Thursday, September 1, 2011

Goodnight Irene Coffeecake

Sometimes I live in the country
Sometimes I live in town
Sometimes I take a great notion
To jump in the river and drown
Irene, goodnight
Irene, goodnight
Goodnight Irene, goodnight Irene
I'll see you in my dreams
– attributed to Huddie Ledbetter

With Hurricane Irene bearing down on the east coast I took advantage of the beautiful sunshine last Friday to make what I planned on calling batten down the hatches coffeecake. It was very surreal to be outside moving everything into the garage, washing and hanging laundry, solar cooking, and stockpiling water for a hurricane while it was so absolutely gorgeous. Just a beautiful summer day. We kept checking, watching Irene's progress, though, trying to get everything done before we had to leave since it was supposed to already be raining by Saturday morning.

We had a show Friday evening in East Meadow, which is about 50 miles away heading west, and were leaving at 4pm to set up and sound check. I guess too many people were freaked out about the coming hurricane and were out buying batteries, bread, and milk because we had a grand total of 14 people in the audience. We were hoping that by evening everyone would be finished with their preparations and, because the weather was so beautiful, come out to hear some live music. We were wrong. Normally library audience size ranges from 75 to 300 depending on the library. But we had a great time with those 14 people. They were very attentive and seemed to really enjoy the music. And I think we played rather well. I had a lot of fun, in any case. At the end of the show, Rick asked the audience to sing along. As soon as the first words were sung everyone roared with laughter and clapped, then settled in to singing along to Goodnight Irene.

Huddie "Lead Belly" Ledbetter, an iconic American folk and blues musician and master of the 12 string guitar, was born around 1888 or 1889 on a plantation in Louisiana to sharecropper parents, and is often credited with writing Goodnight Irene. Lead Belly was the first to record it in 1932, but the actual origins of the song are unknown, although some point to a similar song from the 1880s as its basis. Lead Belly himself claimed he learned the song from his uncle and could remember singing it as early as 1908. By the 1930s, though, he had modified the rhythm and rewritten many of the verses, making the song essentially his own. In 1933, musicologists John and Alan Lomax were touring the south collecting folk songs for the Library of Congress and discovered that Southern prisons were a good place to collect the work songs, ballads and spirituals they were looking for. During a visit to the Louisiana State Penitentiary (some accounts call it the Angola State Farm or Louisiana's Angola Penitentiary) they came across Lead Belly, who was serving time for assault with attempt to murder (he had already served time previously for murder). They recorded a number of his songs, including Goodnight Irene, for the Library of Congress. In 1934, Lead Belly was pardoned for good behavior and released from prison. He would continue to perform and record throughout the 1930s, often with the support and guidance of the Lomaxes. Toward the end of the 1940s, though, it was discovered that he had Lou Gehrig's Disease. He died in New York City on December 6, 1949. Goodnight Irene has since been recorded by such artists as the Weavers, Frank Sinatra, Johnny Cash, the Kingston Trio, Little Richard, and Jimi Hendrix.

We drove home feeling energized from the show. We dropped Erica off at her apt. with warnings to be careful. As soon as Rick, Annalee and I got home we checked on the hurricane's status. The storm was closing in, but the actual path was still iffy, with so many variables. Ultimately, we were lucky. Even though we only live 1,000 feet from the beach our house only sustained one downed tree—which missed our car by about 5 feet! Other than that we had a lot of downed branches and leaves everywhere. And, of course, we lost power. I believe there were approximately 470,000 Long Islanders without power. Many still don't have it. Annalee was thrilled. She was ready to don a bonnet and get a horse and buggy. To her, it was a grand adventure. Rick got to act manly and run the generator. We had bought it immediately after Hurricane Gloria when we were without power for 5 days. It's been sitting in our basement untouched for 25 years. We weren't even sure it would start. But Rick had dragged it out of hiding last Thursday and, amazingly, it worked. He got a kick out of that and did an I'm-the-man dance with a few chest thumps thrown in for emphasis. He ran the generator for 45 minutes or so every few hours just to keep the fridge & freezer cold so we wouldn't lose the food.

Our adventure is over with now, but we do have a festival to get to on Sunday at the West Kortright Centre in East Meredith NY. I'm not sure how to get there, or whether we should leave after Annalee gets home from work Saturday evening, because the Catskills were hit pretty bad. The flooding throughout the area is incredible, with whole towns under water. I'm afraid a 4 1/2 hour drive will turn into twice that if we leave Sunday morning as planned.

But I'll figure that out later. Meanwhile, here's a tweak on my coffeecake recipe. I used up all the strawberries and blueberries I had left in the fridge (wish I'd had a few more, though), and threw a few chopped almonds on for good luck.

Goodnight Irene Coffeecake
All the fruit I had left before the hurricane
Grease a baking pan.

1 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 egg
1 tbl. softened butter
1 cup sour cream

Whatever fruit (strawberries, blueberries...), almonds. Whatever you want, really.

Crumb topping:
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tbl. flour
1 3/4 tbl. melted butter

Mix the first four dry ingredients in a bowl. In a separate bowl, beat the sugar, vanilla, egg, soft butter, and sour cream until mixed well. All recipes say beat until light and fluffy, but I'm really impatient. Often, I'll either make a well in the dry ingredients, or push the dry as far to the side as I can, and mix the wet ingredients right in the same bowl. Then I'll slowly push the dry ingredients into the well and mix them in a little at a time. Kind of how you make fresh pasta. I'm sure there's a zillion reasons not to do that, but it works for me.

Once the batter is mixed, spread it in the pan. Now, I've found from experience that when cooking in a solar oven the topping sinks and looks very uncoffeecake-like if you add it right from the start. So I went and put the coffeecake out in the solar oven for about a half hour while I came back inside and sliced the strawberries, rinsed the blueberries, chopped some almonds, and cleaned up a bit. (I didn't use many almonds—maybe 10—and I chopped them on the smaller side.) For the crumb topping take about 1/3 cup brown sugar and mix 2 tablespoons flour in, then add about 1 3/4 tablespoons melted butter and mix until it looks a bit crumbly. I cleaned the kitchen, washed the bowl, then went outside with all the toppings. The coffeecake was cooked just enough so that the toppings wouldn't sink. I took the cake out, shut the glass cover so as not to lose heat, and carefully (but quickly) placed the fruit all over the top, sprinkled the tiny chopped almonds all over, sprinkled on the crumb topping, and put the coffeecake back in the solar oven to finish cooking. The solar oven was at about 325º. I left it out there another hour or so.  (Or bake it in a 375º oven for half an hour all told.)

It was a great breakfast when you didn't want to be opening the fridge too often. And even when you do!

1 comment:

  1. Is that the coffee cake you gave me some of? It was yummy. Chris ate half of what you brought before I even got to it.