In the Kitchen, Uncategorized

Great Grandma Helsley’s Cherry Pudding

She was known as “Lizzie” and was my paternal great-grandmother.   Born in Rockingham County, Virginia, in the Fall of 1877, she was a farmer’s wife, mother to six, and I’m saddened that I never got to meet her, as I would love to know more of her story than what I’ve been told.

For me, she lives on in her recipes – a collection of hand-written treasures recorded in her own script in a little black 3-ring binder that lost its front and back covers a long time ago.  The recipes are diverse, yet basic – the kinds of things that are meant to set to a farmhouse table, celebrate a special occasion, satisfy a sweet tooth, preserve/butcher and process, and even clean and provide medical care.


In time, I hope to share a few that are especially good, but today it’s all about Cherry Pudding.

My Grandma used to make this every year when sour cherry season rolled around – always delicious, hearty, and a special treat.  In fact, this was served as a meal on a hot summer’s evening, warm and straight from the oven.  I, however, love it most when nice and cold.

The name is deceiving as it’s not a “pudding” in the sense that we think of a common pudding.  It’s a very heavy, very thick cake.  It is also not overly sweet like the dessert cakes we typically eat and is intended to be enjoyed with liberal amounts of milk and sugar.

It’s a labor a love, (pitting cherries is a thankless job) but the extra time and effort is well worth it in the end.

You start with these!

SOUR Cherries!

Sour cherries are not your eat-by-the-handful variety, but are definitely your best choice for baking.  I grabbed a bucket of these beauties from our local orchard and they had just been picked that morning.

The recipe calls for 1 quart of cherries, (I always add more) but I’m making several pans so I intend to use them all.

First thing is a soak in cold water with a splash of vinegar to give them a good rinse.

Set yourself a “pitting station” because, well, this is going to take a while…

There are numerous ways to pit cherries and lots of gadgets/tools to “supposedly” make the task easier, but I still choose to do it by hand — for the following reasons:

1.  I think it takes just as much time to load said gadgets with cherries as it does to poke the pit out manually.

2.  I like being able to account for every single pit as it exits its respective cherry because nothing screams emergency trip to the dentist like a broken tooth as a result of chomping down on a rock hard, wayward pit.

3.  I am cheap and possess none of the alternative tools.

What I do have is this.  A plain old wooden skewer (a.k.a. chopstick) and it works just fine.  Poke the cherry from the bottom and both seed and stem pop right out.  You can both see and feel that you’ve done the job.

When the cherries are ready, gather your ingredients. (And spend valuable time staging them for a lovely photo op because everybody does that, right?  Right?)


  • 1-1/4 cup sugar (this is not a sweet cake — you can add if desired, but I like to just allow people to add their own at serving time.)
  •  1/2 cup shortening (you can use butter — no difference IMHO)
  •  2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 4 cups flour
  • 3 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 qt. sour cherries (I always use WAY more, but that’s just me) (I have also made this recipe with sweet cherries and, while good, it’s not quite the same as the traditional)

When you’re ready to start, drag out “Big Red!”

I wonder what my Great-Grandma would’ve thought of Red — how much easier it would’ve made her kitchen tasks…

Mix together the shortening (butter) and sugar and then add the eggs and milk.  Blend well.

Add the flour, cup by cup, and the baking powder.  Dump it in there — none of that sifting together this and carefully blending in that.

Fold the cherries in by hand.


Grease and flour or spray a cake pan and spread the mixture evenly.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 60 minutes.

**IMPORTANT NOTE**  This pudding can be really deceiving when it comes to determining whether or not it’s truly done.  It will brown evenly on top and appear to be baked through even with the “tap test” when, in fact, the center won’t be done at all.  Because it is so thick, you must use a pick to be sure it is completely baked!

And there you have it!  A Cherry Pudding (or three or four)!

Serve it warm from the oven with ice cold milk and lots of sugar or a big scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Bring this farmhouse favorite to your table and enjoy a taste of Summer sweetness!



He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.  Psalm 1:3


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