Mama Starr’s Nutmeg Coffee Cake

My paternal grandparents

Daddy Bill courting Mama Starr

Mama Starr is my Dad’s mother.  She and Daddy Bill, who made his living as a barber and a Protestant minister, were always very formal, straight-laced grandparents (as opposed to Meemaw and Peepaw who were ornery and occasionally a tad bit crude when humor called for it).  This is a photograph from 1927 when Mama Starr and Daddy Bill were still courting, and shows a swanky side of them I just can’t imagine from my childhood days.

This recipe is for Mama Starr’s nutmeg coffee cake.  There just aren’t many flavors that can match nutmeg.  It’s so earthy, fragrant, spicy, and exotic.  It’s equally versatile in sweet and savory recipes.  But it’s the sole standout flavor in this coffee cake, and boy is it ever good!

Mama Starr likely got this recipe from her mother.  Her parents (my great-grandparents) were called Big Dad and Little Mother by the family.  One of their first grandchildren had trouble pronouncing “Little Mother” and it came out more like “Pudder.”  The name stuck, so thenceforth they were known as “Pudder and Big Dad.”  So this delightfully nutmegy coffee probably came from Pudder’s kitchen, likely cooked in a cast iron skillet inside a wood-fired oven.

Preheat oven to 350F.

2 ¼ cups light brown sugar firm

3 cups flour

¾ cup melted butter

Combine these in a large bowl with your fingers until it has the texture of crumbs.  Reserve ¾ cup of this mixture aside to top the coffee cake with.

In a medium bowl, mix:

1 cup sour cream
½ teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs
2 teaspoons ground nutmeg

(Be brave and make the switch to whole nutmeg.  Nutmeg is a fairly soft seed, smaller than a quarter, of a tree that grows in tropical regions.  Grating the nutmeg seed right into your dishes imparts a much stronger, spicier flavor than ground nutmeg from your spice rack.  The essential oils in ground nutmeg have dried out.  Whole nutmeg, freshly grated on the fine section of your grater, will change the way you think about nutmeg.  You’ll start using it in everything.)

When thoroughly mixed, add to the flour crumb mixture and stir to combine.  Don’t over-stir!

Lightly spray a 9×13 pan with canola and sprinkle with flour.  Pour the batter into the pan.  Sprinkle with the ¾ cup of reserved crumbs, and, optionally:

¾ cup chopped walnuts

Bake in a preheated 350F oven for 40 minutes, or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

Remove pan from oven and place on a cooling rack.  Cool at least 20 minutes before cutting and serving.

Since this recipe likely originated in Mama Starr’s mother’s kitchen, I feel it’s only appropriate to share this amazing photo of Pudder and Big Dad and their family from around 1910.  Aren’t old photos great?

My paternal great grandparents

Pudder and Big Dad and their family

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