Sarah Jane Anderson McDowell, The Meek Grandmother

Sarah Jane Anderson 1833-1893

The Early Years in Pennsylvania

Emma Allison, first wife of John Anderson, gave birth to Sarah Jane Anderson on their farm in Washington County in western Pennsylvania in mid summer-July 9, 1833. Baby Sarah had a brother, Erasmus, three years old when she was born, and three years after she was born younger brother John came along.  However, the next year, her mother died.  Sarah probably did not remember much about her mother, because Emma died when Sarah was only four years old.

[NOTE:  Some family trees name an older sister of Erasmus, Mary, but I have found no proof other than a reference in a Holmes County history that says Emma gave birth to four children.]

The Scene Shifts to Ohio

Her father John Anderson, needed a caretaker for this three young children, quickly married Isabella Sarah McCabe and the family began to grow.  By the time they moved to Ohio in 1843, the young Sarah had two more siblings, Margaret and William.

In Ohio, her father bought a 140-acre farm in the fertile land of Monroe Township, and the family began to attend the Church of Christ in Welcome, near the farm.

In  Holmes County,  Ohio when Sarah Jane Anderson was about to turn ten years old, another sister, Amy, was born.  Three years later a sister, Caroline joined the family and then brother Joseph J. Anderson, my great-grandfather was born in 1848. The 1850 census for Monroe Township, Holmes County, Ohio, listed eight children in the family of John and Isabella Anderson, ranging in age from two (Joseph) to twenty years old (Erasmus). Sarah Jane  had turned 17 a month before the August census.

Sarah Jane Anderson Meets James McDowell

Several McDowell families lived in the same township and neighboring Killbuck, Ohio and somewhere, probably at the church where they would later be married, Sarah met James Coleville McDowell. The teen-aged Sarah must have been impressed by the six-years-older school teacher. Two of his siblings also taught school, bringing some extra respect to this farm family.  They married on March 25, 1852. [Two months later, Sarah’s stepmother gave birth to the youngest son of John Anderson, Franklin]

In September the following year, Sarah gave birth to their first son, John Anderson McDowell. The family grew as most did in those days, with a new infant appearing every two years. Sarah and James McDowell’s family included

  • 1853: John Anderson McDowell
  • 1855: Matthew Thomas McDowell
  • 1857: Alice McDowell
  • 1862: David McDowell
  • 1865: An infant son named William, died at five months old

Sarah Jane Anderson – Life as a Mother

Sarah’s children and life brought both joy and pain.  It appears that Alice McDowell suffered from debilitating “rheumatism”/ arthritis.  In the 1860 census, Sarah’s husband, James’ sister Martha was living with the family, perhaps to help with the children.  In 1860, James’ occupation is not listed, but although they are living in the rural township of Monroe, he does not own land equivalent to surrounding farmers, so I’m guessing that he was still teaching school.

The Civil War occupied everyone’s attention, particularly with both her brothers Erasmus and William enlisting.  In 1862 word arrived that William had disappeared, probably taken captive by the South. In 1863, her brother Erasmus died at Vicksburg.

When Sarah was 37, she and James and their four children lived in Oxford, an earlier name for Killbuck, Ohio–having moved back to town from the farm. According to the 1870 census, James is employed as a grocer and the children, ranging from six to sixteen years old, attend school.

In 1872, the family reels from shock when Sarah’s brother John falls from a fruit tree on his farm and dies at just thirty-six years old.  At the end of the decade, her father, John Anderson dies. It was in late 1870 that Sarah began to suffer from stomach and liver problems, according to her obituary.

On the positive side during the 1870s, Sarah must have been very proud of her oldest son John who graduated from Normal school and begins a teaching career, becoming Principal of the school in Millersburg Ohio, the county seat for Holmes County. By the end of the decade, he has advanced to Superintendent of the Millersburg schools.

Grandmother Sarah Jane

Daughter Alice, on the other hand no doubt upset her mother when in 1879 she  gave birth to a daughter, Jennie, without having been married.  Alice and Jennie lived with Sarah and James McDowell  until she married William Eyster in 1881.  Alice then had two sons, Harry in 1883 and Clyde in 1886.

In October 1879, her son Thomas, a farmer in Holmes County, had presented Sarah with a grandson, and in 1881 son John and his wife also had a son. They went on to have seven more before Sarah died and a total of fourteen children.

At 46, Sarah had become officially a grandmother. Although her son David, a farmer, married, he did not have children.

Suffering Pain

By 1890 (according to her effusive obituary) Sarah suffered “extreme and almost constant” pain from 1890 to 1893.  In December of 1893, at the age of  sixty, Sarah contracted the flu and died.


