Over four thousand years ago, a scribe in Sumeria (modern-day southern Iraq) wrote down the recipe for beer on a clay tablet. He composed it as a hymn to Ninkasi, the goddess of beer and brewing. The name means “The Lady who fills the mouth,” and the hymn may have been written to help apprentice brewers memorize the ingredients and method to make one of the staple foods of early civilizations.
About four hundred years later, the first known cookbook was written during the time of Hammurabi, famous for the Code of Hammurabi. Thus, this famous king of Babylon (also in Iraq) is responsible not only for giving us the first law book but also for a collection of twenty-five recipes probably enjoyed by him and his court. Twenty-one are meat stews and four are vegetable stews.
The recipe for Jerri’s Cherry Torte is not as old as those from ancient Iraq nor was it stamped in cuneiform on clay tablets, but nevertheless, it has an interesting history. I found the recipe while reading The Krehbiel Family Cookbook compiled by Lynne, Jerri’s oldest niece, to preserve recipes that she and her three sisters enjoyed while growing up near Medicine Lodge, Kansas. Concluding the recipe was a note that Jerri served this dessert when Jerri’s oldest brother, Lynne’s dad, brought his family to visit us in Murray, Kentucky.
When I asked Jerri where she got the recipe, she said it had to be from one of her older cookbooks, since I did not begin my cookbook buying binge until we had left Kentucky. We checked that small collection beginning with The Joy of Cooking, Liz Specials, and Betty Crocker’s Dinner for Two. Nothing even close. Then she exclaimed, “I’ll bet it was from the cookbook I got from my Home Ec teacher in high school.”
Sure enough. It took some doing to find the old book since the spine is gone and it is hard to spot on the shelf, but on page 250 of Food From Famous Kitchens is the recipe for Cherry Torte. In Jerri’s neat handwriting is a note: “Very good.” That is true enough, but it is also very simple to make, which may help explain why Lynne included it in their family cookbook.
I value simple recipes that taste good too. If you feel the same way, give this easy recipe a try.
For the torte:
16 oz. can of red sour pitted cherries
1 large egg
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 T butter
1 tsp. almond extract
1/3 cup chopped nuts
6 oz. cream cheese
2 T milk
For the cherry sauce:
1/4 cup sugar
1 T corn starch
1/8 tsp. salt
Reserved cherry liquid
2 tsp. lemon juice
1/8 tsp. red food coloring
Preheat the oven to 350º and grease and line an 8 by 2-inch round cake pan with waxed paper.
Drain the cherries and reserve the liquid. Beat the egg until lemon colored, gradually add the sugar and beat thoroughly. Stir in the well-drained cherries.
Sift the flour, salt, baking powder and cinnamon into the cherry mixture and mix well. Melt and stir in the butter and almond flavoring. Turn the batter into the cake pan and sprinkle the nuts evenly on top.
Bake at 350º for forty to forty-five minutes. Check for doneness with a toothpick. If the toothpick comes our clean, the torte is done. Invert the pan on a rack and cool the torte .
Make the cherry sauce while the torte is baking.
Mix the sugar, corn starch and salt together in a small saucepan. Add enough water to the reserved cherry juice to make one cup. Stir the liquid gradually into the sugar mixture and put the pan over medium heat. Stir constantly until the mixture comes to a boil. Boil for one minute. Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and food coloring.
To serve, cut the cooled torte into wedges. Blend together the cream cheese and milk. Put a spoonful on each wedge and and top with cherry sauce.