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
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 <><
Photo by Kaffee Meister on Unsplash