Thursday, December 13, 2007

Zona Cake.

Three years ago, my father's mother, and my one remaining grandparent, passed. She was born Arizona Mae and went by Zona, her lifelong preferred shortening of her given name. Known broadly across her native Panola County in deep East Texas-- particularly after her husband's passing in the early seventies-- as Miz Zona, or Aunt (pronounced Aint) Zona by her legions of community admirers, hospital co-workers and younger family members, Zona was a remarkably detailed hand quilter, a sharp shooter of squirrels and other wood animal for supper. She was a gardener and a canning sensation, a fisherwoman, a snuff dipper, a buck dancer, a singer and storyteller, and a legendary cusser.

She was the daughter of a red headed Irishman and a tiny dark Choctaw / Cherokee mother whose people avoided the reservation and anything that would have taken them from the life they carved out themselves (kinsman Roby, they say, was a magnificent fiddler who passed up the opportunity to tour with Bob Wills as a Texas Playboy in favor of home, hearth, and familiarity.) Married at fourteen, birthing babies at fifteen, Zona was an amazing cook.
A pinch cook. A country cook. An intuitive down home wonder.

She made, each holiday season, a to die for icebox fruit cake. I may well have written of it here: two years ago, shortly after Ziggy was born, I attempted to approximate her recipe using those of others for inspiration and guided by taste and memory. What follows is what I came up with in homage to her and as a birthday gift for my father, her youngest and only remaining living child.

I shall try, again this year, to make this for my daddy next week.


2 boxes graham crackers
1 lb. mini marshmallows
1 stick butter
1 can Eagle Brand sweetened condensed milk
1 bag sweetened coconut
1 lb. pecan halves & pieces, toasted
2 lbs. mixed candied fruit (green & red cherries, pineapple)

Bust up graham crackers into crumbs-- I squished them in wrapper packs, then used a potato masher; it is not necessary to pulvarize them into itty bitty crumbs. Put this in a giant bowl. Add all dry ingredients.

Over medium-low heat, melt marshmallows w/ stick of butter and can of condensed milk.

Pour wet ingredients over dry. Mix. When it's cool, use your hands. Press mixture into big buttered tupperware (or two) and refrigerate at least over night.

Each time you wish to eat some, pull cake out of fridge and cut into hunks or pieces. It's craaazy good, craaaazy dense.

*It was a little bit dry; next time I'll add another can of sweetened condensed milk. I suspect that most recipes call for only a single one pound box of graham crackers, thereby making the wet ingredients lesser, but Zona never did anything half hearted or small: in my own memories, hers was always in the largest round Tupperware a body could get hold of, and I'll do it her way, thank you very much. The proper "set up" of the cake also depends largely on humidity, so the binding liquid may require slightly more or less.

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