“It is most logical,” I said out loud to myself while snipping the recipe for Kentucky jam cake from the Havre Daily News. You have to understand that I never clip recipes from newspapers or magazines. I have a few treasured cookbooks; some of which I seldom open, some with pages so spattered with batter or stained with vanilla that one can hardly read the directions. No matter, I hardly ever follow the directions anyway. I regard a recipe as a guide. The genius of the dish is up to me.
The logic that moved me to cut out this particular recipe began with my Aunt Dixie.
Aunt Dixie bakes the best cakes ever baked. At family reunions, and my family reunions revolve around mountains of good food, everybody lines up for a slice of Aunt Dixie’s cake, whether she brought chocolate butter cake, or caramel, or ginger spice, or hickory nut or plain old homemade angel food. It is a simple fact; nobody tops Aunt Dixie’s cakes. My favorite is her coconut cake. She heaps it high with boiled icing and sprinkles it liberally with shredded coconut.
Here’s my reasoning: Aunt Dixie bakes the best cakes. Aunt Dixie lives in Louisville, Ky. This recipe I am cutting out of the newspaper is Kentucky Jam Cake. Therefore this cake must be good. That makes sense, doesn’t it? Logical?
The recipe sat on my kitchen counter for a couple weeks. I wanted to make the cake, but I just didn’t have time. I moved the clipping from here to there and back again as I needed the space. But I never threw it away. How could I toss the “Aunt Dixie” connection into the trash? Finally, Saturday morning I figured I could carve time out of my day to bake a cake. I dumped a can of pineapple over a cup of Craisins to soak and went about my business. (The recipe calls for raisins, but as I said, a recipe is a guide, not a dictator.) At 8:30 Saturday evening I was finally ready to mix my cake.
This is a high maintenance cake, requiring several bowls and spoons and much mixing, dumping, blending, seasoning and folding. It calls for two sticks of butter and five eggs and more ingredients than it took God to create the earth. I dumped in a cup of blackberry jam and stirred it around. The batter looked disgusting. I hoped I would not have to throw the whole mess out.
Nevertheless, I filled my cake pan and slid it into the heated oven. The recipe called for baking 60 minutes. That can’t be right, I thought, as I set my timer for 40. At 40 minutes I opened the oven door and peeked. I gently closed the door and set the timer for an additional 20 minutes. When, at 10:30 that evening, I pulled the cake from the oven, the smell was overpoweringly heavenly. I gathered all my resolve and resisted cutting into the warm cake right then and there.
Sunday morning, contemplating my cooled cake which still exuded an irresistible smell, I read the frosting recipe, discarded it and made my own. I confess to cutting a hunk for breakfast with my morning coffee. The flavors exploded in my mouth, a perfect blend. I immediately determined that this cake will become my own special holiday cake. It is the cake I will bake for family reunions. I will take it to pot lucks. Aunt Dixie would be proud.
Friends came that afternoon for spaghetti dinner. I surprised them with my Made-in-Montana Kentucky Jam Cake. “This is so good, so dense, all these flavors — what is in it?” one of the women asked me. Modestly, I lowered my eyes, and like God when he created the world, I answered, “Oh, not much. Just a little thing I threw together.”
(Sondra Ashton graduated from Harlem High in 1963 and left for good. She finds, after recently returning, things now look a bit different. Join her in a discussion of her column at http://montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com.)