Sarah Jane Anderson McDowell Obituary from Margaret Anderson Lisle’s scrapbook.

Sarah did not live to see her oldest son elected to Congress in 1899 and serve two terms before being defeated in a primary election. She missed his rise in education circles with increasingly important jobs throughout his lifetime.  She did not live to be part of the Anderson-Stout family picture that I have posted many times before. Her daughter Alice, grand-daughter Jennie and several of her siblings are in that picture.

After giving the facts of her life, her obituary goes on to say:

Some of her characteristics for which she was noted were truthfulness, meekness and promptness. Her disposition was strong and firm in whatever direction she was inclined . She was plain and economical in apparel. Her greatest delight was to entertain company, and no labor was spared to provide for their satisfaction even when such labor was a great weariness of the flesh. She was kind and forgiving, often befriending those whom she knew had purposely and greatly wronged her. She was an agreeable companion; always very industrious, prompt and successful in the management of her part of the duties of a home. She was a kind and loving mother, always possessed with a disposition to assist and encourage all in every good deed and work. Her friends were many. Almost without an exception her neighbors and acquaintances were her warm and obliging friends.

After reading the description of Sarah as “Meek”, I wonder at the contrast between her and many of the other women in my past.  And that “Plain and economical in apparel” is interesting, too.  I wish I had her picture. She may be one of the unidentified women in my great-grandmother Hattie’s photo album, but I have no way of knowing.

By 1900, we find Sarah Jane Anderson ‘s  husband James McDowell living with their son David who was teaching school. David returns to farming and we find James  living alone in 1910. He passed away in 1916 having outlived Sarah by 23 years.

How I Am Related

  • Vera Marie Kaser Badertscher is the daughter of
  • Harriette Anderson Kaser, who is the daughter of
  • Leonard Guy Anderson, who is the son of
  • Joseph Anderson, who is the son of
  • John Anderson the father  of
  • Sarah Anderson McDowell

Notes on Research

United States Federal Census Records, 1850 and 1860, Monroe Township, Holmes County, Ohio; 1870, Oxford, Holmes County, Ohio; 1870, Monroe Twp, Holmes County, Ohio; 1880, Killbuck, Holmes County, Ohio; 1880, Monroe Twp., Holmes County, Ohio; 1900, Millersburg, Ohio; 1900 Monroe Twp, Holmes County, Ohio; 1900 Coshocton, Coshocton County, Ohio; 1900, Killbuck, Holmes County, Ohio; 1910, Ashland, Ashland County, Ohio; 1910, Killbuck, Holmes County, Ohio; 1920, Killbuck, Holmes, Ohio; 1930, Killbuck, Holmes, Ohio.

Biographies of Members of Congress

Ohio, County Marriages, 1774-1993, Holmes County, Ohio, James McDowell and Sarah Anderson, March 25, 1852,, Film #000477144; David McDowell and Cambie Gray, 9 Oct, 1884, film #000477146.

Find a Grave

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Black Forest Cake – Almost Authentic

Thank you for sticking with me through my exploration of German Sausages–even last week’s Blood Sausage (Blutwurst). There will be more sausages in the future, but I promised you a yummy dessert, and here it is–my own over-the-top version of German Black Forest Cake.

Frosted and choc covered cherries

I drew on two sources for my almost-authentic version of Black Forest Cake, and I encourage you to check them both out.  Genius Kitchen posts a recipe for a cake dripping with the German liqueur, Kirsch, and topped by a fluffy whipped cream frosting. The Genius Kitchen author introduces the recipe with a bit of a rant about the popular substitute for authentic Black Forest Cake–the super easy, but cloyingly sweet, cake mix with cherry pie filling recipe. I don’t think I’d try that ever–but certainly not when luscious black cherries are in season, and I have some melting chocolate at hand.

Cherries naked and covered

Because the original version introduced by Genius Kitchen had a whipped cream frosting (in addition to a buttercream filling) and I wanted a cake that would last longer than the quickly-deflating whipped cream, I borrowed the filling and frosting recipe from another site, The First Year Blog. 

Black Forest Cake Icing

Black Forest Cake Icing

Check out that site for an absolutely gorgeous cake that she calls Fresh Cherry Cake with Chocolate Ganache.  While the recipe definitely owes its origins to Black Forest Cake, it ups the ante by dribbling the Ganache over the top of the cherry-flecked frosting. This recipe also leaves out the kirsch.

  I found a way to stabilize whipped cream frosting, but I haven’t tried it so not sure how much shelf life it adds. This is the suggestion:  Let 1 tsp plain unflavored gelatin sit in 4 tsps water until thick, then warm over low heat.  Whip 1 C heavy cream to 1/4 C confectioner sugar to stiff peaks, then stir in the gelatin. If you use this, or try it, let me know how it works.

