Friday, June 23, 2017

The Lansdowne Letters: Food of the Angels

Easter Break in 1961 was a snowy one in Lansdowne House.
Even though my family was snowed in
and the Easter Bunny was delayed by the heavy snowfall,
we were having fun playing games, reading, and celebrating my father's birthday.
I remember that time as one of the happiest in my childhood.

Birthdays were always significant in our family,
and March was the month for birthdays, 
with four of us turning older within two weeks:
me (18th), Barbie (19th), Bertie (27th), and Dad (30th).

As a family we didn't have a lot of money for presents,
but each of us always had our favorite cake
and were excused from chores on our special day.

Back When We Wanted to Do Dishes!
Donnie dries dishes for the first time, while Roy stands by ready to advise.
Candid shots meant a startling flash.
Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada, Circa 1956
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

My mother wrote letters as well as my father,
but many of hers have not survived.
We used to joke about Mom's letters when we were older,
because she usually mentioned what she was cooking.
This one was typical.

On Friday, March 31, 1961
My mother wrote to her mother-in-law
Myrtle MacBeath:

Dear Mother:
We are all fine.
I imagine it is beginning to feel
like spring on the Island.
The weather here has been lovely.

However one evening this last week
was very wintery
with lots of snow and a strong wind.
The drifts were over our waists.

Sara Margaret (MacDonald) MacBeath
Acadia University, Wolfville, Circa 1950
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

Yesterday was Don’s birthday.
He loves the shirt you sent him,
and it looks very good with his bluish grey suit.

I made an angel food cake for him with your boiled icing.
It turns out well for me now since I have a candy thermometer.
However I think I should beat it after I take it off the hot water.
Do you?

We didn’t do much this week.
Uno was over for dinner on Sunday.
We had chicken and Boston cream pie.

We played bridge with the Mitchells on Tuesday night.
Mr. Mitchell and I won.

Last evening we played bridge with Duncan and Maureen.
Dunc and Don really put a licking on us.
The Mitchells are coming over to play bridge tomorrow night.

Don has started painting again.
He painted a very nice picture of the log church next door.
I like it very much, and it will make an interesting souvenir.

The Anglican Log Church
The corner of our home is in the middle left of the painting.
Lansdowne House, Northern Ontario, Canada
Painting by Don MacBeath, March 1961
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

The children are all fine.  They like having Don as their teacher.
Louise says he is the most interesting teacher she has ever had.


We have been doing a lot of reading lately.
Right now I’m engrossed in a huge book entitled
“The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,” by William Shirer.
I was telling Don it is giving me nightmares.

I hope that you had a pleasant Easter.
Don had forgotten all about it,
so we had to radio out for Easter eggs.

I must close now and get dinner going.
It doesn’t look as if the plane will be in today.
The visibility is practically nil.
And it’s snowing heavily outside.

With love,

Flickr ~ mdornseif   License

Hands down, my father's favorite cake was angel food cake with boiled icing.
It was a rare treat in our house because it was tricky to make,
especially in the North with no electricity.

The task involved a lot of beating
with an old-fashioned, hand-held egg beater.
Man, I hated hand-cranking that beater,
and if I did it a long time,
both hands would get sweaty, even blistered.
Beating it fast was an aerobic activity. 

Flickr:  Bre Pettis ~ Adapted   License

Angel cake, dubbed "food of the angels," is white and airy
because it contains no butter or egg yolks
and requires cake flour milled from a soft wheat.
It is baked in a tube pan because it rises five or six inches high.

       Angel Food Cake
          a.  in a tube pan               b.  on a plate
          Flickr ~ Bev Currie          Flickr ~ Bev Currie
           License for Both 

Because of the cake's delicate nature,
we had to tiptoe around the kitchen
so the cake wouldn't fall while it was baking,
and no one dared open the oven door
for fear of shocking the cake into collapsing.

My mother had to gently cut it with back-to-back forks
so the cake wouldn't compress into a spongy mess.

