It's been ages since I've updated, and I apologize for that--a new part-time job has eaten into my evenings and weekends, making it more difficult to find time to post, much less do the actual cooking! I'm back, though, with a real family recipe...sort of.
Janis Snell was a math teacher at my high school. I had her Algebra II class a few years before she retired; my dad had her for Trig shortly after she started there. By the time I got to York Suburban High School, she was an institution, and most of the kids were scared of her (and some flat out hated her). I, on the other hand, was doubly blessed by fate: not only did I land in a class with only 7 other students (her other Alg. II class had nearly 30), but I'd also been hearing very affectionate stories about her my entire life. She probably won me over the first time I heard her refer to the teachers on morning duty, who wouldn't let you in to see a teacher without a note, which you couldn't get because you didn't know the night before that you might need it, as "the gestapo." By the time I went off to college, she'd saved me from the heinous fate of trying to teach myself calculus from a college textbook over the summer, and I was forever in her debt.
When I got to the high school, even the kids who didn't like her were in awe of Snell Fudge. You knew you'd arrived if you were awarded with a box, either peanut butter or chocolate peanut butter. I remember the day the football team won the district championship and a special pep rally had been called to celebrate. In walked Miss Snell with a tray loaded with boxes of fudge. The whole place erupted. Back when my dad was her student, though, she was known for her chocolate cake. I couldn't figure out what was the matter with him when he first mentioned it, figuring that surely he was confused and meant chocolate fudge, but no, it was cake, as I discovered the day that I went in for help after school and was told, "Well, it seems I'm probably not going to turn you into a mathematician, so I might as well turn you into a cook instead." I walked home with a copy of the chocolate cake recipe. When I told my parents, you'd have thought she'd given me the Holy Grail instead.
My copy of this recipe is long gone, but Grandma had it in her box, and I couldn't resist giving it a whirl. The last time I'd made it was about 20 years ago, so this was a lot like making it for the first time. I followed the recipe exactly except for two things. I used Smart Balance rather than shortening, mostly because my shortening is ancient and should be tossed, though I also hear the word "shortening" and swear I can feel my arteries harden. I also, after blinking a few times in disbelief at the recipe as written, did not mix the dry ingredients into the wet ones. I just couldn't imagine that I wouldn't end up with very lumpy batter, so I mixed wet into dry, which worked just fine. (I basically kept wet with wet and dry with dry despite the directions, so the baking powder/soda went in with the flour and the vanilla went into the liquid before I mixed the two together.) The recipe doesn't specify how big the pan should be, but I was pretty sure we had used an 8x8 pan before, so that's what I went with. It worked pretty well, though I was worried about halfway through the baking that it was going to overflow the dish and make a royal mess. It turned out to be just perfect, though it did settle a bit in the middle.
Since I scanned this recipe for a friend, I'm going to include the scan here. The recipe is typed up below.
Miss Snell's Chocolate Cake
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons shortening
4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) cocoa
dash of salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
Cream first four items, then put in liquid and add flour and vanilla. Bake for 30 minutes at 350.