Let Me Eat Cake

Let Me Eat Cake

50 years ago, I would have told anyone who asked that my mother was a fantastic cook.  Our meals were both hardy and tasty.  However, over time I would now offer two criticisms that younger me would never have considered.  In reality my mom’s menu was both simple and predictable. 

Maybe one of the more ironic incidents occurred one Christmas.  My brother Mike and I had pooled our resources and bought mom a spice rack, complete with four shelves of little bottles of various spices.  I don’t recall whose idea that even was, considering neither of us had hardly any idea what any of those spices were used in.  Maybe one of our older sisters suggested it.  Whoever gave us the idea must have also given the same idea to our oldest brother Jim, because he also gave my mother a spice rack that Christmas; I think Jim’s may have even had an extra shelf to hold additional jars of even lesser known exotic spices.

The reality though, was my mom’s standard exotic spices were most often salt and pepper.  When my parents had passed away and we readied their home for sale I recall that when we removed the spice rack from the kitchen wall that most of the jars still had their original seals.     

And as I stated, the menu was also predictable.  Saturday was always fried hamburgers night.  Sunday was always chicken.  Of course, Friday was always fish, but that was because we were Catholic.  She rotated a handful of other main courses during the other nights like hamburger meatloaf, sloppy joes which were just browned hamburger that wasn’t in patty form, or spaghetti which was browned hamburger with a can of Chef Boyardee stirred in.

But the one area that I would still argue my mother was tremendous at was baked desserts. Her pies, especially apple could have won a ribbon at any county fair.  Her cookies, especially chocolate chip were always delicious.  [Robert Fulghum, in his classic All I Ever Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, was spot on when he stated that warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.]  But, perhaps my mother’s best work was the cake she baked every Saturday morning, so that there would be something to serve our expected after-church Sunday company.

Maybe, part of the reason why my favorites were her cakes, was that she let me help from the time I was probably five or six years old.  My job was “sifter”.  I have seen my wife put baking ingredients directly from the package into her mixing bowl and what comes out is always delicious.  But, whether it as because ingredients were a bit different, or less ‘user-ready’ or it was just old-fashioned tradition, or that’s the way my mom learned from her mom, my mother insisted that all of the dry ingredients needed to be sifted.  The sifter was like a large metal cup with a spring-loaded handle, and when you squeezed the handle it worked series of little screens back and forth.  I used to like creating a hill of the dry ingredients as they piled up on waxed paper.

Again, like her main meals, my mother’s cakes were fairly simple in design.  They were all baked in a single layer in the same rectangle cake pan – the bottom of which was scored with years-worth of knife marks from cutting hundreds of cakes into serving pieces.  What the cakes lacked in design they more than made up for in variety and tastiness.  She made all her cakes from scratch and made all of the various frostings, like white coconut frosting for chocolate cakes, and a caramel frosting for her spice cake.  She made Jell-O poke cakes with light fluffy whipped cream-like frosting in the summer.  But my personal favorite was a plain white cake with chocolate frosting.  I loved to watch her pour it out of the pan to ooze out over the cake and then spread it out with the spatula so that it covered the entire top of the cake.  When it cooled it reminded me of a big chocolate candy bar.  That was also my favorite pan to lick clean.

I particularly recall being the first one awake one Sunday morning.  My mom had left the cake out on the table.  It occurred to me that a small piece of the cake would be a great start to breakfast, so I poured myself a glass of milk and grabbed a fork.  I think I realized that my mother would not want me messing with a sharp knife, or maybe I was just being a boy, but I decided to just kind of eat a serving size right out of the cake pan rather than try actually cut and serve myself a piece. 

I proceeded to eat a hole into the corner.  Then, I got the idea that maybe I could just kind of steal just a little of the frosting from the cake that was next to the now-empty corner.  There must have been something in that frosting because at that point I just couldn’t help myself.  Before I knew it the frosting was completely missing from almost a third of the cake.  It was then that I felt eyes on the back of my neck.  I turned to see my father standing there, mouth agape; his own eyes seemed large that morning.  I smiled and said, “I am so hungry for cake this morning!”  He just stood there for another few more seconds looking at me smiling at him.  He said nothing, turned and went back down the hallway to his bedroom.  I heard the door close; there was silence for a minute.  Then I heard my parents both laughing. 

His Peace <><

Deacon Dan             

Photo by Kaffee Meister on Unsplash