Introducing Miss NiNi’s ‘Royal Baking Court’

“The cookie jar was always full when we came home from school.” Those words, spoken by one of the daughters of our first inductees into Miss NiNi’s Royal Baking Court, were like music to my soul.

Not only was I privileged to learn more about the homemaking baking achievements of honoree, Mary Ellen Knop, but in the interviewing process, I learned that her husband, Calvin, as a youngster had grown up baking cornbread and cherry pies alongside his mother.

I am delighted to award both of these Atlantic octogenarians thrones in my baking royal court!

As addressed in an earlier column, it is my desire to share the baking stories of generations of gifted baking homemakers who preceded our current generations. By having shared their talents of mixing and folding ingredients to produce homemade baked products, they exemplified acts of love to those who enjoyed eating their hand-crafted delicacies. Those baking homemakers (men and women) were true home economists! They may not have had a degree that said so, but just by daily experience in the kitchen, they excelled summa cum laude in this noble area of study.

Mary Ellen considers herself a self-taught baker but does glowingly admit that Calvin’s mother, Lena, taught her how to make pies. Mary Ellen acknowledges being very thorough and exact in her mixing and baking techniques. When her daughters were in the kitchen, she would often give the charge “It doesn’t take any longer to do it right than it does to do it wrong.”

She said to me, “Baking is not my favorite pastime.” Even at that, her tremendous talents over the years, especially in baking Black Raspberry Pie and Lake Taneycomo Chocolate Pie for family gatherings will someday truly be missed by her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. “If Grandma doesn’t make her pies for our holiday meals, it just wouldn’t be the same,” nostalgically said one of her granddaughters.

When talking about learning to bake over 60 years ago, Mary Ellen was quick to say, “Remember, we didn’t have chip chocolates (chocolate chips) or minute tapioca. We had no electric mixer-only an egg beater.”

As a child, Calvin became an expert cornbread baker, performing this responsibility on a daily basis. Part of his baking process was to “Drop the pan of cornbread on the counter three times before putting it into the oven,” he said. “That way, the extra air bubbles were removed.” Thinking that step was the key to successful cake baking, he also dropped the angel food pan full of batter on the counter three times before putting it into the oven. Woops, unfortunately pretty much all of the air had been bounced out of the cake, discovering a flat cake in the pan at the end of the baking time!

Calvin worked side by side with his mother in the kitchen for a number of years. By growing up as the youngest in a farm family of three boys in the 1930s, he was needed to work inside the house as his brothers covered the work responsibilities alongside their dad on the farm. With his mother’s gentle guidance, he skillfully learned to bake pies, particularly cherry pie, and passed his culinary knowledge on to his sister-in law.

I can speak first hand of the wonderful aromas and flavors of baked products that have come from the kitchen of Calvin and Mary Ellen Knop. For the past 40 years, I have been blessed to have been a part of their family. I proudly and lovingly call them my parents-in-law.

Treasure the following recipes from Mary Ellen and Calvin.

Sour Cream Chocolate Cake is “the first thing I baked,” cites Mary Ellen. “I made this when I was about 10.” it is being submitted to you from her original recipe card, dotted with grease stains and drops of chocolate cake batter.

Calvin’s Cornbread has been in our family for generations and will continue to hold a place of honor. It, too, is being submitted from his original recipe card from his grandmother.

SOUR CREAM CHOCOLATE CAKE (as submitted by Mary Ellen Knop)

1-1/4 cups flour

1 cup of sugar

2 Tbsp. cocoa heaping

1 tsp. soda

¼ tsp. of salt

1 cup sour cream

2 eggs

Vanilla

Beat eggs in bowl. Add sour cream. Sift in dry ingredients. Mix well. Pour in loaf pan and bake.

CALVIN’S CORNBREAD (as submitted by Calvin Knop)

1 egg beat hard

1 cup sweet milk

½ tsp. salt

1/3 cup sugar

1-1/3 cup flour

2/3 cup corn meal

3 tsp. B.P.

3 Tbsp. melted fat

Author’s Note: No mixing method is given with the ingredients.

NOTE TO READERS: It is my desire to honor additional baking homemakers (men and women) in Miss NiNi’s Royal Baking Court. However, I need your help. Please contact Miss NiNi at chat@missnini.com. with the names of those you feel worthy as potential honorees.