Sunday, November 10, 2013

Gourmet Nostalgia...Upside Down Pear Gingerbread Cake

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One of the things I love about going to visit Madame Mere is perusing through her old Gourmet magazines.  She has them all filed away in those big albums available at the end of the year, all the way back to the seventies.  Every time I open one I am saddened by the fact that we don't get that kind of content in a food magazine anymore.  The Wine, California, New York and Paris Journals... what delight.  And the in depth articles on travel and food from around the globe. Gourmet, The Magazine of Good Living, read the caption below. That said it all.

I remember in the last months of Gourmet the quality of the articles began to decline as the magazine emphasized photography instead.  Boy, was that a mistake.  Did they not realize that we mainly bought Gourmet for the recipes and the articles and not the artistic content?  When I first began to cook, we were supposed to read a recipe and determine if we liked it or not.  Cold turkey.  No pictures, no detailed instructions, no reviews. Take it or leave it.  It was a leap of faith, so you had to know who to take the plunge with.  Joy of Cooking?...yes.  Julia?...yes.  The New York Times' Craig Claiborne?...check. Gourmet?... definitely.

Gourmet, The Magazine of Good Living

 I know that nowadays people would rather look at a beautiful photo than read a recipe. Food porn, that's the new thing. Look at the success of Pinterest and  Instagram.  Combined with texting and email we are rapidly becoming a society of mutes and voyeurs.   And, of course, there goes etiquette and social manners.  No more engraved invitations or thank you notes.  And don't get me going on the demise of the dinner party... or any kind of entertaining at home.  No, those days are gone and boy do I miss them and worry about what's in store for my grandchildren. 

 I sometimes regret having all the china and silver that are packed away and  gathering dust in the basement.  And the linens that need to be carefully washed and ironed.  Who's going to use all that stuff after I'm gone ???  I expect to be turning in my grave like the spin cycle in a washing machine. Regardless, brides still want the loot.  Life is funny. 

Today we have more advantages than ever before yet we choose not to cook or entertain.  The most important and expensive part of any house these days is the kitchen and, except for the refrigerator,  it remains immaculate and looks practically new.  Our grocery stores are full of food and spices from all over the world and as far as pots and pans and gadgets, you have one for every chore and cuisine.  Tagines? in all colors.  Just look at the Williams Sonoma catalogue.  Who buys this stuff?! And cookbooks? even the cat has a cookbook, with photos and videos.  Speaking of which...I give you Madame X  She doesn't cook, but she eats rather well.

I don't know what got me going on this tirade, except I like and miss the good old days.  Yes, I miss Gourmet magazine and wish they brought it back.  Soon.  I would give up the entire Food Channel and all the cooking blogs, including mine.  All for one good cooking magazine.  Gourmet.

For old times sakes, I am posting a recipe from an old issue, very appropriate for this time of the year and very simple to make.   It is a rich cake.  It has a great picture too....

Topped with beautifully browned fall pears, this moist cake is perfect on its own—and even better with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. 

Upside Down Pear Gingerbread Cake

 Serves 6

 For topping

  • 2 1/2 firm pears (preferably Bosc)
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

For cake

  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup molasses (preferably mild)
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 1/2 cup 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten 
  • Special equipment:

    a well-seasoned 10-inch cast-iron skillet or a 12-inch deep nonstick skillet (handle wrapped with a double layer of foil if not ovenproof)
  • Accompaniment:

    vanilla ice cream

Make topping:

  • Peel and core pears and cut each into 8 wedges.
  • Melt butter in skillet over moderate heat until foam subsides. Reduce heat to low, then sprinkle brown sugar over bottom of skillet and cook, undisturbed, 3 minutes (not all sugar will be melted). Arrange pears decoratively over sugar and cook, undisturbed, 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

Make cake:

  • Preheat oven to 350°F.
  • Whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and salt in a bowl. Whisk together molasses and boiling water in a small bowl. Beat together butter, brown sugar, and egg in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until creamy, about 2 minutes, then alternately mix in flour mixture and molasses in 3 batches at low speed until smooth.
  • Pour batter over topping in skillet, spreading evenly and being careful not to disturb pears, and bake in middle of oven until a tester comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes.
  • Cool cake in skillet on a rack 5 minutes. Run a thin knife around edge of skillet, then invert a large plate with a lip over skillet and, using pot holders to hold skillet and plate tightly together, invert cake onto plate. Replace any pears that stick to skillet. Serve warm or at room temperature.


  1. What a beautiful upside down cake, something you rarely see anymore. I'm so glad you still have copies of Gourmet. How fun it must be to savor a copy when you are inclined.

    This was a very fun read this morning and brought back all sorts of memories for me, especially the New York Times cookbook and Craig Claibourne. The Times was my second cookbook (Morrison Wood of Chicago my first) and I probably have several copies, at least one in each house and a paperback for "just in case." I even miss the good old days of the Food Network when Mario and Emerill actually cooked and you could learn something. Now it's turned into a game show in my opinion.

