My grandparents lived on a farm in Middle Tennessee. It was a wonderful place for grandkids, and my brother and I made great use of it. Lots of rolling, verdant land to run around on, cows mooing in the background. There was a creek running through the property, shallow enough that we could wade around in it, or play pooh sticks or search for arrowheads and other treasures. We made little boats from sticks and leaves to float through the fast moving water. At one point, my grandfather got a pony for us. We named him Pickle, sometimes sweet, sometimes sour. We’d sit for hours in the long gravel driveway, combing through to find “Indian money,” little cylindrical rocks scored around in rings.
Behind one of the outbuildings, there was a blackberry bramble, huge and dense, and to us it seemed ancient. Our grandmother used to send us out to collect blackberries, and it was a huge testament to the deliciousness of the berries that we could be persuaded. Picking berries from a bramble requires dexterity and patience; the branches are twisted and covered with thorns and sharp twigs and the blackberries are always hidden in its depths. But we’d come back with a basket of berries (and scratched arms) and Grandmother would divide the berries, still warm from the sun, into her old ironstone bowls, sprinkle them with sugar and pour over sweet milk. We would lick our bowls, and sometimes be brave enough to go out for more berries. Grandaddy would paint our scratches with Mecurochrome, preparing us for the next blackberry expedition.
We ate so many of the blackberries with milk, that I don’t really remember having them any other way. But for years, I have seen recipes in a wide variety of cookbooks for “Tennessee Jam Cake,” occasionally Kentucky Jam Cake or Mom’s Jam Cake. Sometimes these recipes are loaf cakes with raisins, pecans or other nuts, sometimes layered cakes brushed with melted jam, or filled with a crushed pineapple filling, but always incorporating blackberry jam. My memory of those bowls of berries has always made recipes for Tennessee Jam Cake intriguing, so with a little research and a little tinkering, I developed my own version, with as little messing about as possible.
Tennessee Blackberry Jam Cake
This is a sweet, simple cake, useful for breakfast or delicious as dessert. Mix up a powdered sugar glaze to pour over the top if you want a sweeter treat, or serve with ice cream or whipped cream and fresh blackberries.
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
1 cup seedless blackberry jam
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1½ cups buttermilk, well-shaken
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a Bundt pan.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the jam and beat until combined.
Combine the flour, baking soda and nutmeg in a small bowl. Measure out the buttermilk and stir the vanilla into it. Add the flour mixture to the creamed butter alternately with the buttermilk, in three additions, mixing after each until completely combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour until a tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then carefully turn out on to a wire rack to cool.
Serves 10 – 12