Tuesday, March 4, 2014


When I was growing up, Saturdays were not “days off.”  Daddy had a full-time, ten-hours-a-day, six days a week job, and Mother and I tended to the housework, the cooking and all the little peripherals, like garbage and mowing, pruning the trees, planting and hoeing and picking the big vegetable garden, canning and filling the freezer, and one of my special jobs every Spring was keeping the whitewashed sheds and workshops gleaming shiny white with a big hand-mixed bucket of whitewash and an old broom.



I also washed our car every Saturday afternoon, after I finished making the week’s cake, usually a pound cake, for Sunday dinner, and to last the week for an after-supper TV snack with coffee every night.  That pound cake was a killer-diller, with six eggs and three cups of sugar, three sticks of butter  and a little bit each of vanilla, almond, and lemon extract.   I got where I could cut a big square out of the side of a grocery sack, set the cake pan center on it, then draw a circle just around the base.  After you cut out the circle you folded it four times into a point so the whole thing made a little dart-shape, then snipped the point just so, to make the hole.  Then the dart would unfold into a perfect fit for the bottom of that old tube pan.


The inside of the pan was lavishly buttered by hand, top to bottom, all over the top of the removable base pan, and all up the center tube.   Then the paper was slid in and buttered again, to await the batter.  (At this point, I invariably thought of the settlers whose windows were "glassed" with greased paper, and I'd ponder all the hardship and drawbacks THAT would entail.   Still do, occasionally when I toss out the big brown paper sack on which we've drained fried chicken, holding it up to the light and marveling at our blessings).

It was one of those “cream the butter and sugar” recipes, with “then add eggs one at a time” as the next step.  I loved the way that the big old Sunbeam spun the bowl around, as the butter and sugar mixed and melded and then turned into a pale, creamy mixture.  Adding each egg and beating after made the batter look curdled, like when your Hollandaise is breaking, but a little bit more beating would make all things right, and then came the next egg.

There was just something about the grace of making that cake---the steps and motions, the ssssssift of the flour and scritttch into the sugar cannister, the cracking of those big orange-yolked eggs into a little bowl for pouring into a medium one, for you never, EVER cracked an egg right into a batter, whether the mixer was running or not.  


You give the eggs the benefit of the doubt, but even if you’ve just braved a hen-peck to get them fresh right from under her tail feathers,  you STILL break the egg in one bowl, have a look at it, then dump that one into another bowl, and so on until you’ve broken, checked, and maneuvered each one into the medium bowl.

And none of that “I KNOW they’re fresh,” which is uttered by some quite bright stars in the culinary firm-a-ment, as they crack an egg and clumsily drop it over the side into the sweet, surging maelstrom.  Having the freshest eggs in the kingdom won’t help you if you crack an egg into the mixer bowl with the beaters running. Dropped egg shell will sail right off into that perfect batter, disintegrating as it whirls, ruining a whole bowl of expensive ingredients, an enjoyable, meditative baking time, and quite a few tempers of those who’ve been anticipating that cake.

I always found it kinda hard to get just ONE egg to fall out of that bowl at a time, since they, like the chicks-that-might-have-been seem to have this flocking instinct right in the embryo, all wanting to flow over the side at once, but you just tip and woggle that bowl til an egg or most of its parts forsakes the crowd and hops in.  

It’s also one of those “sift the flour three times” cakes, and that was when you put in the tsp. of salt.   And each ½ cup of the sifted flour in that bowl went in one-at-a-time, as well, or at least by big old kitchen spoonfuls, as the mixer ran gently and the bowl turned, growing heavy and slow with the rich mixture.

All the flour in, then the teaspoons of flavor---just opening the bottles gave an aura of exotic scents and unknown climes to the whole kitchen---a little bit lighter on the almond---about a scant capful from the tiny bottle. 


A little more than a cup of batter was left in the bottom of the bowl, to receive two drops exactly from the McCormick “red” bottle, and this was stirred in to make the reserved batter a rosy pink.   This enchanting fluff, like melted Easter Eggs, was dolloped around the top of the cake, swirled in with a skewer to get it down into the yellow in billowy streaks, and then into the oven.  One Hour And Ten Minutes, but check it with a straw at an hour.

