Two weeks ago Mike and I went to the Ohio State Fairgrounds to plant a new tree in the Governor’s Grove, which is a beautiful area of the fairgrounds in the Ohio Department of Natural Resources area.
It is such a beautiful part of the fairgrounds — our favorite when we take our young grandkids, because all the children get a chance to fish there, with wonderful guides who help them. The governor gets a chance to plant a new tree each year in the Governor’s Grove. This year we chose a Shagbark Hickory tree to plant. It is a beautiful tree. The bark “exfoliates in long flat plates with outwardly curving ends.” It looks shaggy! The bark is actually an important roosting site for the federally endangered Indiana bat. Hickory wood is among the strongest woods native to the U.S. It is denser and stiffer than white oak, so it is often used for tool handles and flooring. President Andrew Jackson was nicknamed “Old Hickory” because he was considered to be tough as a hickory tree! The nuts are a great food source for wildlife, and the wood is also very popular for barbecue enthusiasts — it gives a delicious distinct flavor to smoked meats.
We have a couple of beautiful Shagbark Hickory trees on our farm. I sometimes collect the nuts in the fall, if I can get them before the wildlife does. The nuts are pretty hard to crack and even harder to pick the nut meat out. But I remember as a child my grandfather Hawkins picking up the nuts and painstakingly shelling them and picking out the nut meat so my grandmother could make a hickory nut cake. She just needed one cup to make his very favorite hickory nut cake. It was a labor of love, and it was delicious! You can’t just go to the store and buy hickory nuts, so today I’m going to make her cake with walnuts. I think I will toast them a little first because that brings out more flavor. Grandma Hawkins frosted her cake with a “Seven Minute Frosting” and then sprinkled a few finely chopped nuts on top. She also used this same recipe to make her prized “Lady Baltimore Cake.” To make this, omit the hickory nuts and make a filling of 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, 1/3 cup raisins cut fine, and 1/3 cup figs cut in strips. It is also frosted with Seven Minute Frosting.
My resolution is to pick up some of the nuts this fall, and to make sure that I get at least a cup of nuts shelled so I can make that cake in memory of my grandparents. My mother gave me a beautiful glass pedestal cake plate for my birthday this year that belonged to grandma Hawkins — and I’m sure that is the cake plate she used. I hope to plant a couple more Shagbark Hickory trees on our farm — for the future!
Grandma Hawkins’ Hickory Nut Cake
2/3 cup shortening
1 3/4 cups sugar
3 cups cake flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups milk or water
1 1/3 teaspoons vanilla
Add milk mixture and flour mixture alternately to creamed mixture.
Beat and fold in:
4 egg whites
1 cup chopped hickory nuts
Bake in two 8-inch round pans at 350 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes.
Ohio First Lady Fran DeWine is a Cedarville resident, Yellow Springs native and guest columnist.