Wednesday, November 19, 2008

MAMMAW'S PINEAPPLE CAKE

This memory of Mammaw has a bright yellow hue, of the kitchen walls and the hot afternoon sun through the uncurtained windows, the egg yolks, the exotic pineapple, and the big Pyrex mixing bowl. I hope that all my family will someday read and savor and try to capture that lovely, sweet-scented, sunlit essence of baking with my Mammaw:

In the big Hoosier cabinet, redolent of vanilla and spices and good baked things, there was always that three-layer pineapple cake with 7-Minute, waiting on that same battered shelf every day of my young life. Mammaw made one every Friday afternoon, after she had cleaned up the noon-dinner dishes and mopped the kitchen floor. I got to sift the flour from the built-in sifter in the cabinet, and measure it out, along with the baking powder, sugar, salt and soda. And sometimes I would go out to the chicken yard for four fresh orange-yolked eggs (a MUST for cakes---they made the layers a lovely deep gold).

She'd crank up the big old Sunbeam mixer and get that cake in the oven in ten minutes flat. The whites would go into the top of the double boiler with cream of tartar, water and sugar, to be beaten every minute of the seven minutes. I did the careful timing, watching the little red second hand of the old white Bakelite Philco clock as it made its slow journey. The runny, slimy whites mixed into a magical, creamy concoction the glossy-white of mountain snow (though I had never seen any, save on the insurance-company calendar placed yearly over the same lighter-than-the-rest rectangle on the kitchen wall).

A "tall can" of Del Monte crushed pineapple was drained in the big strainer and further squeezed as dry as possible by hand. The layers were placed one by one on the big round platter and sprinkled with the pineapple syrup, then smeared with the white frosting. Onto the frosting went tiny fingertip dabs of the pineapple, little clumps all over the surface. All the layers were stacked this way, then a final coat of the frosting, with the requisite swirls and curlicues, with the last of the pineapple dabbed all over the top.

The Friday-night cake was elegant and beautiful, its golden layers falling tenderly beneath the knife. The Sunday cake was a little disheveled, with its frosting beginning to droop a bit, and the little pineapple divots sinking further into the snowy cushion. By Monday, the frosting had taken on the receding look of Winter's last snowfall, with craters and show-throughs and bits of brown crumb emerging through the white, but the taste just got better and better, the layers moister and more flavorful.

The Midweek cake, what there was left of it, was still standing, though the layers were listing to one side, testament to their valiant days of patience in the dark of that cupboard; the frosting was just bits and crumbs of crystals, sugary crunches that fell prey to all passing fingers. The crumbs left on the platter were gummy and drying, better than the best bar cookies or lemon squares or chess diamonds.

Thursday night, the scrape of fork tines claimed the last rich, fruit-essenced bits, and the week was done. Friday was cake day, and all was right with the world.

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