Cake has deep soul healing properties. And I’m not just talking about EATING cake. Actually, the eating of cake can be pretty mood-altering, but it is at the bottom of the list of the kind of magic I’m talking about.
Let me explain.
I come from a long line of women who bake cakes when the going gets tough. As a child, I remember visiting my spinster aunt who led a very simple life and – at times I feel certain – a challenging life. She lived in rural south Alabama, didn’t drive and kept house for my aging and ailing grandmother. Oh and did I mention there wasn’t a lot of money?
But no matter what was happening in her world or when I showed up, there was always fresh cake under a beautiful old cake cover on the counter of her farmhouse kitchen.
My brothers and I used to laugh because her cakes weighed SO MUCH. I can still see her at the kitchen table – butter, flour, sugar and eggs stacked around her – making a cake from a recipe scrawled on a stained and torn index card. Or, if she was feeling daring, she would try a new recipe out of a ladies magazine.
Now that I am an adult, what I’m beginning to understand about my aunt is that the ritual of baking a cake – and baking it well – grounded her. It helped her stay sane when the world around her felt like it might be more than she could manage.
And since I am “walking the grid” trying to stay sane and grounded myself, I decided to take a page from my aunt’s book and bake a cake from scratch over the weekend. To use the word “soothing” to describe the experience is such an understatement but I am at a loss for a better word.
First is “the story” of the cake I made. I originally chose Miss Prather’s Pound Cake because it is the Young Turk’s favorite. But as I read through the recipe in the Sparta Cookbook, my head filled with memories of this vibrant woman who’d known me since I hit this earth. Her house always smelled of good things to eat and I cannot remember a time that she did not have some story to share that made us both howl with laughter. Her presence was as delicious as her cooking and I never tired of either.
She died of pancreatic cancer two years ago. As I read through her recipe – remembering the specific notes she’d given be about beating the egg whites (STIFF peaks, Sarah, STIFF!) and laughing that she’d forgotten to write down when to add the sour cream (so like her), I felt the comfort of her fill my kitchen. Nothing like that kind of love to calm a troubled spirit.
Second is the actual mental process of making a cake. There are some kinds of cooking that I do that don’t require my full, undivided attention – or at least not for very long.
This is not the case when I am baking a cake – especially a southern cake from a southern cook’s recipe. My entire focus is engaged as I measure, sift, beat, whip, stir and fold my way through each ingredient and each precise step. There is something almost zen-like about the state of mind I get in – so soothing and quieting to my restlessness.
And finally there is the smell that filled my entire house as Miss Prather’s Pound Cake baked in the oven. There was a warmth, a comfort, a child-like happiness that filled me up when that scent surrounded me like a blanket. I felt completely grounded. And I am so glad that smell is still lingering around here.
For those of you who are “Walking The Grid” with me (and there are a number of you based on the comments I got on the blog post!) I am adding Miss Prather’s Pound Cake Recipe below. I encourage you to try it. The worst that can happen is you will have the very best pound cake ever for dessert tonight!
Sour Cream Pound Cake
3 scant c. sugar
1/2 lb. butter
6 eggs (separated)
3 c. flour sifted 3 times
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 8 oz. carton of sour cream
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp vanilla or almond extract
Sift flour and soda 3 times. In a separate bowl, cream butter and then add sugar. Stir in sour cream. Alternate adding egg yolks and flour mixture while beating. Set aside. In a separate bowl, add salt to egg whites and beat until they form stiff peaks. Gently fold into cake batter. Bake in well greased and floured pan at 325 degrees for 1 hour.