I was serving the cake to my grandson for his 11th birthday,  so I subbed cherry juice for the liqueur, my second step away from authenticity.  And although I loved the look of the ganache on the cake, I had already decided I was going to do my own over-the-top finish by decorating with chocolate covered cherries.  As you can see here the eleven chocolate drenched cherries substitute for candles on the grandson’s cake.

Cherries instead of candles

Black Forest two-layer cake with chocolate covered cherries.

Confession time–The first attempt at this cake turned out to be a poison cake (explained in the post following this one).

Since I didn’t discover the disaster until the day of the celebration, I had to shorten the time available to make the cake. Plus, the original recipe (which is in the recipe below) is an extremely delicate cake, so it takes extra care, which I wasn’t in the mood for any more.  See the holes in the top layer in this picture? That is what happened when I moved the cake from the cooling rack.

German Black Forest cake.

German Black Forest cake. 2 of 3 cake layers, showing pieces broken in moving,

So I used a dark chocolate cake mix instead of remaking the original Black Forest cake recipe. But don’t worry–I did not succumb to the pie filling shortcut. And everyone who tasted the cake loved it.

I think everything is explained in the recipe, but if you have any questions or suggestions, please do leave them in the comment section.

German Black Forest Cake

Serves 12
Prep time 13 hours
Cook time 20 minutes
Total time 13 hours, 20 minutes
Allergy Egg, Milk, Wheat
Meal type Dessert
Misc Child Friendly
Region German
A delicate chocolate cake infused with cherry flavor and frosted with a pretty pink cherry frosting. Topped with chocolate covered cherries.



  • 1 cup cherries (pitted (divided))
  • 1 cup butter ((two sticks) room temperature)
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 7 cups powdered sugar

Chocolate Covered Cherries

  • 20-24 cherries (Pitted from the side, stem on)
  • 10oz Melting chocolate wafers ((see note))


  • 1 2/3 cup flour (all-purpose)
  • 2/3 cups cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup shortening (vegetable shortening or butter, room temperature)
  • 1 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cup buttermilk ((see note))
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup cherry juice ((see note))


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line bottom of three 9-inch cake pans with parchment paper.
2. In medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa,baking soda and salt.
3. In large bowl, cream shortening and sugar.
4. Add eggs and vanilla and mix well.
5. Add dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk and mix until no dry spots appear, but do not over beat.
6. Pour batter into cake pans evenly.
7. Bake 20 minutes, or until toothpick comes out clean.
8. Let cakes cool in pan. When cool, remove from pan and prick all over with toothpick. Drizzle about 1/4 cup cherry juice over each cake.
9. While Cake is baking, chop 1/2 cup cherries and set aside.
10. Puree enough cherries to make about 1/2 cup puree, using blender, food processor or stick blender. Set aside
11. Beat butter and vegetable shortening with electric mixer untili fluffy--2 minutes.
12. Add vanilla extract and cherry puree, beat with electric mixer.
13. Add powdered sugar 1-2 cups at a time until frosting is the consistency you want. Stir in the chopped cherries.
14. Put one layer of cake on cake plate and spread frosting on that layer--spread evenly. (Optional) Add a layer of pitted, halved cherries on top of the frosting, and top that with more frosting. ) If using 3-layer cake, put 2nd layer on top and do the same. Top with 3rd layer but do not frost.
15. Put cake in refrigerator overnight so the cherry juice will penetrate the cake layers. Seal remaining frosting well and put it in the refrigerator as well.
Chocolate Covered cherries
16. The next day, make the chocolate covered cherries for decoration. Nest a smaller saucepan in a larger pan, putting water in the lower pan. Bring the water to a simmer, stir the chocolate until it is smooth. (This is very fast if you use the melting wafers.)
Chocolate Covered Cherries
17. Holding a cherry by the stem, swish it through the chocolate to cover, and as much as possible fill the hole left by pitting. Set the chocolate-covered cherries on a piece of wax paper to harden.
Final Frosting
18. Remove the frosting from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature, mixing to soften. Remove the cake from the refrigerator and cover sides and then top with frosting.
19. Arrange chocolate-covered cherries on top and around bottom of cake.


This almost-authentic German recipe substitutes cherry juice for alcoholic kirsch since I'm baking it for children. I also substituted butter cream filling and frosting for the more traditional butter cream filling and whipped cream frosting because a whipped cream frosting will deflate after a short period of time, and I wanted the cake to last longer.

The cake is very delicate and difficult to remove from pan and move from cooling rack to plate.  If you do not want to tackle the authentic cake, use a Duncan Hines dark chocolate cake mix instead.  You may decide to make two layers, as I did rather than three.

