The Kitchen Sink: Back to ‘Victory Garden Cookbook’

Photo of "The Victory Garden Cookbook" and several raw sweet potatoes

In her 1982 book, Marian Morash advises how to turn sweet potatoes into a sweet finale. / AFR photo by Domenica Marchetti

In January, my husband signed us up for a weekly CSA (community-supported agriculture) program. Since then we have been “blessed” with an abundance of winter greens and sweet potatoes. Especially sweet potatoes. Lots of them. Big ones.

I’ve put them in soup and in chili, and we’ve consumed more than a few batches of these fries and these rolls.

The other day, I remembered an old recipe I haven’t made in years: Sweet Potato-Chocolate Cake, from “The Victory Garden Cookbook,” by Marian Morash. It’s a simple cake, but a beautiful one, with swirls of chocolate and a delicately spiced, tender crumb. Baked in a 10-inch tube pan, it emerges burnished and marbled, and needs only a dusting of powdered sugar. Like so many recipes in the book, it is homey yet good enough to serve to company. Baking it reminded me why I still love and use this book after so many years.

Sweet Potato-Chocolate Cake

Chocolate swirled into sweet potato batter makes an attractive cake. / AFR photo by Domenica Marchetti

Originally published by Knopf in 1982, “The Victory Garden Cookbook” was the companion cookbook to the original PBS gardening series of the same name. The show was produced by Morash’s husband, Russell, who also created “The French Chef” and other cooking shows starring Julia Child, as well as “This Old House” and “The New Yankee Workshop.” Marian Morash, an avid gardener who had worked as an executive chef on one of Child’s series, contributed countless recipes for the many vegetables featured on “The Victory Garden” show.

The book is an alphabetical homage to vegetables from asparagus to zucchini. Each vegetable (or family of vegetables) gets its own chapter, with information on growing, varieties and yields; plus basic instructions for blanching, boiling, sautéing, baking and more. The recipes — more than 800 altogether — beautifully showcase the versatility of each vegetable, on its own and with other vegetables, in salads, soups, sautés, stews, braises, breads and baked goods, in appetizers, main courses and desserts.

Long before Brussels sprouts, kale and fennel were the darlings of chefs across the country, they were Marian Morash’s darlings. “I never tire of marveling at Brussels sprouts,” she writes. “Cut open a Brussels sprout and examine it closely. See how the tiny leaves curl against each other and the way the color shades from cream to bright green.”

My mom got the first copy of the book in our house. I can’t remember for sure, but my guess is that it was a gift from my dad, an early devotee of PBS cooking shows (not surprisingly, we Marchettis were big fans of “The Romagnolis’ Table”). The sweet potato cake was one of the first recipes she made from it, and there was a period during which she seemed to make it at least once a week, to bring to friends or to keep on our kitchen counter.

A few years after my mom got her book, she gave a copy each to my sister and me. Mine has followed me more or less everywhere I’ve gone since then and I still consult it regularly. It’s a large paperback, and a few years ago, its front cover finally came off and had to be taped back on. I thought about buying a new copy — the book was re-released in 2010 — but by now part of the appeal for me lies in its worn state.

“The Victory Garden Cookbook” has none of the stunning photos that accompany so many of today’s cookbooks. There is not a whiff of celebrity about it. What it has is Morash’s down-to-earth style and practical, yet joyful approach to cooking. She is just a knowledgeable teacher sharing her passion. Maybe that is the secret to this book’s enduring appeal.

 

Makes 1 (10-inch) cake, about 16 servings

AFR Tested

Sweet Potato-Chocolate Cake

The sweet potato's natural orange color looks beautiful swirled together with chocolate. The mashed sweet potatoes add moisture to the batter, resulting in a rich, tender crumb. Serve plain with just a dusting of powdered sugar. This recipe is slightly adapted from "The Victory Garden Cookbook" (Knopf, 1982), by Marian Morash.

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces semisweet chocolate
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 tseaspoon salt
  • 2 cups cooked, mashed sweet potatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • Confectioners' sugar for dusting

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter and lightly flour a 10-inch tube pan. Place chocolate and vanilla in a small saucepan and set, covered, in a larger pan that you've just filled with boiling water.

Sift together all dry ingredients and set aside. In a large bowl, beat the sweet potatoes and oil together. Beat in the eggs, one by one, until well blended. Slowly add the dry ingredients and beat until thoroughly combined. Put one-third of the mixture in another bowl and stir in the chocolate, which should be melted smooth by now. Alternate the batters in the tube pan, as you would with a marble cake. With a knife, cut through the two batters to slightly swirl together.

Bake for 1 to 1 1/4 hours or until the sides have shrunk away from the pan, the top is springy, and a cake tester comes out dry. Set the pan on a rack and let cool for 30 minutes. Carefully remove the cake from the pan and cool completely. Dust with confectioners' sugar before serving.

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13 Responses to The Kitchen Sink: Back to ‘Victory Garden Cookbook’

  1. Helen Free February 3, 2014 at 6:39 pm #

    She sounds like a wonderful practitioner of the spirit behind the victory gardens. As a city dweller, I rejoice in our urban beekeepers and gardeners whose patriotism shows in their use of resources before them.
    BTW, that cake looks yummy. Is the sweet potato much different than carrot puree in the cake?

    • Avatar of Domenica Marchetti
      Domenica Marchetti February 4, 2014 at 9:18 am #

      Good question, Helen. I don’t think I’ve used cooked carrot puree in a cake. I usually use grated raw carrot. But I don’t see why not. In fact, Morash’s book does have a recipe for carrot bread, which does call for mashed carrots. It’s a basic sweet quick bread. I’ll bet a chocolate-carrot marble cake would be delicious.

  2. Margie Gibson February 4, 2014 at 9:14 am #

    What an enticing cake that is! Wish I had a hunk in front of me.

    If you are looking for ways to use the sweet potatoes, one of the stands at the Dupont Circle market had a sweet potato-peanut soup to sample this past Sunday. It would be easy enough to recreate it–chicken broth, onions, celery, peanut butter, and peanuts, plus mashed sweet potatoes and a few spices would do it. Some cream wouldn’t hurt. The texture was lovely–velvety and smooth–and the taste was both a bit sweet and picante. overall, a good winter soup!

    • Avatar of Domenica Marchetti
      Domenica Marchetti February 4, 2014 at 9:20 am #

      Oh my gosh Margie, that sounds brilliant. I love Virginia peanut soup. I’ll bet it would be even better with sweet potatoes mixed in. Thanks for the inspiration.

  3. Adri February 4, 2014 at 11:28 am #

    Oh, but I love that cookbook. Marian and Russell Morash are unsung heroes of the way we eat today. I used to watch The Victory Garden every Saturday morning. We in Santa Monica used to talk about our gardens and discuss the recipes and plants we had seen the day before as we met at The Rose Cafe on Sunday mornings. We’d often trundle over to the nursery and stock up on what ever we had learned about. My friends and I used to cook foods from the show and the book for our communal garden dinners. This one brought back memories. I do not recall this particular cake, but a very similar recipe ran in Gourmet way back in the eighties, and that cake was divine. Thanks for tilling the memories in the soil, Domenica.

    • Avatar of Domenica Marchetti
      Domenica Marchetti February 5, 2014 at 8:30 am #

      Thank you for your lovely comment, Adri. I’m glad this brings back good memories. There are too many recipes in that book to know them all. Another favorite of mine is the squash cornbread, made with winter squash. Like sweet potatoes in the chocolate cake, the squash adds moisture and a beautiful golden color to the cornbread. It’s my favorite cornbread recipe.

  4. Phyllis @ Oracibo February 4, 2014 at 6:36 pm #

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane Domenica! I watched that show all the time! Never had the cookbook though. Love that you have duct-taped or whatever your first copy together! I have a Five Roses cookbook that I bought at least a hundred years ago and it’s the same. Have a newer copy but I just love the old one with all the splashes, pages embedded with a dusting of flour and a certain smell…you might know what I mean!

    • Avatar of Domenica Marchetti
      Domenica Marchetti February 5, 2014 at 8:31 am #

      Phillis, thanks for your comment. Five Roses? I’m not familiar with this book, and now I must go google it. And yes, I know exactly what you mean. There’s nothing more appealing than a well-loved cookbook. Cheers, D

  5. Carey Tynan February 13, 2014 at 9:49 am #

    Oh my mother kept this cookbook on the kitchen counter and used it constantly!! My family said that I looked just like the picture on the front of the cookbook! Fond fond memories!!

    • Avatar of Domenica Marchetti
      Domenica Marchetti April 14, 2014 at 11:04 am #

      Carey, I just saw your comment. So glad that this book brings back fond memories. It does for me as well. Cheers.

  6. Marsha April 14, 2014 at 7:29 am #

    I love sweet potato so I had a go at this recipe. It didn’t quite look the same as your photo but there was none left in a very short time so a great success. Definitely one to try again.

    • Avatar of Domenica Marchetti
      Domenica Marchetti April 14, 2014 at 11:03 am #

      Glad to year you enjoyed the cake Marsha. How did it look different? Did it not rise properly? Let me know and maybe we can figure it out.

  7. Mimi Harrison October 18, 2014 at 11:36 am #

    I lost this book years ago and have been craving this recipe ever since. THANK YOU for printing it.

    MH

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