Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Easter Hat Cake

Easter Hat Cake
Dorcas Annette Walker

I’ve always been fascinated with hats. In fact some people call me the hat lady. I blame the English genes on mother’s side for my obsession. My mother wore small hat-like bonnets that curved along the back of her head whenever she dressed up. I grew up eyeing different colors of bonnets perched snugly on top of her red hair matching whatever she wore while traveling in the back seat of our car. Whether it was a stiff starched white nurse’s cap worn at work or a dress-up bonnet trimmed with lace, my mother always had the look of a lady.

Hats have been worn since primitive times often used as protection from the elements. Women were always expected to have their heads covered. Veils, kerchiefs hoods, capes, and wimples were used until sometime during the 15th century when structured hats of silk velvet taffeta, leather, felt, and beaver appeared. These structured hats were worn in the upper and middle classes as well as by countrywomen. A maker of women’s hats was first recorded in 1529 and by the late seventeenth century women’s headgear began to emerge. The first half of the 19th century bonnets dominated women’s fashion with many ribbons, flowers, feathers, and gauze trims. From the 1930’s to the 1950’s New York became the world’s leading millinery city. During this time hats had higher crowns with smaller brims. In the 1960’s men and women dressed less formally and the hat was more casual. Since the 1980’s to the 90’s there has been a revival of interest in women’s millinery. Today there are still two basic styles of hats: brimmed and brimless, and two basic forms: caps and hats that create a never-ending range of headwear for men and women.

Hats are an individual style depending on the size and shape of the head. My sister and I do not look good in the same style of hat. Lois looks best in a close-fitting brimless hat while I need a brimmed hat that shadows my features. Understanding this basic rule helps a woman find the hat that fits her best. There is a fatal attraction about hats. Strangers often comment about my hats and for some reason fellows especially love to see a woman wearing a hat. Since I wear hats people are always giving me hats in all kinds of sizes and shapes. A lot of my hats are antique- not only because I love to collect older styles, but I have a small head and antique hats fit me better. I have made hats and love to give the hats I wear a personal touch with ribbons and flowers. Spring is the time of year I go wild with flowery pieces of millinery that will last all summer. I already have a special hat ready to wear for Easter Sunday.

Whether you plan to wear a hat Easter Sunday or not here is a hat that you can make and enjoy. I made an Easter Hat Cake for my niece, Stacy’s, birthday last week. Not only is it good to look at, but it tastes delicious as well. The Easter Hat Cake is simple to make and you can create your hat cake to suit your individual style or taste. It’s sure to be an instant winner for Easter Sunday. My Easter Hat Cake is a light yet moist dessert that will fit with any meal. Preparation time for the Easter Hat Cake takes around thirty-five minutes and this recipe serves eighteen.

Easter Hat Cake

1 cake mix any flavor (I used a yellow cake mix and pineapple juice in place of water)
Prepare as directed. Pour batter until it covers the bottom of a 10 inch cake pan and fill a 5½ inch oven-proof bowl half full. Bake at 350º for 15-20 minutes until done and cover until cool.

1 pkg (3.4 oz) vanilla instant pudding
1 (20 oz) can of crushed pineapple (drained)
1 (16 oz) container of cool whip
Stir together the dry pudding mix and crushed pineapple. Add almost half of the cool whip and mix well.

Cut the bowl-shaped cake in half. Spread filling in the center of the flat cake (the crown) and place the bottom half of the bowl cake on top. Add more filling and sit the rounded part of the bowl cake on top of that to make the bonnet. Ice the entire cake with cool whip and cover with shredded cocoanut. Finish decorating the hat cake with ribbons, fresh flowers, or candy flowers and serve!

Weekly tip: An up-side-down pizza pan or large cookie tray covered in tinfoil is an excellent solid platform to use for large cakes!