Regular icing wouldn't do, because it was too heavy,
so my mother always made Nana's fluffy white boiled icing.
Personally I thought the sweet, sticky icing
was the best part of the cake.
The actual "food of the angels"
tasted bland and felt too spongy in my mouth.

I wasn't alone in my love of Nana's fluffy white boiled icing.
We kids all battled over licking the whisk and the spatula and the pot.
The icing made perfect mustaches!
We loved to paint our upper lips, let the icing set, and lick it off!

My mother was a great cook and baker.
She never learned either skill because her mother
didn't want Mom underfoot when she was working in the kitchen;
so my mother learned to cook and bake after she was married.

She made sure that we all learned the basics
which for me included baking bread, making jam and pickles,
and turning out my father's favorite angel food cake with fluffy white icing.

Till next time ~
Fundy Blue

Bay of Fundy out of Westport, Brier Island
© M. Louise (MacBeath) Barbour/Fundy Blue
All Rights Reserved

1.  The Island:
     We always referred to Prince Edward Island where my Grandmother MacBeath lived as "The Island."

2.  Uno Manilla:
     Uno taught at the Roman Catholic School on the Father's Island.  My father roomed with Uno before he was able
     to rent the forestry house and move us north.  

3.  The Mitchells:
     Bill Managed the Hudson's Bay post, and Rhea was his wife.

4.  Duncan and Maureen McRae:
     Duncan worked for the Department of Transport, and one of his duties was running the weather
     station in Lansdowne House.  He and his wife Maureen were good friends with my parents.
5.  Painting:
     Both of my parents were painters.  My father preferred oils and my mother watercolors.  Unfortunately 
     the responsibilities of working and raising and educating five children made it difficult for my parents to 
     pursue their passions.  I am humbled by the sacrifices they made for my brother, sisters, and me.  

6.  The Rise and Fall of the Third Reicht:  A History of Nazi Germany:
     My mother was a secretary in the Royal Canadian Air Force toward the end of WW II.  Part of her job was
     to type letters informing families about loved ones who had been injured or killed.  She actually had to type
     letters to people she knew in her village of Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia.  Understandably, reading Shirer's account
     of the rise and fall of Nazi Germany was distressing for my mother.

     William Shirer, a journalist who reported on Nazi Germany for six years, based his book on captured Nazi
     documents, the diaries of Joseph Goebbels, Franz Halder, and Galeazzo Ciano, evidence and testimony from
     the Nuremberg trials, and a variety of media sources.  Published in 1960, the book was an award-winning
     bestseller, acclaimed by journalists but less so by academic historians, perhaps because of its journalistic rather
     than academic style.  Wikipedia  
     I tried to read it after Mom finished it, but I found it too dry as an eleven-year-old and quit reading it.

For Map Lovers Like Me:
Route Map for Austin Airways, 1985
with Lansdowne House West of James Bay
Nakina is near Geraldton.

Location of Nakina

Location of Smith's Cove, Nova Scotia

Canada   Wikimedia

For Bakers Like Me:
(Actually I haven't had the guts to bake these for decades!)

Mom’s Angel Food Cake
1¼ - 1½ cups sugar
1 cup cake flour
½ teaspoon salt
1¼ cups egg whites (10-12 egg whites)
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract

Use a 9-inch tube pan, with removable rim.  Do not grease.
Preheat oven to 325º F.

Sift twice 1¼ - 1½ cups of sugar.
Sift separately before measuring 1 cup of cake flour.
Resift the flour three times
with ½ cup of the sifted sugar and ½ teaspoon salt.

Whip until foamy the 1¼ cups of egg whites
(10-12 egg whites, 60 - 70º F, separated just before use)
with 1 tablespoon water and 1 tablespoon lemon juice.
Add 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
and whip the egg white mixture until stiff, but not dry.

Gradually whip in, about 1 tablespoon at a time,
the remaining ¾ to 1 cup of sifted sugar.