Use either dark or milk chocolate.  We like dark chocolate, so I used Ghiradelli's dark chocolate melting wafers and was pleased with the results.  If you have not used melting wafers before, I recommend you try them. Melt quickly and smoothly and have a nicer look when they cool than chocolate chips or even baking chocolate.

If you have trouble finding cherry juice, substitute apple juice, or if the cake is served to adults, use Kirsch for a really powerful cake.

If fresh cherries are not in season, used drained, canned cherries (not cherry pie filling!).

To ensure the cake layers are even, I weigh the pan with batter.  Usually when I eyeball the amount I'm right on target, but being off by a couple ounces can make an uneven result. Also be sure to smooth the batter out with a spatula.  It won't even itself out as it bakes.

Don't like buttermilk?  Substitute sour cream or plain yogurt.  (But I think buttermilk gives the best results.)

The authentic version of the cake uses plain naked cherries--but I love the over-the-top-ness of using chocolate covered cherries to decorate the cake.

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The Prince and the Poison Cake

Every week I learn something new about cooking. Sometimes the truth is not pleasant, as in this true fairy tale about a poison cake.

Poison cake

Poison cake in refrigerator

Once upon a time there was a Prince who was about to have a birthday.  His grandmother decided to make him a special cake for his birthday–a Black Forest Cake.  Since his birthday came in June when the beautiful big black Bing cherries were in season, grandmother had cherries in her refrigerator. And being a grandmother, she always had a lot of chocolate around. She was prepared to make a large chocolate cake and fill and frost it with a cherry icing.

So the grandmother looked at recipes and picked one called an Authentic German Black Forest Cake. She decided to top the finished cake with chocolate covered cherries instead of candles.  She measured and mixed and baked three layers of chocolate cake. At this point in the story, if she had been the wicked grandmother, she would have been preparing a poison cake.  But she was not the wicked grandmother.

While the cake was baking, she pitted a bowl of cherries, briefly wondering if she missed a cherry pit and it wound up in the chocolate covered cherries she was putting on top of the cake if it would cause a choking problem.  She decided she would just give the usual warning about being careful of missed pits.

Then grandmother used a filling recipe from another web site, and chopped some cherries. The day before the Prince’s celebration, grandmother put a small batch of the pitted cherries into a deep container, got out her stick blender and whirred them into a cherry puree.  She mixed butter, sugar and pureed and chopped cherries into a luscious pink filling, which she spread on top of two of the layers of cake, after drizzling cherry juice over the cake layers.

The three-layered cake went into the refrigerator so the cherry juice would have time overnight to soak in.  Grandmother, pleased with her work, sat down with the bowl of leftover filling and ate every leftover bite. The small amount of leftover cherry puree went into the refrigerator beside the cake.

The next morning, Grandmother put the bit of leftover cherry puree on her cereal.  But as she ate, her teeth crunch down on something hard. Uh-Oh.  One of the cherry pits had escaped notice and been pulverized by the stick blender and mixed into the beautiful pink cake filling.

Remembering that she had read that apricot pits are toxic, she decided to check on cherry pits.  She did not intend to bake a poison cake. [She recalled that her ancestors in aprons used bitter almond to flavor baked goods until it was discovered to be toxic.) Sure enough, she read this on Bon Appetit’s website:

Don’t freak out if you accidentally swallow a cherry pit—they’re rarely poisonous when eaten whole—but whatever you do, don’t eat a broken pit. Because aside from tasting really bitter and generally being impossible to chew, the stones of certain stone fruits, like cherries, apricots, plums and peaches, contain cyanogenic compounds—science talk for “stuff that your body can turn into cyanide.” So, how many cherry pits is a lethal amount of cherry pits? After some quick Googling, we found that hydrogen cyanide is lethal at about 1.52 milligrams per kilogram, meaning that it takes little more than 0.1 grams (a dime weighs about one gram) of the toxin to dispatch a 150-pound human. A single cherry yields roughly 0.17 grams of lethal cyanide per gram of seed, so depending on the size of the kernel, ingesting just one or two freshly crushed pits can lead to death.

Since this grandmother did not want to wind up as the wicked grandmother in a fairy tale, she threw the beautiful three-layer cake with filling into the garbage can.  She did this even though, she had eaten quite a bit of the filling the night before, and more of the puree in the morning, and still was healthy. But not being the evil grandmother, she did not want to take a chance on feeding poison cake to the Prince and his family. So she made a new cake.

Not poison cake

Black Forest two-layer cake with chocolate covered cherries.

The moral of the story is: Rather than poison the Prince, throw away the cake and start over again.

For the non-poisonous version recipe for Black Forest Cake, follow this link.

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