Dorcas Annette Walker is a published author, syndicated columnist, freelance magazine writer, and photographer from Jamestown, Tennessee. Contact her at: For more information check out:

Friday, March 14, 2008

Grandma's Chicken Pot Pie

Grandma’s Chicken Pot Pie
Dorcas Annette Walker

March weather is fickle at best. It teases and tantalizes with hints of warm summer days just around the corner. You never know from what day to the next whether to wear warm winter clothes or something cool and summery. In fact the day may start out with a freezing chill only to warm up like summer by noon. The earth itself here in the Tennessee mountains plays hide-and-seek with spring flowers appearing overnight by magic. It is hard for me to stay indoors on a sunny spring day. I find myself making endless rounds of my flower beds trying to catch green shoots popping out of the ground and seeing if the buds on my daffodils or tulips have opened. My fingers itch to work in the dirt and I start dreaming of my first taste of a vine-ripened garden tomato. This is the time of the year I make my Grandma’s Chicken Pot Pie to help survive spring days.

Vegetables are defined as a plant cultivated for eating whether it be the root, leaf, or flower buds. In 1582 was recorded for the first time the adjective use of vegetable that is familiar to our usage today. It was not until the 18th century that vegetables became used as a noun to identify the kinds of plants that are eaten. Vegetables are an important source of vitamins. Most vegetables are low in fat and contain no cholesterol. They also are high in minerals and fiber. Here are some veggie facts. Carrots provide Vitamin A with fiber and potassium. Baby carrots are produced year round. They became so popular that demand exceeded the capacity to produce them so now regular carrots are cut into shorter lengths and peeled to look tiny. When corn is eaten fresh it is considered a vegetable. When corn is allowed to mature, dry, and is ground up it is then classified as a grain. There are about fifty varieties of green beans produced in the United States. Some green beans are string-less and grow close to the ground while others climb poles. Peas are a medium starch vegetable with good sources of vitamin C and fiber. Most peas are frozen or canned. Snow peas or Sugar Snap pea pods are eaten raw or stir-fried. The potato is America’s most versatile vegetable rich in potassium and Vitamin C that comes in a variety of color and sizes and is served baked, mashed, boiled, or fried. Potatoes also are used in casseroles, soups, appetizers, and snacks. The potato has been an essential part of the world’s diet for centuries first cultivated by the Indians in the Andes Mountains of South America then finding its way to Europe by the 16th century. By the end of the 17th century the potato was an important crop in Ireland. Today potatoes are grown in over 100 countries. The potato is only 20% solid and 80% water with most of the nutrients located just below the skin layer. The average American eats 140 pounds of potatoes each year including over 50 pounds of French fries. Thomas Jefferson is credited for introducing French fries to America.

My Grandma’s Chicken Pot Pie oozes with lots of vegetables interspersed with pieces of chicken making it a colorful summery dish that is a feast for the eyes on a cloudy spring day. This casserole is a hardy and filling dish packed full of vitamins and nutrients with a thin biscuit-like topping. Grandma’s Chicken Pot Pie can be eaten by itself or served with a tossed salad. Preparation time is around thirty minutes and this recipe of Grandma’s Chicken Pot Pie serves twelve.

Grandma’s Chicken Pot Pie

Cook in salt water until soft:
2 c peeled and cubed potatoes
2 c frozen mixed vegetables

Drain and mix in:
2 c sliced cooked chicken

1 can celery soup mixed with one cup of milk and one cup of water (can use a cup of chicken broth in place of water)
Pour into a greased 9 x 13 baking dish.

In a small bowl mix together:
1 stick of margarine sliced
2 c self-rising flour
2 c milk
Pour over the top and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake at 350º for 30 minutes until the crust is golden brown and a knife inserted into the crust comes out clean. Serve piping hot to warm the body and soul!

Weekly tip: When boiling vegetables leave the lid of the pan tilted slightly to maintain color. A small chunk of margarine added to the vegetables while cooking will help prevent the water from boiling over!

