Tag Archives: cherries

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.

Cherry Cobbler

cherry cobbler

Cherry cobbler close up

Can she bake a cherry pie,

Billy boy, Billy boy?

Can she bake a cherry pie,

charming Billy?

“Yes she can bake a cherry pie

in the twinkling of an eye,

but she’s a young thing

and cannot leave her mother.”


Obviously, baking a cherry pie is an important measure of a girl’s marriageability judging by this old song. When Erasmus worried in his last letter about not letting anyone get his young cherry trees–so that he could graft onto them next year, he was probably thinking of the desserts that would come from the trees (like cherry cobbler) as well as the farm chores in raising them.

Cherry trees have a long history in Ohio. According to one website, The Ancient Ohio Trail, early pioneers found a profusion of cherry trees in a valley near the prehistoric earthworks in the Newark, Ohio area.


 Cherry cobbler cherries

Cherries for cherry cobbler

Although cherries were prevalent in Civil War times, production seems to be declining in America.  The price of cherries has soared.  While you can still get fresh cherries in season at grocery stores, it is more and more difficult to find frozen or canned cherries, and I paid more than $4.00 for a can of plain cherries to make this recipe for cherry cobbler.

We’ve covered pie baking pretty thoroughly here with the Perfect Pie Crust and recipes for different pies. So I chose another favorite old-time recipe for cherries. Suzi Anderson no doubt would have cherry cobbler for Erasmus before he left for the Civil War. (If you’re confused by the difference between crisps, slumps, grunts and cobblers, refresh your memory here.)

Cherry Cobbler cookbook

Mary Margaret McBride Cookbook that the cherry cobbler recipe came from.

I found a recipe in another of my vintage cookbooks, Mary Margaret McBride’s Harvest of America (1956). (See a short summary of the book, long out of print, on my food book page.) Although you may never have heard of MMM, she was the Martha Stewart/Oprah Winfrey of mid-twentieth century–a multi-media star who dispensed advice to women. Her radio program was popular from the 1930s and she expanded her reach into TV and books through the 1950s.

Magazine cover, 1951

Mary Margaret McBride and singer Gordon MacRae, 1951

Here’s my version of Mary Margaret McBride’s recipe for cherry cobbler. (For an upside down version of this cherry dessert, see Aunt Sarah’s Cherry Pudding.)

Cherry Cobbler

Serves 6-8
Prep time 20 minutes
Cook time 25 minutes
Total time 45 minutes
Allergy Milk, Wheat
Meal type Dessert
Misc Serve Cold, Serve Hot
From book Mary Margaret McBride's Harvest of American Cooking


  • 2 cans pitted sour cherries (NOT pie filling)
  • 1/2 cup sugar (according to taste--you may want more)
  • 1/2 cup liquid from can
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 3/4 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 cups sifted all purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter, room temperature, but still solid
  • 3/4 cups milk


1. Drain liquid from cherries and save liquid.
2. Put cherries and measured liquid in pan with sugar. Bring to boil
3. Put cornstarch in small dish and add a spoonful of water, mix into a paste and then stir into pan of cherries.
4. Pour cherry mixture into greased 8 x 8 or 9 x 9 baking dish.
5. Dot with small pieces of butter and sprinkle with cinnamon.
6. Whisk together flour, baking powder, sugar and salt
7. Cut in shortening, cut in small pieces until there are no clumps larger than a pea.
8. Add milk and stir with fork. Best to finish with hands--but don't over mix.
9. Press dough into roughly the size of baking dish and lay dough on top of cherries. Poke holes here and there in the pastry.
10. Bake at 400 degrees 25-30 minutes.
11. Serve warm or chilled, with milk or whipped cream if you wish.


Adapted from Mary Margaret McBride "Harvest of American Cooking" that used 3 cups pitted fresh cherries. She lists it under hot desserts, but I like it either way. Amount of sugar always depends on sweetness of cherries.