Poor Man’s Cake and White Potato Pie, both trace their origins back to the depression when times were lean and one made due with ingredients on hand. I trace Poor Man’s Cake and White Potato Pie back to my sister in law , June , who grew up in tiny fishing village of Rock Hall, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
Rock Hall was once the major fishing and crabbing center on the Chesapeake Bay . Striped Bass (Rock Fish) were plentiful and weekends saw residents hosting fish fry’s and crab feast that included pan fried bread served with molasses and poor man’s cake and white potato pie for dessert.
June’s father was a waterman, which translates to feast or famine. When the fish were running and the crabs were fat there was money to be made. During the winter months when the bay froze over and the boats couldn’t leave dock one had to make due with what was in the pantry.
June’s Mother taught June how to make Poor Man’s Cake, a moist raisin cake made without eggs and butter. The cake is dark and rich, flavored with cinnamon and nutmeg, with every bite filled with raisins.
White Potato Pie is another one of June’s treasures that have been passed down through the generations of hard times in Rock Hall. Innovative cooks like June’s Mom, Molly, never threw anything away. When dinner was through, leftover mashed potatoes would be turned into custard and baked into a pie. Depending upon the cook, vanilla, lemon or nutmeg would be used for flavoring.
By the 1980’s watermen saw a decline in the Rock Fish Population and the state of Maryland put a moratorium on Rock Fishing from 1985 until 1990. Commercial fishing in the town began it’s down turn, and condos and tourists moved in.
Today Rock Hall is known as the Pearl of the Chesapeake and is a mix of watermen and vacationers. White Potato Pies can be found in the bakery next to gourmet cheese.
Locals and visitors sit on the bench in front of the local ice cream shop and the 4th of July is celebrated Norman Rockwell Style.
Watermen still live feast or famine. In January after finding illegal rock fish (striped bass) poaching on the Chesapeake Bay , the Department of Natural Resources closed the commercial season for 2011 leaving the watermen without their source of income.
June is now a great-grandmother. Family gatherings always include her famous Poor Man’s Cake and White Potato Pie and the family wouldn’t have it any other way.
Poor Man’s Cake
1 Box Raisins
2 Cups Water
2 Cups Sugar
3 Tablespoons shortening
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons baking soda
3 Cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
Combine raisins, water, sugar, shortening and spices in saucepan. Simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. Add baking soda to raisin mixture ( It will foam up) and then pour into mixing bowl containing flour and salt. Mix well. Pour into greased and floured 9×13 inch pan. Bake 350 degrees F. 45 minutes or until done.
White Potato Pie
2 unbaked pie shell
2 Cups mashed white potatoes
1 Cup sugar
¼ pound butter or margarine, melted
4 eggs, beaten
2 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk (I use can milk)
2 teaspoon vanilla, lemon or nutmeg
Combine potatoes, sugar, butter or margarine, eggs, salt, milk and flavoring. Pour into unbaked pie shell. Bake 350 degrees 45 minutes or until a knife inserted in center of pie comes out clean. Cool before serving.