Mary Emma Showalter, compiler of the long running bestselling cookbook Mennonite Community Cookbook, (first published in 1950) earned part of her master’s degree by beating 100 cake recipes she tested for the book, by hand. Yes, they had mixers back then, but her academic supervisor “set the requirements very high” even though beating the cakes by hand was not scientifically related to the outcome, according to Mary Emma. Hand mixing would be used by some Amish today, though many generate electricity for use in the kitchen and other enterprises in the home.
Coconut cake is a Shenandoah Valley tradition, where Mary Emma lived for many years, especially for holiday meals at Easter or Christmas, or a family reunion. Its majestic three layers and creamy whipped cream frosting topped by coconut and slivered almonds creates a nice centerpiece. For Easter, you might dye the coconut light green and add traditional jelly beans! Serve with fresh or frozen strawberries for extra nutrition.
Here is the recipe, as taken from the Mennonite Community Cookbook. It was submitted by Mrs. Mary Burkholder fro Hagerstown, Maryland.
- 1 cup shortening
- 1 ¾ cups sugar
- 4 eggs, separated
- 3 ¼ cups cake flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup grated coconut
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Cream shortening.
- Add sugar gradually and beat until fluffy.
- Add egg yolks and continue to beat.
- Sift flour; measure and add salt and baking powder. Sift again.
- Add dry ingredients alternately with milk and flavoring.
- Beat thoroughly after each addition.
- Fold in grated coconut and stiffly beaten egg whites.
- Pour into greased layer pans.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
Makes three (8-inch) layers.
This cake has an excellent flavor and makes a huge cake. There was no special frosting recipe given to accompany this cake by Mary Emma in her book. We used whipped topping between layers and a spattering of coconut and almonds.
Mary Emma Showalter compiled favorite recipes from hundreds of Mennonite women across the United States and Canada noted for their excellent cooking into this book of more than 1,100 recipes. She was the founder of the home
economics department at Eastern Mennonite University, where she taught from 1946–1972 and was the first female faculty with a doctorate. She grew up near Broadway, Virginia, in a Mennonite farm family of nine children.
She passed away in 2003.
Purchase a copy of the Mennonite Community Cookbook here.