Edible cement

March 1 – Many decades ago, Dale was in Africa with his parents who were missionaries in Southern Rhodesia. They soon found out that food on the shelves of the shops was not the same as they were used to eating back in Michigan. AND the shops were much farther away, too. One item they had to learn to do with out was one of their favorite cereal–grape nuts. Back in Battle Creek where they had lived for a number of years, they were well acquainted with the Kellogg family and the Posts who were the big cereal makers. Kelloggs made most of the products, but Posts came up with “Post Grape Nuts,” a real hit with consumers.

Of course, there was not one box of Grape Nuts to be found in Southern Rhodesia, so after Mom had thought about it for a bit, she came up with her own version. It wasn’t exactly like Grape Nuts, but a good substitute. By the time I joined the family, Mom had been making her own cereal for years. When I was introduced to it, I could easily see why – it was delicious! Mom would mix the ingredients (I am going to put a copy of her recipe at the end of the blog), substituting as she had to based on what was available. She would roll out the dough like that for a pie crust, bake it, and then put it through an old-fashioned grinder. Out came little bits and pieces of her own “grape nuts.”

The finished product

The finished product

Years later, after we had returned to Pennsylvania and our kids were several years old, they began to eat homemade grape nuts too. Somewhere along the line, I decided not to bake a big amount at once and grind it up. Instead, I rolled it out on the table, cut the dough in strips about an inch by a foot, baked it, and then left it in that shape to be used as a snack. The kids could munch on this “good-for-you” snack when they wanted something to take with them as they walked or played.

David well remembers how hard and tough that snack was. On our camping trips to the Allegheny Forest near Warren, PA, I made sure that we had a sizable plastic bag full of that tasty stuff with us. Loading up his back pockets with those strips, he enjoyed pulling them out from time to time to give him enough energy to climb the hills or even the huge rocks near Minister’s Creek. No matter how he scrambled around, it stayed intact, with none of it falling by the wayside. And because of that, the “grape nuts” became known as “cement”

150301_CrossStitchI have made three or four different versions during the years, just to try out new tastes. David, who at that time was a cross-stitcher, made me a framed copy of the first version we used. It now hangs on the wall beside our bed. Of course, the recipe shows as Granola as it was when I first started making it, but it really is Cement as far as family tradition is concerned!

150301_RollingPinAfter years of making the cement by myself, our daughter Biz asked one of the neighbors if he could make a huge rolling pin, making it easier to press down hard on the dough to roll it out. And, yes, that rolling pin is really big in comparison to the usual ones. It has a diameter of five inches, and is 17 inches long, without the five-inch handles. Pretty heavy, too. Well, that was a good thought from Biz because guess who does all the rolling and mixing of the dough now? Yep, Dale’s hands and arms do the job for me now.

Strips ready for the oven

Strips ready for the oven

Through the years we have made some changes in how we do the job. In the beginning, we would have to scrub bits of dough off the kitchen floor, a hard job really, because that stuff sticks! We finally had the bright idea of lifting the table and sliding a very large blue tarp underneath.

We also used to roll out dough on both sides and both ends of the table. This didn’t leave much room for me to work in the cutting and transferring the pieces to the cookie tins. Now we do only two sides at once. Sometimes the dough would stick to the rolling pin, no matter how Dale would roll it out, but using non-stick spray does the trick perfectly. Keep a good eye on what’s happening inside that oven, and you will come up with a light brown crunchy product. Dale and I sample the warm cement from time to time as we get the dough ready to bake. Such crispy goodness!

150301_CementIf you’re interested, here is the recipe I have come up with and use currently. In the first place, it is pretty hard to find malt extract, and I can easily use molasses or similar products for the taste. Second, this version is a little less CRUNCHY than the original and will save your teeth!

I always store the cement in one of the big tins in which popcorn is sold at Christmas. It’s a tradition that we send off a big tin of cement to David for his birthday and Christmas, although we try to keep him supplied throughout the year. The last batch we made was for his birthday last week. We were able to send it to him as a surprise, because:

  1. one of our neighbors who works in Kansas City
  2. could send it with her daughter to
  3. the secretary of the school the daughter attends who
  4. just happens to be David’s wife

who could take it home as a big surprise! – CHRIS

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