Dorcas Annette Walker is a published author, syndicated columnist, freelance magazine writer, and photographer from Jamestown, Tennessee. Contact her at: For more information check out:

Pistachio Parfaits

Pistachio Parfaits
Dorcas Annette Walker

I’ve always thought that there was something elegant about pistachio pudding, so wasn’t too surprised to find out that legend has it that the Queen of Sheba decreed pistachios to be an exclusive royal food. Nebuchadnezzar, the ancient king of Babylon, had pistachio trees planted in his famous hanging gardens while Emperor Vitellius, in the first century, made pistachio nuts famous in the capital city of Rome. Akbar the Great hosted lavish banquets where the chickens to be used were fed pistachio nuts six to eight weeks before the banquet to add flavor to the meat. Whether it is the green spring color or rare taste, pistachios hint of history and mystery. My Pistachio Parfaits dessert will bring springtime to your table no matter what the weather may be outside for St. Patrick’s Day.

The pistachio nut is a native of Middle Eastern countries and has been cultivated for over 10,000 years. It is considered by some to be one of the oldest edible nuts on earth and is referred to in the Old Testament. The tree was first introduced to the United States by Charles Mason in 1854. Pistachio trees grow slowly to a height of 25 to 30 feet and are considered ornamental. Male and female trees must be present for the fruit to set. Small brownish, green flowers without petals bloom in the early summer producing fruit that appears like clusters of grapes. The nuts are harvested when the hull changes from green to an autumn yellow/red, becomes loose, and splits. In Iran the semi-opening shells have given pistachios the name “smiling pistachio” while in China pistachios are called the “happy nut”. The kernels are eaten whole, either fresh or roasted and salted. In the Greek Islands pistachio are cooked, preserved in syrup, and used as a sweet delicacy to serve guests. California produces almost all of the U.S. pistachios that are used commercially- some 346 million pounds in 2004- and is the world’s second largest producer. It was not until the 1930’s when vending machines became popular that pistachio nuts rose to popularity as a snack food in the United States. Pistachio ice cream was created by James W. Parkinson in the 1940’s. Today shelled pistachios are used in confectionery, ice cream, candies, bakery goods, puddings, casseroles, sausages, and for flavoring. Pistachio nuts are rich in oil with health claims that a diet of eating nuts such as pistachios will reduce the risk of heart disease and hypertension. One word of warning: don’t go overboard and buy large quantities of pistachio nuts as they are highly flammable and prone to spontaneous combustion!

My Pistachio Parfaits are a light creamy dessert interspersed with layers of rich chocolate that heightens the pistachio taste. Even my son, after a first dubious look and cautious taste, was quite impressed with the Pistachio Parfaits. Unless one is allergic to nuts this dessert is a sure winner for your St. Patrick Day celebration. The Pistachio Parfaits are simple to make only using four ingredients and takes about fifteen minutes to prepare. This recipe serves six.

Pistachio Parfaits

2 pkg (3.4 oz) Pistachio pudding/pie filling
4 c cold milk
½ (8 oz) container of cool whip
1 (11.5 oz) chocolate fudge ice cream topping

Prepare the pistachio pudding as directed and set aside. Microwave the chocolate fudge ice cream topping for one minute until soft and runny. Layer pudding, chocolate topping, and cool whip in any clear glass dessert dish/parfait finishing up with the chocolate topping. Cover and chill until ready to serve. Top with cool whip, any St. Patrick’s Day decorative, and serve!

Weekly tip: The coldest part of the refrigerator is the top back shelf and for highest efficiency, air should circulate around each container!

Dorcas Annette Walker is a published author, syndicated columnist, freelance magazine writer, and photographer from Jamestown, Tennessee. Contact her at: For more information check out:

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Ole Fashion Peanut Butter Cookies

Ole Fashion Peanut Butter Cookies
Dorcas Annette Walker

March 1st is National Peanut Butter Lover’s Day! National Peanut Butter Day turned into a National Peanut Week in 1941 and expanded to a month-long celebration in 1974. Suffolk, Virginia has an annual peanut festival each October including a peanut butter sculpture contest. And if you don’t get enough peanut butter in March, hang on as National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day is coming up April 2nd. So to start out the month of March, I’m sharing an old fashion Mennonite recipe that I’ve made through the years as my kids grew up. Last Sunday night I took a batch of my peanut butter cookies to our home church’s bi-monthly birthday celebration where they disappeared fast. I was told over and over how delicious my cookies were. There are some recipes that time and age doesn’t diminish. My Ole Fashion Peanut Butter Cookies are one.

