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My Mother’s Kitchen – Baked British Bike (or Marjorie Keeling’s chocolate cake)

by Jon Keeling

LA VETA- Having seen your nice articles about our friends and neighbors in the My Mother’s Kitchen column, I was reminded of an episode in my mother’s kitchen.  My dear mom had never had to worry about her eldest child in the kitchen. My brother Sam and I always made quick work of the brownies, chocolate cake and gooseberry pie, and then always had to do something before the dishes or peeling potatoes came up.  We were reluctant participants in the kitchen except when the goodies came out of the oven.  To this day, my wonderful wife, Diane still has to show me what’s what in our kitchen.

My mom’s kitchen had a refrigerator I stuck a cool STP sticker on, the sink we dropped ice cream bowls into, the counter where Mom hid the chocolate chips, and the cupboard full of Frosted Flakes.  The only other item was the oven, which I knew heated things.  It was the oven that I got into trouble over, trying to heat something to an exact temperature.

Now, I always liked engines. (Engines? You thought this article was about my mother’s kitchen?  It is.)  I tinkered with engines on a Go-kart I had, always working to get 3 horsepower out of the worn out 2 horsepower cement mixer motor my dad gave me.

Later, when I could afford it, I bought a 750 cc Norton motorcycle from Joe Geiser, and just knew that it would be the most awesome machine around.   The old Norton ran, but not well, and I decided to overhaul the engine.  Nortons were made in England, so parts were hard to find, but I found what I needed. My repair manual detailed a complex series of machining procedures to replace certain parts and remove others, so I had tools made, I made tools, I bought tools, and then, I was ready to fix my Norton.

To replace the valve guides in the cylinder head of a Norton, the head had to be preheated to 375 degrees before pushing the guides out, and the temperature maintained to install the new cast iron guides in the aluminum cylinder head. Now you see where this is going.

Early one Saturday my folks, brother and sisters were all going to be out of town, and I saw my chance!  I put the old Castrol soaked head on a hubcap and set it in the oven in my mother’s kitchen for preheating.  Soon the smell was bad, so I opened the doors on the house and a few windows.  After 45 minutes in the oven I took it out of the oven at a golden brown 375 degrees and pounded the old guides out.  It worked perfectly!  Then I put it back in to heat again for installing the new guides.  About this time, the family came home and my Mom was shocked to see me in front of her oven, for any reason.  “What are you cooking, Jon?” she asked.  “Oh, hi Mom” I muttered! “Cooking up a little something special are we?”

Now she had that look on her face that she always got when I got caught with my hand in the cookie jar.  “And what in the world is that smell?”  Nothing else smells like baked British bike.  I saw my life flash before my eyes as my Dad walked in complaining about the stench.  They made me take it out, but happily I got four new guides pushed in before I had to clean the stove, kitchen floor and do all the dishes.

It took weeks of pleading before my Mom would let me bake my Norton crankcases. This time they had to be totally clean with dish soap and hot water.

My poor uncle Freeman Bailey would come to our house and just shake his head at the Tonka built lakes in the front yard, the grubby kids, and my frazzled Mom, but we did grow up knowing how to do stuff to help us make a living in Huerfano County.

The recipe that follows is my mom’s, Marjorie Keeling’s chocolate cake recipe.

Chocolate Cake

Double the recipe for a 13 x 9 x 2 pan.

1/2 cup shortening (Crisco solid)

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 eggs

2 cups flour

1/2 teas. salt

2 teas. soda

2 teas. vanilla

1/2 cup cocoa

1/2 cup milk

1 cup boiling water

Cream sugar & shortening.  Add eggs. Beat.  Sift flour, soda, and cocoa and add with milk, vanilla.  Add boiling water last.  Bake 30 or 40 minutes in a 350 degree oven, (Bake until toothpick comes out clean)  (Ruth Strufness’ grandmother brought this recipe with her from Horndorf, Germany in 1873.)

Chocolate frosting

Combine 6 tablespoons of cocoa, 6  Tbsp butter (soft) 6 Tabsp hot coffee & 1 teas .vanilla.  Beat until smooth.  Gradually add 2 – 3 cups powdered sugar until right consistency to spread.

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