Fold in (by hand, gentle and firm, avoid breaking down
the cellular structure of the egg whites which have trapped air)
½ teaspoon of vanilla extract and ½ teaspoon of almond extract.

Sift about ¼ cup of the sugar and flour mixture over the batter.
Fold it in gently and briefly with a rubber scraper.
Continue until all the sugar and flour mixture is added.

Pour the batter into an ungreased tube pan.
Then draw a thin spatula gently through the batter
to destroy any large air pockets.

Bake about 45 minutes.
Remove when a toothpick
inserted in the cake comes out clean.

To cool, turn the tube pan upside down on an inverted funnel,
if the tube is not high enough to keep the cake
above the surface of the table.
Let the cake hang about 1½ hours until it is thoroughly set.
Remove it from the pan before storing.

Do not cut with a knife,
but use two forks back-to-back to pry cake gently apart.

Nana’s (Mom’s) Fluffy White Boiled White Icing:
Makes two cups

2 cups sugar
1 cup water
2 egg whites    
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar 
OR a few drops of lemon juice and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Stir until the sugar is dissolved and bring to a boil
2 cups of sugar and 1 cup of water.

Cover and cook for about 3 minutes,
until the steam has washed down any crystals,
which may have formed on the sides of the pan.

Uncover and cook 238º F or 240º F
(as measured by a candy thermometer).
At that temperature the syrup will spin a very thin thread
on the end of a coarser thread
(when suspended from a spoon or spatula).
This final thread will almost disappear.

Whip until frothy 2 egg whites and 1/8 teaspoon salt.

Add the syrup in a thin stream, whipping eggs constantly.

When these ingredients are combined,
add 1/8 teaspoon of cream of tartar
OR a few drops of lemon juice
and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.
Continue whipping.

When the icing begins to harden at the edges of the bowl,
it should be ready to put on the cake.
Do not scrape the bowl. 

If the syrup has not been boiled long enough
and the icing won’t harden, beat it in strong sunlight.

If this doesn’t do the trick,
place the icing in the top of a double boiler
over hot water (not in),
until it reaches the right consistency for spreading.

If the syrup has been overcooked
and the icing tends to harden too soon,
adding a teaspoon or two of boiling water
or a few drops of lemon juice will restore it.

If raisins, nutmeats, zest, or other ingredients are to be added to the icing,
wait until the last moment to incorporate them.
They contain oil or acid, which will thin the icing.


  1. The thought of doing it with an old fashioned egg beater would sure send many running to the store these days haha They both look a bit stunned, caught doing dishes. Oh no! lol

    1. Happy Friday morning, Pat! Stunned is a perfect description of Donnie and Roy! I smile every time I look at that photo. Guaranteed Donnie wasn't thinking about the mountains of dishes that were in her future. LOL! Have a good one!

  2. Oh, I remember that huge, HUGE book on the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. It was a mega-best-seller and EVERYONE had a copy of it! I wonder how many people actually managed to read it all the way through. When it came out, WW2 had only been over for 15 years -- still a pretty recent event! Everyone was still trying to figure out WTF those Nazis had been thinking.

    1. Good morning, Debra! I hope that your day has gotten off to a good start! That book was a tome, for sure. My mother is the one person I know who read it all the way through. Likely my father did too, because he loved history, but Mom is the one I remember reading it and being upset by it. WW II loomed large in my childhood. Have a happy weekend with your Rare One.

  3. I'll be replying to comments and visiting your blogs later today ~ I have a funeral this morning. It's a wild windy, cold, rainy day here ~ I'm wondering what happened to summer. Have a great day ~ hope it's sunny and warm where you are. TGIF! Enjoy!

  4. Dearest Louise, the book you are reading would give me nightmares as well. I have read a few good books about the Holocaust and WWII, they were very good. It is sad and horrible what happened to the POWs (my father was one) at the concentration camps and the conditions were very bad. I love all your photos here, and I love the painting as well. The cake looks delicious! I hope you have a great weekend, my cherished friend. Much love and warm hugs to you.

