Parson’s Family Recipes

San Antonio Express News
Sunday, December 11, 2005

By Dr. Jerry Parsons

As many of you can tell when seeing my not-so-slim physique, I have been privileged to eat some of the best cooking in the Southeastern U.S. I have shared many of my mother’s and her mother’s recipes on my brother, Lynn’s website at: which houses numerous recipes from the Somerville, Tennessee, Presbyterian Cookbooks. I also have a full listing of tried-and-proven recipes at: some of which are from great cooks in Tennessee and Texas. Yet I have never provided any recipes from the Parsons’ side of the family—today that will change.

Christmas was always the time for the Parsons family to gather at my grandparent’s country home with my father’s sister and her children (which we later learned to our horror were actually our cousins!!) and grandchildren. What made this horrific experience all worthwhile was the food. The first ambrosia I ever remember eating and loving was at Maw-Maw’s (name we called my grandmother Parsons). Why is that important to you? That same little seven-year-old boy would come to Texas 20 years later and start a Satsuma mandarin industry which will forever insure that Texans can buy and grow mandarin oranges (one of the main ingredients in ambrosia along with coconut!) in their own backyards. A new recipe page has been added to the Patio Citrus Page at: which features some great recipes for using citrus. Many of them came from the 100 year-old Tennessee Presbyterian Cookbooks.

Another highlight of the meal was the dessert and the one-of-a-kind coconut cake. Several years before my Aunt Inez passed away, she gave me this precious recipe along with a recipe from my great grandmother. The Parsons’ family Christmas gift to you and yours are these 100-year-old recipes from the beloved grandmother and great-grandmother of Dr. H. Lynn Parsons ( ) and Jerry Parsons (
Give them a try this year, and let me know how they turned out for you. Give me a telephone call at: 210-308-8867 or toll-free: 1-866-308-8867 on the Milberger Garden Radio Show on Saturday and Sunday from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. on KLUP Radio (AM 930).

Grandmother Parsons’ (Maw Maw) Coconut Cake

One half cup margarine
One and one half cup sugar
Three egg whites (unbeaten)
One half teaspoon soda
One teaspoon baking powder
One eighth teaspoon salt
One teaspoon vanilla
Two cups flour
One cup buttermilk

Cream margarine and sugar well, adding sugar a little at the time. Add unbeaten egg whites. Beat at high speed for one minute. Sift flour, baking powder, soda and salt together. Add to egg white mixture alternately with milk, adding flour first and last with lowest speed on mixer. Bake in 325 degree F. oven in two 9 inch pans

Three cups sugar
Two cups water
One half cup white Karo syrup
One half stick margarine
One cup coconut

Boil together until the mixture thickens to “gooey.” Add coconut about 3 minutes before finished cooking. Pour over cake layers and on sides you can add extra dry coconut on top and sides.

When my grandmother was showing us how to make it, she asked for a cup. We gave her a measuring cup. She said “I don’t want that thing; I want a coffee cup!” The icing is the secret of this cake; use either fresh grated coconut or frozen fresh grated. This cake makes two layers. When ready to ice it, make holes with an ice pick in both layers to let juice go through.
Great Grandmother’s Jam Cake Recipe

One cup butter
Two cups sugar
One cup molasses
One cup blackberry jam
One tablespoon all spice
One tablespoon nutmeg
One tablespoon cinnamon
One tablespoon cloves
Four eggs
One teaspoon soda
Two teaspoons baking powder
One cup buttermilk
Four cups flour (plain)

Cream the butter and sugar until smooth. Add eggs, beat well. Add remainder of ingredients, except flour and milk. Add that alternately beating well all time that you’re adding. Cook in 8 or 9 inch greased pans at 350 degrees F. Some folks add nuts to icing instead of cake.

Three cups sugar, One and one half cups water
One half cup dark Karo syrup, Two egg whites beaten stiffly

Cook sugar, water and Karo until firm ball forms in cold water Mix slowly with egg whites beat until cool enough to frost cake. You might want to use a cup of chopped English walnuts.

Dr. Jerry Parsons is a Professor for Texas A&M University and a Texas Cooperative Extension Horticulturist for over 30 years in South Central Texas. For more information on this or other horticulture topics, go to and our County Extension website at

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