WARREN?- Barbara Eschman's mother bought her daughter her first cookbook when she was 8 years old.
That was 1959, and Eschman still makes use of the "Betty Crocker's Cook Book for Boys and Girls."
"I've always liked to cook," said Eschman recently at her Warren home.
Barbara Eschman displays a completed banana cake.
Her mother, Edie Petrosky, is 80 and lives in Warren. She was the source for Eschman's "Simply the Best Banana Cake" recipe.
The cake, which Petrosky began making in the 1950s, is a family favorite.
"The title speaks for itself," Eschman said in her Trumbull Cooks submission.
Simply the Best Banana Cake Submitted by Barbara Eschman
2 1/2 cups sifted flour
1 2/3 cup sugar
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup Crisco
2/3 cup buttermilk (or 2/3 cup milk with 1 tablespoon vinegar)
1 1/2 cups mashed "ripe" bananas
3 eggs, at room temperature
Cream the sugar and Crisco well. Add the eggs and mashed bananas. Combine the other dry ingredients and add to creamed mixture alternately with the milk, until well beaten. Pour into 2 greased and floured 9-inch cake pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes, until tests clean with toothpick. Cool for 10 minutes on rack, then invert on racks to remove from pans and cool completely. Frost.
1 cup milk
1/4 cup flour
Shake well, then cook over medium heat, stirring till very thick and well-cooked. Remove, cover and cool completely in refrigerator.
1 stick margarine
1/2 cup Crisco
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Beat margarine and Crisco for 3-4 minutes. Gradually beat in sugar, beat for 5 minutes. Beat in vanilla. Gradually add the cooked, cooled flour mixture a spoonful at a time. Keep beating for 5-10 minutes until very fluffy and creamy. Frost cake. Decorate with walnuts or pecans if desired.
Eschman said the recipe obviously takes longer than one from a box, but it doesn't take any special skill. In fact, she usually thinks outside of the box while in the kitchen.
"When I grew up, my mom didn't work until I was in high school," Eschman said. "She cooked everything from scratch, fresh. We didn't know about food in a box."
Avoiding sodium and cholesterol for health reasons has Eschman returning to that way of thinking. She's reading labels - did you know that a Nutri-Grain bar has 48 ingredients? - and keeps her cooking simple.
"I put no chemicals in my body," she said.
So she's free - preservative free, trans-fat free and high fructose corn syrup free. She even purchases hormone- and range-free eggs. She enjoys growing her own vegetables and flowers.
Eschman said Crisco is normally a no-no, but she bought it for the cake recipe. This frosting is not from a jar.
"It takes maybe 20 minutes to beat the frosting," she said.
So as she cuts out white sugar, white flour and white bread, Eschman's cooking still has color. Meals, sans pasta and potatoes, usually consist of chicken or fish, two vegetables and a salad, for which she makes her own dressing.
"It's not sugar- or fat-free but it gets you to eat more salad, and there's no preservatives in it," she said.
To take the place of salt, she uses spices and garlic and relies on cinnamon for sweetness. She uses real maple syrup, too.
Eschman also leaves the fun in cooking, especially since she's taken over from her mom the job of hosting holiday dinners. She creates menus, such as one for Easter called "Recipes from a Monastery Kitchen," which was based on a cookbook.
She recently threw a German-themed birthday party for her son, Justin, who is 26. In addition to German food, guests had placemats that looked like German flags.
Eschman, who is a social worker with the Area Agency on Aging, says she collects recipes "way too much."
Eschman said she enjoys garage sales, sewing, going to the beach and collecting beach glass. She plays the piano and enjoys rubber-stamping, and she has stack of creative, homemade greeting cards completed and ready to send.
If the card comes with a piece of that cake, even better.