A good recipe makes an impression.
That's why Kim Salley isn't surprised when friends still ask about her mother's famous crumb cake.
"I had a high-school friend who found me via Facebook stop by. After about 15 minutes of catch-up conversation, she asked, 'Is your mom still making that incredible crumb cake?'" Salley said. "I haven't seen this friend in over 20 years."
Friends aren't the only ones under the spell of Nancy Salley's cooking. Children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren all look forward to visiting Salley's Wildwood Crest home and sampling some crumb cake.
"Every time someone comes, it's always 'Don't forget Grandma - make the cake, make the cake,'" said Nancy Salley, who, at age 80, still enjoys cooking for family and visitors.
"I love it. I love gatherings. It's a great feeling when people tell me they like my cooking," Nancy Salley said.
It's something she's been hearing for a long time.
Kim Salley remembers growing up in West Patterson, Passaic County, where her mom's cooking skills made the Salley house "ground zero for the holidays, filled with turkeys and hams."
"My mom was a stay-at-home mom and she liked to cook," Salley recalled. "Dinner was always on the table at 5:30 at night - and then there was always dessert. My dad thought the only reason you ate dinner was to get dessert."
"And there was always the crumb cake," Kim Salley recalls.
Nancy Salley doesn't remember where she got the recipe for the crumb cake, thinking it probably came from a recipe swap held by a woman's club she belonged to.
Once she got the recipe, she began experimenting. She took out half a cup of sugar and replaced it with brown sugar and added some cinnamon to the mix.
It was an immediate hit in 1960s West Patterson.
"She's been making the cake as far back as I can remember," said Kim Salley, now 50 and also living in Wildwood Crest. "I can still remember my friends all sitting outside waiting for the cake to be done."
Then - as now - a big problem was that people couldn't keep their hands off the finished product.
"You had to keep an eye out, because people would pick the sugary crumbs off the top. I'd be like, 'Hey, you eat the whole piece,'" Kim Salley said. "The crumbs taste so damn good, you can't eat just one piece."
Though Nancy Salley had four children, none have been able to imitate their mother's most famous recipe. Kim Salley doesn't even try.
"I make pasta from scratch, but I've never ventured into Nancy's Crumb Cake. I'm afraid to try to match it," she said. "I've tried cakes by other people who have made it. It was not the same."
Luckily, Nancy Salley always seems to have some crumb cake on hand. She and Roy, her husband of 61 years, enjoy entertaining, so Sallet makes big batches of the cake and freezes part of it. This way she's not caught short if unexpected company stops by - or someone in the family gets a craving.
"I tell people we have an open-door tea time at 3:30 p.m. and they are invited over," she said. Salley figures she whips up the crumb cake at least once per month.
"It freezes well - so you can always use half of it and freeze the rest. There's always some in my freezer," she said.
Salley also enjoys preparing a dish she calls bambini.
"They are another family favorite. They are good, especially with a glass of cabernet or beer," Nancy Salley said.
Kim Salley figures she'll eventually have to learn how to make her mother's cake. Last year, her husband Jim Watkins, gave her a gift of a trip to cooking school in Tuscany.
Now, on dull days in winter the couple will take a day and make a pasta dinner from scratch. But for now - she figures - why make a pale imitation of the original when all she need do is walk up the street and ask her mother for some cake.
"We live right on the beach, which is very cool, but it also means we have people here constantly during the summer. We just had my husband's kids here, and my mom brought a whole cookie sheet of crumb cake. By the second day it was gone, so I walked back up the street with the sheet, asked if she would make another. She immediately said, 'Yes I will.' You can't visit my mother's house without walking away with food."
Contact Steven V. Cronin:
•3 sticks of margarine (softened)
•3 cups all purpose flour
•1 cup granulated sugar
•1/2 cup brown sugar
•2 teaspoons cinnamon
Mix all ingredients by hand, shape into a loaf and refrigerate overnight .
•3 tablespoons butter
•1 cup sugar
•2 cups flour
•3 teaspoons baking powder
•Pinch of salt
•1 cup milk
•1 teaspoon vanilla
Mix cake ingredients with a mixer until smooth. Pour cake mixture into a large baking sheet which has been greased and floured. Break up crumbs and sprinkle over cake batter. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes. When cake cools, sprinkle with powdered sugar and cut into squares.
•1 cup ricotta
•1/2 cup shredded mozzerella
•20 slices pepperoni
•1 package of flaky biscuits
Split each biscuit in half. Flour hands and press the halves into oval shapes. Place pepperoni slice in lower end, combine cheeses and toss cheese mixture on top. Fold over and prick ends to close, turnover style. Place on cookie sheet and bake in 350 degree oven for 20 minutes or until light brown.