    1. Hi, Linda! When I think of what servicemen and servicewomen went through during the wars, it always makes me wonder if I would have been brave as they were. Fortunately, because of their sacrifices, I have been able to live a peace-filled life. Some people in earlier generations of my family paid a terrible price. I have known several WW II POWs. None of them would talk much about what they endured. I'm sorry that your father was a POW. I can't imagine what he went through. Sometimes I feel guilty because I have been so fortunate. I always spoke to my kiddos repeatedly about the men and women who sacrificed for us. I've never seen the concentration camps; but I've been to Anne Frank's hiding place in Amsterdam, one of the most powerful experiences of my life. Have a lovely weekend, my special Montreal friend! Sending you love and hugs!!!!!

  5. Hi Fundy, oh I would love a big slice of that cake right now! I have so many memories of family birthdays and Birthday Cakes. Funny I thought Dad's favourite was marble cake! Hugs your sister Barb

    1. Sorry, Barb! Dad loved that angel food cake with boiled icing. Maybe, once Mom started teaching, she no longer had the time, because we did have it less often as our family "aged." I may have to try baking it. I used to make candy, and cookies, and pies, and cakes. I must be going into a second childhood because a couple of weeks ago I made a pineapple upside down cake. I made my first one when I was eight and in grade three in Margaretsville. I was more nervous now than when I was eight! LOL But if I made all that yummy stuff now I'd need a front loader to move me around. Terry and I are off to Parkway to meet Cheri and Gary in a few minutes. It's so great to have them back in Colorado. What was your favorite birthday cake? Someone loved yellow cake with strawberry jam filling ~ maybe that was Roy. Love you!

  6. Coldish and very wet here, and using a hand beater, I have my Mum's which is large and solid, and has a wooden handle at the top, unheard of these days as everything is plastic!!! but still it gives a tired hand when you have to whip for ages. What a recipe, that would be a great cake, and all those egg yolks???I am sure after living there for some time, your Dad so appreciated his cake.

    1. Hi, Jean! You know exactly what I was talking about with all that beating! Our egg beater had a wooden handle too. I wonder where it ended up. Grammie had hers for ages. I so loved an electric mixer when we got one. Actually Mom had a good mixer, but we didn't have electricity in Lansdowne House or Lac Seul. Dad always appreciated his cakes. He had a sweet tooth that wouldn't quit. A lot more cake crossed his lips than broccoli or Brussel sprouts, let me tell you. Stay warm and dry. Hope you're all doing well! Sending love and hugs to you and Hugh!

  7. I have never liked angel food cake, so guess what my mother made for each and every birthday, including mine, of course!? I never ate a piece of my own cake. We didn't do much for birthdays, anyway. I get the feeling from the letter that your mother got along well with her mother-in-law. Every time I see a photo of your mom I'm struck by her beauty. She looked very elegant in spite of living a hard life in a frozen land.


    1. Hi, Janie! How lovely to see your kind comment, especially after a difficult day. My mother was beautiful and a very good daughter-in-law! She was tall and slender and had legs that didn't quit. she gave up a chance for a modeling career in New York to go to Acadia University. She came from a very poor family, and she was the first one in my direct line that ever went to university. She was always the "pretty" one, and her sister Louise was always the "smart" one. Mom wanted to be smart, and Aunt Louise wanted to be pretty. Funny thing was that they were both smart and pretty! Family dynamics are always fascinating. Have a lovely weekend, my friend! I'll be by to catch up ~ again! Take care!

    2. It's a shame to label people that way. I'm glad she got to go to university. I bet that meant a lot to her.

  8. I know the artistic gene skipped me. I don't think my parents ever tried real art though

    1. Hi, Adam! I'm almost scared to go by your blog ~ You are amazingly prolific! But I'll be catching up! I hope that you and Daisy are enjoying a happy Friday!