    But I still used my good china and silver and won't give it up under any circumstance. I know it will be ignored when I'm gone, but for now, I used the good stuff. Hope you are having a great weekend.

    1. Sam,

      I have five sets of good china and I'm not bragging. I've always loved to set a beautiful table and used to entertain all the time. Now I wonder what ever possessed me! It's funny, yesterday we were organizing the desk and bookshelves in the kitchen and laughing at the two sets each of Joy of Cooking, Craig Claiborne and a few others. You should see how worn out they are. To me the saddest part, though, is the demise of the social graces that come with entertaining. Table manners! Pathetic.

  2. Be still my heart! It's time we met!

    1. Ah Columnist, I can't wait!! In the good old times I used to travel to your neck of the woods often. What fun we would have had. Now I sit in this chair and watch the world go by...

  3. It seems that so many aspects of life have been lowered in quality due to increasing pandering to a lower common denominator. Perhaps when the core readers of Gourmet started to cook less, they appreciated the photographs more. A very few people, desiring both great content and great photographs, will see the irony in this trade-off.

    1. Parnassus, the worst part is nobody seems to care except a few of us chickens. We are slowly retreating back into the jungle. My grandchildren will probably be swinging from the trees when they get to be my age. A big trade-off indeed.

  4. There's still hope! I'm a 30 something working girl who hosted my first dinner party last night for my husband's boss, coworkers, and their wives. I was a nervous wreck, but it was a success. I used a recipe from your other blog and made my way over here to check this one out.

    1. Tracey,

      You made my morning! I am so happy for you. Wasn't it fun and rewarding? I hope the pendulum swings back with your generation. You go girl!

  5. I'm still in grief over the demise of Gourmet. Following Ruth Reichl's blog and Twitter feed just isn't the same. I have several hundred old copies in my basement and I still go down there some times and get lost in them. There are issues from the 80s that I pull out once a year to make the perfect summer tomato tart or spring pasta or fall squash many. They are all on an Ikea bookshelf in cases. Sometimes the entire bookcase sags and I have to prop it up but I'll never get rid of them.
    Your kitty is so elegant!

    1. She is rather elegant but you should see her up a tree, She can be quite the tomboy. I am so glad we kept her. BTW thanks for the support in the butter wars!

    2. Oh yes, so seldom do I disagree with dear Reggie. I have a wonderful 84% cream butter I've been saving for a special recipe. Maybe I will make this cake (although I probably should take a cake-break, two this weekend alone).

  6. Exactly as you say. Once there were lovely dinner parties, now a sloppy group sits around not conversing but texting other, obviously more important people, who are ignoring others to text them back.......thank you for the cake recipe!

    1. They don't know what they are missing. Your welcome.

  7. I made this cake a few weeks ago. Use Real Butter made this cake. And you made this cake. I think great minds think alike. it is a great cake! PS. I love china and linens and do still use them!

    1. I use mine too, though not as often as I used to. Thanks for stopping by.

  8. There is hope. My 16 yo dd has inherited 2 sets of Limoge and some Grand Baroque. She loves to use them. She likes to cook as well. She certainly intends to use them after college. She knows how to shoot a rifle, throw an axe, shoot an arrow, clean a wild turkey, and paddle a canoe. She can also play Beethovan on the piano, dance, discuss art, music, theology and literature, and recite. I really like her.

  9. Once again, I agree with everything you have said. I, too, was the girl who loved china. In fact when my parents gave me money for college graduation, I bought my first set of pottery. I have collected dinnerware and cookware for over 45 years! I miss Gourmet the way I miss the old House and Gardens. Big sighs... Love the ladies above who are carrying on the torch. I wish them years of happiness.

    Here in my house THE PROJECT is yet to be done. Wolf has decided to "re do" its ovens after 13 years and may or may not be available in April 2014. In the meantime, my stalwart Cadco convection oven died last week and now I am cooking with two Breville smart ovens. I had to buy tiny size cookware. I'm not yet to Tasty bake ovens...but who knows? My husband of 38 years marvels at the meals I have produced in my makeshift kitchen. Where there is a passion, there is a way. Keep the light on at Lindaraxa, we need to know there is a sister some where who cares the way we do.

    ps Hugs to the sous chef. I feel her pain.

  10. You are still redoing your kitchen??? Home, what are you doing, the kitchen of the future??! You poor thing. At least you have those two Breville ovens.

    Don't get me going on the sous chef. Now because the cat gets in her bed she gets in the cat's bed. The other day she took a bite out of Coco (when no one was looking of course) and took out hair the size of a cotton ball. This didn't faze Coco, nothing does. This cat is smart. I think Lucy has met her match.

  11. Thank you for writing this post.. It is much needed and a reminder of all the things the current generation may never know as a lifestyle. All the things you said are so true. My Gourmet magazines, my linens, my Coalport, Waterford, and silver -- all live on the shelf more than on the table. They do come out, but so rarely Good food and good company are always memorable. Down with Twitter and all that rot, say I. Anyway, appreciated your writing this.

    1. Thank you. It came from the heart and you are right, it was a lifestyle.


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