Connections: Secret Recipes

   Maybe I decided to take part in a recent chain letter — by e-mail, of course — because it came from a cousin a couple of times removed, or maybe I’m just a recipe hound. I’ve got manila folders full of them that date back 30 years or more.
    The chain letter came with a suggestion that participants forward to friends a recipe they know so well they don’t have to look it up. The idea being to make it easy and keep the chain flowing. The instructions didn’t say the recipe had to be original, so I contributed one of our own Laura Donnelly’s easiest recipes, putting it in my own words and changing its name to Lazy Chicken. All you do is shake up a whole bird of, say, three pounds in a bag with a cup of Bisquick, take it out, put it in a heavy iron skillet, and bake it in a 450-degree oven for an hour.
    I didn’t come up with the 20 people I was supposed to send a recipe to, and several friends politely declined to participate. But, still, numerous recipes have been arriving in my inbox, and I have been fascinated by the fact that most of them come from strangers — who clearly inhabit entirely different worlds, culinarily speaking. Only two of the batch I received came from people I actually know.
    Rather than simple, two of the recipes that came my way were for bread! One sender called his pumpernickel rye bread easy to make, if time consuming. The other was a white soda bread that didn’t sound hard, although I’m not, well, ready to start baking bread. I might, however, try the baked chicken with cider, apples, applejack, ginger, cinnamon, and brown sugar that came from an East Hampton couple.
    One recipe threw me for a loop. Taco Soup called for a particular commercial chili mix and a can of Ro-Tel tomatoes. I hadn’t heard of Ro-Tel products, but have since been informed that they are a staple of the advertising pages of magazines like Ladies Home Journal. “My wife and I used this recipe often when our three athlete sons were in high school,” the sender noted.
    Because one of the people on my chain list works at The Star, I also got to check out the recipes she received. She was more diligent than I, and got more back. One came from England. Another was a holdover from the dark ages of the ’40s and ’50s: a chicken casserole made with frozen chopped broccoli and two cans of cream of chicken soup. This dish might actually be pleasant, old-fashioned comfort food, except that it also called for cheddar cheese and curry powder, and I am not convinced. But I might try a third, pork roast with dried apricots and prunes.
    One of my colleague’s responses took the cake — literally. Parsonage Cake was said to have originated with a minister’s wife who “swore she could see a parishioner at the end of the block and have [the] cake ready to serve by the time the doorbell rang.” Now that’s a keeper.   

Parsonage Cake
2 Tbsp. good cocoa
3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/8 tsp. salt
1 egg
1/4 cup shortening, melted (or use half butter, half Crisco)
1/2 cup cold water
1/2 tsp. vanilla

     Mix everything together at once. Pour into 8-inch greased and floured pan. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.