Peanuts originated in South America where the Incas were known to have made a paste out of peanuts. Today Georgia, Alabama, and Florida are the three states where peanuts are primarily grown. In 1890 an unknown St. Louis physician encouraged a food product company to process and package ground peanut paste as a vegetarian protein supplement for people with bad teeth. About the same time, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg began experimenting with peanuts and obtained a patent in 1895. This peanut butter was not as tasty as the peanuts were steamed instead of roasted. In 1903, Dr. George Washington Carver began his peanut research and developed more than 300 uses for peanuts. He is considered by many to be the father of the peanut industry. Krema Products Company in Columbus, Ohio began selling peanut butter in 1908, is the oldest known peanut butter company, and still is in operation today. In 1958, Procter & Gamble introduced Jif Peanut Butter and now operates the world’s largest peanut butter plant producing 250,000 jars per day. A jar of peanut butter, well known throughout the Pennsylvania Dutch country that is made and produced by my cousin, sits on my pantry shelf bearing my maiden name: Landis Peanut Butter.

Peanut butter today is made similar like 100 years ago. By law it must contain 90% peanuts with no artificial sweeteners, colors or preservatives. Some brands add 7% natural sweeteners and 1% salt for taste, plus a stabilizer to keep the peanuts and oil from separating. Peanuts are planted after the last frost in April using specially grown and treated peanut kernels from the previous year’s crop. The peanut plant grows into a green oval-leafed plant about eighteen inches tall producing delicate yellow flowers. Peanuts are harvested 120 to 160 days after planting by lifting the plants from the ground with a digger, shaking the soil from the plant, and laying it up-side-down to dry in the sun for 2-3 days. Peanuts are picked from the vine by a windrow and dumped into wagons, taken to buying stations where the peanuts are weighed, graded, and inspected. From there the peanuts travel to shelling plants where they are separated by size. Peanut butter manufacturers roast the peanuts in special ovens and rapidly cool the peanuts to retain an even color and prevent the loss of too much oil. Then the outer skin is removed, the kernels are split, and the peanuts are cleaned and sorted a final time. Peanuts are ground in two stages as one long grinding process would damage the flavor. In the second stage, salt, sweetener, and stabilizer are added. While peanut butter has no artificial preservatives an opened jar is still stored on the self at room temperature. Peanut butter is known to lower blood pressure, protect against breast cancer, and fight adult-onset diabetes. Peanuts are cholesterol free and low in saturated fat. Americans eat three pounds of peanut butter per person each year- roughly about 700 million pounds. Two peanut farmers have been elected president: Thomas Jefferson and Jimmy Carter. One acre of peanuts will make 30,000 peanut butter sandwiches. One final fact: peanuts are not nuts at all- they are legumes like beans, peas, and lentils!

Ole Fashion Peanut Butter Cookies

In a large bowl cream together:
1 c shortening
1 c peanut butter (I use crunchy)
1 c brown sugar
1 c regular sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

3 c self-rising flour
Mix together thoroughly. Form balls from a heaping tablespoon and place on greased cookie sheets. Flatten the ball of dough with a fork. Bake at 350º for fifteen minutes. Store cookies in an air-tight container. This recipe makes about three and one-half dozen cookies!

Weekly tip: Old fashion or natural peanut butter will separate. Stir in the oil as the peanut butter is still good!

Dorcas Annette Walker is a published author, syndicated columnist, freelance magazine writer, and photographer from Jamestown, Tennessee. Contact her at: For more information check out:

Chocolate Pudding Cake

Chocolate Pudding Cake
Dorcas Annette Walker

A special kind of love is friendship. I firmly believe that one is never poor as long as they have friends. I have been blessed with many different friends throughout the years. Some acquaintances I’ve had lasted only for a period of time while we pastored a local church fading away once we had moved out of the area. Other school friends are kept in contact with once a year through Christmas news letters. True friendship I’ve discovered is one where neither time nor distance mars the relationship.