  9. Good to hear from your mother's perspective this week. She sure knew how to pick a 'light read'! I understand though that living through the war certainly left its impact on that generation directly.
    Your family's favourite birthday cake sounds so good! I bet you could whip up one of those suckers in a flash, Louise!!
    My mom had a 'special cake' for these occasions as was almost a pound cake but a little lighter. It is still a cake to show up at family functions.
    Have a wonderful weekend.

    1. I hope that you had a great weekend, Jim. It's fun to hear how your family keeps the "special cake" tradition going. I often think of Pops and wonder how he is doing. My weekend was busy and full ~ How can I be retired and still not have enough time? It's a mystery to me. I'm considering trying the angel food cake, although it's been ages, literally decades, since I made one. I have to buy a candy thermometer, a two piece tube pan, and a double boiler, not to mention cake flour ~ Lord, the eggs will be at least $4.00! Then there are all those calories! LOL Have a great week!

  10. Interestingly, angel food cake with the same boiled icing recipe was my grandmother's favorite but only if coconut was added to the icing! I've been handed down the icing recipe and have made it lots of times. It's delicious on pound cake, too, especially with the coconut "thrown" at the iced cake. I used to make our family's annual "sacrificial lamb" cake for Easter using a lamb cake mold, and then throw coconut at the iced cake to make it look like the lamb had fleece.

    1. Hi, Susan! How interesting that your grandmother and my grandmother had the same icing recipe! Angel food cake was really popular way back. I'm considering trying it again, so if I have any difficulties, I know who to call. I don't have quite the confidence I used to have with baking. I made a coffee crumble cake a couple of weeks ago, got distracted by something on tv, and accidentally mixed the crumble coffee topping into the batter. Duh. I still baked it and it was still tasty, but it had an interesting fall apart texture. LOL The memorial service for Tomia was really nice. I'm glad that so many Sunrise people turned out to honor her. Have a great Monday!

  11. Small pleasures were such treasures and I know how your dad appreciated your mother's efforts to make him feel special on his birthday. I love that your dad was also an artist. You have such a great way of describing your northern life. This is a great story that needed telling and shows a life unfamiliar to all of us.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Peggy! Sometimes it's hard to keep plugging along, especially since most of my days are so busy. I thought I'd have so much more time in retirement. LOL I'm playing catch up again, and I plan to visit you tonight! Take care, my friend!

  12. Your post made my heart smile!! Thank you for the recipe for the cake and icing. I have never heard of boiled icing before! I love the photo of Donnie drying the dishes! How precious!! I think these days something has been lost! Maybe the innocence of being a child? I don't know. It's just different! I have never read that book. I don't think I want too! Big Hugs!

    1. Thank you for your kind comment, Stacy! It made my heart smile! I think one way that childhood has changed is that it has lost its carefree simplicity. Kids have so many material things today, and their lives are very structured. It's hard for them to run around outside and just be kids, at least where I live. Big hugs right back at you! Have a good one!

  13. I didn't know your dad was such a good artist! Or did I miss that somewhere??

    I remember those egg beaters! My mom had one for a short period of time. I'm so grateful for all the modern gadgets. LOL

    We had a lot of yellow cake growing up. It was a favourite in our household. Or maybe my mom's...haha. She made it regularly. I didn't have angel food cake until I was in my 40s. I'd never even heard of it before that.

  14. i am glad you shared the recipe dear friend!

    beautiful tradition of celebrating birthdays with simplicity and contentment is obvious through your precious writing and lovely photos !

    i smiled over the mentioning of your mom's habit to write letter inwhich she wrote about her cooking.
    believe it or not i used to do same when after my marriage i used to write letters to my mother ,each details of weather ,my chores and daily cooking updates were included in them.

    cake looks fabulous and inviting!!!

    1. Hi, Baili! I smiled when I read that you wrote about cooking and other daily matters like my mother did! Family letters are precious, and my mother's are as important to me as my father's. Life is made up of mostly small moments, and those small moments mean more and more with every passing year! Take care, my friend!


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