bake an adapted version of her mother's Chocolate Pie. The recipe replaces traditional ingredients with modern ones like Cool Whip and instant pudding. Mrs. Suddeth, however, feels that "They didn't have the new stuff in the old days, and she made it from scratch, but it's the same kind of pie my mother made."

Graham Cracker Crust:
Crumble graham crackers into a pie shell.
Pour melted butter over the crumbs and pack into shell.
Refrigerate to harden the crust.

1 pack of instant chocolate pudding mix
Mix 2 cups milk in pudding mix
Add 2 cups Cool Whip to pudding mixture
Pour into hardened shell
Add remaining Cool Whip to top of pie and refrigerate


Christmas Lizzies, by Evelyn Baxter Tamplin


"My mother always cooked fresh coconut cakes for Christmas. As a child, I liked to crack the coconut with a hammer and put a nail in it to drain the milk. She used some of it for the caek, but she let me drink it from the shell. She also made a jam cake with her own jam. she made an orange slice cake and used candy orange slides and nuts.

"When I had my own family about fifty or sixty years ago, I made candy, popcorn balls, cookies and some cakes. The thing we liked best was the cookie called the Christmas Lizzie. We made Christmas Lizzies before Christmas. They will keep for weeks if stored in a comtainer."

1 1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 stick margarine
4 eggs
2 Tablespoons buttermilk
3/4 cup wine
3 cups all purpose flour (have extra to sprinkle on fruit and nuts)
6 cups chopped pecans
1 lb. cut-up candied cherries
1 lb. cut-up candied pineapple
1 1/2 teaspoon each of allspice, clover, cinnamon
1 teaspoon soda

Cream margarine, sugar, and baking soda. Add slihgtly beaten eggs, and mix well. Mix milk and wind. Add flour alternately with wine and milk. Tumble fruit and nuts in flour. Add floured nuts and fruit. Drop by spoon on slightly greased pan. Cookies should be about the size of a pecan. Bake at 250 degrees for 35 or 40 minutes.


Sweet Potato Pie

Recipes by Annell Lindsey and Martha Ann Horton Stapler


The sweet potato is a common name applied to a perennial, trailing herb, belonging to the morning glory family. The plant native to the American tropics is cultivated on sandy or loamy soil and exists as an important food staple in the Southern United States. After harvesting, the root tubers are allowed to dry in the sun and then store under conditions of dry atmosphere and uniform temperatures.

Martha Ann Horton Stapler recounts the background to her sweet potato pie."As far back as five generations, my family has been storing them in a 'hill,' by making a bed of pine straw, piling the potatoes on the straw, and covering them with more pine straw. They then made a teepee of dried corn stalks and covered this with a thick layer of dirt. This kept the potatoes from freezing in the winter. By spring, if there were any potatoes left in the hill, these would be used for slips for the next year's crop."

"Sweet potato pie has always been a traditional dish for thanksgiving for my family. The recipe has been altered over the years. My grandmother made the pie starting with a homemade crust. This she made with shortening and water. The filling was made with sweet potatoes, sugar, butter, and vanilla flavoring. My mother added nutmeg to the filling. I do not like nutmeg, so I dropped that from her recipe and I add shredded coconut."

"Because of the fast pace of living, I now buy my pie crust from the super market. I still serve potato pie or as some call it potato custard at Thanksgiving. It is very good served as a desert, or it can be served with roast pork as a vegetable."

Annell Linsey's family almost always ate sweet potato pie for the holidays, along with other baked goods like pecan pie. as a child, her family raised an acre of sweet potatoes, saving some in a "hill" for the family to eat throughout the winter and selling the rest. they dug the potatoes in September and spread them out to dry. The first dug potatoes were usually called "green" potatoes, but they would become sweeter after the first month or so.

Mrs. Linsey began helping her mother in the kitchen when she was a child. She cannot remember exactly where she learned this recipe--it has been passed down through her family--but she has added her own special touches. First, she prefers not to put the potatoes in an electric mixer, as some cooks do today, but rather to mash them by hand with a potato masher. Second, she adds a little vanilla and lemon, mostly because she likes these flavors.

For one pie:
1 pound sweet potatoes, boiled in water with a little salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) of margerin
1 cup of sugar
1/2 cup milk
2 lightly-beaten eggs
dash nutmeg
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp lemon

Cook the sweet potatoes until tender and then mash them with a potato masher. Add the margarine to the sweet potatoes while they are still warm. Add the sugar, then the milk, then the eggs. Add nutmeg, vanilla, and lemon. Bake for 350 degrees for about 45 to 50 minutes.

Favorite pie crust:
2 cups White Lily self-rising flour
1/4 cup Crisco
3/4 cup milk

We hope that you enjoy these recipes of favorite baked goods from the Georgia Piedmont. to learn more about our southern baking project, please contact Dr. Ann McCleary.