I had such a link with another girl whose name was the same as mine. It was an instant connection the first time we met. Even though the other Dorcas was a couple of years younger than I we shared many similarities. I was Dorcas Annette, she was Dorcas Ann. We both had preacher fathers who had handicaps- my father had severe hemophilia while her’s had been crippled from polio when a child. Both of us married preachers were musical, loved planting flower gardens, and cooking. People mistook us for sisters when we were together as we were the same size, had dark brown eyes, and hair that tends to curl. One of the main features of our friendship was laughter. Letters to each other were always filled with smiley faces. Both of us loved being a mother and helping our husbands in the ministry. Life took a drastic detour when Dorcas discovered a lump on her breast when her youngest daughter was only a year old. Chemotherapy followed a radical mastectomy. Dorcas lost her beautiful long brown hair but not her spirit. Her main focus became staying alive until her children were grown. In phone calls to each other our laughter hid tears as we joked about her new look with her wig and people’s crazy personal questions. We rejoiced together when Dorcas’ cancer went into remission, which lasted all too short a span of time. When cancer spread to her bones, Dorcas’ husband resigned their church and moved the family back to her parents. Dorcas no longer fussed over indignities suffered at the hands of medical technology in her fight for cancer. Each year became another milestone in her goal to raise her children. Almost two years have passed now since Dorcas lost her battle to cancer. Her children were all teenagers. Even though Dorcas is gone the memory of all the laughter we shared is like the aroma of a freshly baked cake. Her friendship is something I will always savor. Whenever I make a Chocolate Pudding Cake I fondly remember Dorcas. This is a recipe she shared with me after one of our visits together.

There are two types of cocoa powders. The Dutched or Dutch-style coca is when the beans are treated with an alkaline solution to make them darker in color and milder in flavor. Non-alkalized cocoa such as Hershey’s is the natural cocoa that tends to be lighter in color but less mellow in flavor. Cocoa trees originated in the foothills of the Andes in South America and spread south of the Equator. Cocoa comes from the dried, partially fermented seeds of the cacao tree. Cocoa pods are harvested and piled in bins for several days to ferment, which is important for the quality of flavor. Then the beans are spread out to dry over a large surface and constantly raked. Next the beans are trodden on by human feet where red clay water is sprinkled over the beans to obtain a finer color, polish, and protection against molds during shipment to factories. Cocoa powder is then made from roasting and grinding the cocoa seeds. It takes three to six hundred cocoa beans to make two pounds of chocolate. Chocolate has been linked to better cardiovascular health, reducing blood pressure, and expand learning and memory. What do you know? Becoming a chocaholic like some of us may actually be healthy!

My Chocolate Pudding Cake is made from scratch that Dorcas and I tweaked to add more pudding to the end result. Served up-side-down the Chocolate Pudding Cake melts in your mouth. Hidden nuts in the cake give a culinary surprise twist. The Chocolate Pudding Cake can be served hot from the oven or let cool to room temperature. Preparation time is only ten minutes and this recipe serves sixteen.

Chocolate Pudding Cake

Mix together in a medium bowl:
2 c self-rising flour
1½ c sugar
3 tb cocoa powder
¼ c cooking oil
2 tsp vanilla
1½ c milk
Stir well and add:
1 c chopped nuts (your choice)
Pour batter into a greased 9 x 13 baking dish.

In a small bowl mix together:
2 c sugar
½ c cocoa
Sprinkle over the batter.
Then pour 3 cups of cold water on top. Bake at 350º for one hour until the cake is done. Garnish with cool whip and a strawberry on top!

Weekly tip: Adding a pinch of salt to chocolate dishes will enhance the flavor!

Dorcas Annette Walker is a published author, syndicated columnist, freelance magazine writer, and photographer from Jamestown, Tennessee. Contact her at: For more information check out: