Will Fellows grew up on a dairy farm. It was a large operation that required everyone in the family to pitch in.
“Typical chores for me were feeding the cows when they were in the barn, going up in the silo and throwing silage down, carrying pails of milk from the barn where the milking was done into the milk house and pouring them through the strainer into the milk tank,” Fellows recalls.
He says that performing these tasks gave him a sense of satisfaction, and instilled an appreciation for the effort that goes into putting food on the table. This is something that everyone in the family was conscious of — especially his mother. She came of age during the Great Depression as the oldest of nine siblings from a farm family.
“We had a household garden and it was very big. And my mom did a lot of freezing and canning … she knew what it was like to lay food by and have a sense of self-sufficiency to a great degree and not always rely on the market for everything,” says Fellows.
This mentality can be seen in her recipe for devil’s food cake, which made use of spoiled milk. Fellows said that this is something they always had enough of growing up on the farm.
“Sometimes you would deliberately put a jar of fresh milk out to let it sour if you knew that you were going to need sour milk for pancakes or waffles or something you were going to be making," he says. "But sometimes it just went bad. It just spoiled because you didn’t use it fast enough,” says Fellows.
It’s this funky brew that gives his family's devil’s food cake its distinctive flavor and texture.
“In a cake recipe or any recipe where … you need leavening that’s not yeast, [sour milk is] a way to get the acid that you need to make the baking soda produce the carbon dioxide that makes the cake, or whatever you’re making, rise,” Fellows explains.
This results in a fluffiness and tang that sets it apart from your typical chocolate cake.
“When I eat a piece of chocolate cake that is not made with either, say, buttermilk or sour milk or something like that, it tastes flat to me,” says Fellows.
- 1 1/2 cups sugar
- 1/2 cup cocoa
- 2 eggs
- 1/3 cup shortening*
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups flour
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 1/2 cups sour milk or buttermilk*
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
*A 50/50 mixture of regular milk and plain yogurt can also be used in place of the sour milk or buttermilk
*You can also use butter, or a 50/50 mix of melted butter and vegetable oil, as the shortening.
Put all mesaured ingredients in a large bowl and mix all at once. Bake the batter in a greased 9 x 13" cake pan at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.