Cooled and cut, that cake was a shining marvel, golden brown all around the outside and down the center well, tasting of sugar and vanilla and lemon and all those butter-sizzled crumbs of  crust.

It cut like velvet, falling beneath the knife in smooth, firm, moist slices, with the beautiful pink and gold marbled effect adding to the charm.  I remember these as the epitome of cakes, the apex and crown of the baker’s world.  Perhaps it’s all the softening haze of remembrance, but they really WERE that good.   And that beautiful.

The prospect of that magnificent cake, cooling on the counter, sweetened all the rest of those long, slow hot Saturdays, as the day wore on, with shoe-polishing, clothes-for-church pressing, hair rolling, Sunday School Lesson, supper, and a final sigh in settling on the couch to the opening notes of Lawrence Welk.


In writing of these old times, I find myself switching tenses in mid-thought, for I fall so into the moment, in that bright kitchen with the Sunbeam whirring and the scents perfuming the air. The “here’s what I DID” and the “Here’s what you DO” become part and parcel, and curl pentimento across the words, as the old Southern phrasings peek out.  I think in times like these, a little license to waver in time might be indulged, for the memories press close, and that glimmery membrane 'twixt then and now grows ever thin.  


Deborah Montgomery said...

Love the way you describe your Saturdays growing up, and especially the making of that cake. Sounds so good. I think we worked harder back then, and didn't rely so much on convenience. I just bought a pound cake, and it is nothing like what you're describing!
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Kathy said...

What a great post. I felt as if I were there with you. And now I have to go make a pound cake of my own. If you'll excuse me, please.

jeanne, backyard neighbor said...

Oh Rachel, I am hankering for a piece of the beautiful and delicious pound cake. You make it sound like art to make your pound cake. My Aunt made cakes like this. She was so proud to use many eggs in her wonderful pound cakes. She always bragged of "how many" eggs were used in making her cakes.

The chores we did when we were young are amazing to kids today. Life was so different then. We never questioned that we had to help with the garden and housework etc. We even took the cows out to pasture because we had a dairy farm and we also had to bring the cows in to be milked. Our cows always slept in the barn at night. My memories of the farm are very dear to me. Your wonderful stories always bring back my memories and many smiles thinking of those days. Thank you my sweet friend.

I have to say I never washed the car. Our one brother had that chore. Our father hosed his car off every morning because we lived (after the farm) where the salt air was his concern when it came to his car.

Our daughter and three of our grands just left this morning after a quick visit and a day of skiing in a nearby resort. Being Florida kids they had a blast. Not kids really as their ages are 17, 18 and 19. The two oldest are on spring break from college. Fun times and lots of home cooking at grandma's house.
Stay warm dear,

Jane and Lance Hattatt said...

Hello Rachel:

What a wonderfully written, atmospheric post this is! We are there, on those Saturday mornings, making the Pound Cake with you, such is the detail with which you describe the whole process. If this is nostalgia, then bring it on!!

And, by the way, what a superb picture of the motor car at the start of this post. It is exactly how, as children, we imagined all American cars to be.

Wsprsweetly Of Cottages said...

What a time it all was. I love going back in time. You wrote of it eloquently and I was transported back in time to the angel food make my mother used to make so much like you discribe. Even to Laurence Welk...and his accordian.
You are just so special..no one can tell it like you just did. For a moment I thought I smelled Mom's cake baking while I set my hair laborously in the bedroom. I didn't make the cake. Not until I had babes of my own.
How many times I heard my mother say, "Don't slam the door, the cake will fall!"

Tonja said...

My Mom was known for her pound cakes. One of her favorite things to do in life was to bake a cake for some...just because...and deliver it to them while it was still warm!
Hearing you talk about the ingredients of this cake, it sound very close to her recipe...The Million Dollar Pound Cake. I think what made it so yummy was the combination of the vanilla and the almond! I can still smell that batter...and taste it, too!
Thanks for the memory!

Kim S. said...

Thank you so much for the sharing of this, my friend! I could TASTE that cake and I could feel that long day stretch out - filled with things that needed doing, but special just the same because they were Saddiday stuff!