Mrs. Lanier’s Buttermilk Sheet Cake

On a yellowed scrap of paper torn from a sheet of the thin and inexpensive stationery you could buy in pads at the five and dime when I was a boy is a recipe written down for Jerri by Mrs. Lanier of Atlanta, Kansas. It’s probably the same paper that she used to write letters to her daughter Joyce. Joyce was married to Merle, one of Jerri’s twin brothers.

Atlanta is a small town, but it still has two churches, a United Methodist Church and a Christian Church. The Laniers belonged to the Christian Church, and you can be sure that Mrs. Lanier made her Buttermilk Sheet Cake for a lot of potlucks. For one thing, it’s delicious; for another, you can make it in a ranch house in the Flint Hills of Kansas with no electricity without tiring your arms beating the batter.


1/2 cup oleomargarine
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup water
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 T cocoa powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 tsp. baking soda


Preheat the oven to 400º.

Bring the oleomargarine, oil and water to a boil in a small saucepan. Sift the sugar, flour, cocoa and salt together into a mixing bowl. Pour the boiling liquid into the dry ingredients and beat well with a wooden spoon.

Beat the eggs with a fork or whisk until lemon colored. Then beat in the buttermilk and baking soda. Blend the egg and milk mixture into the cake batter and stir just until it is well mixed. You will have a thin batter that looks like milk chocolate.

Grease a 9 by 11-inch cake pan. Pour in the batter and bake it for 23 minutes on the center shelf of the oven. Test for doneness with a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake. If it comes out clean, the cake is done. If not, bake for two or three more minutes and test again.

Cool and frost with your favorite chocolate icing. You might want to try this very simple recipe for Good and Easy Chocolate Frosting.


1 cup granulated sugar
4 T butter
4 T milk
1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips


Stirring continuously, bring the butter, milk and sugar to a rolling boil in a small saucepan over moderate heat. Boil for 30 seconds. Remove the pan from the heat and quickly stir in the chocolate chips. Stir until the chips are melted. Cool and use.

NOTES: If necessary, return the pan to the heat to help melt the chips, but do not bring the frosting back to a boil. Add a dash of salt if you make this frosting with unsalted butter.

I normally avoid using oleomargarine for anything, but Mrs. Lanier was from Kansas, where even today restaurants serve oleo and call it butter. Jerri told me that the cake recipe did not work with butter, and I have learned to trust her. It definitely works with oleo. Try it.

3 thoughts on “Mrs. Lanier’s Buttermilk Sheet Cake”

    1. I’m not a fan of oleo at all, but Jerri has tried making this cake with butter, and it does not turn out as good. Butter has some solids and a bit more water in it than oleo and the oils are different. Sorry I can’t be or more help. This is one where I do what my wife tells me.


  1. The joy of remembering Grandma through her recipes is a wonderful antidote for my focus on the ills that plague the world. My mom made this cake, and I remember the chocolate frosting on the spoon. Carson and Shelby (greatgrandaughters) and I will make this cake this summer – by hand – although we will fire up the trusty electric oven. Thanks, Chuck.


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