Sharing, Sort Of
A buttery golden pound cake always sat under a cut glass dome on the kitchen counter of my Great-Aunt Susie. No visitor was too insignificant to be offered a slice of this delectable concoction and no visitor would ever dream of refusing such an offer, for Aunt Susie’s culinary skills were legend. Her pièce de résistance was her Burnt Caramel Cake, a towering wonderment that was known to make grown men swoon as easily as it turned their wives positively green with the sort of domestic envy reserved for those shirt-waisted, pearl-draped housewives of a bygone era. It was the icing. Deep, rich, and tawny as the king’s honey, it was impossible for any woman in town to recreate, no matter how diligently they tried.
Now, Aunt Susie was a formidable woman, something even I, the little golden-haired grand-niece on whom she showered unabashed affection, could easily see. She was not a woman to be crossed, pushed, or pressed. Deservedly proud of her cooking, she preferred to be thought of as unique in those abilities and kept her recipes as secret as the spells of a sorceress. The few women who had been so foolish as to request her recipe for that Burnt Caramel Cake only did so once.
So, frustrated by years of unsuccessful attempts to recreate that caramel cake, the women of Aunt Susie’s church hatched a plan. They decided to publish a cookbook. My Aunt could not possibly resist the lure of publication, in hardback no less. Her name placed forever in print as the creator of such a magnificent cake would surely appeal to her pride, her altruism (for the cookbook would raise needed funds for the church, after all), as well as her sense of legacy and veneration as it would be handed down in her family, generation after admiring generation. To their surprise and immense delight, my Aunt agreed to include her much coveted Burnt Caramel Cake recipe in the book and the ladies of the church could hardly wait for the date of publication.
I have that cookbook in my kitchen now. And yes, there on page 40 is my Aunt’s famed Burnt Caramel Cake. She has provided a detailed recipe for the cake, which is a basic yellow cake the sort of which most amateur bakers would have easily mastered in grade school. But at the close of the recipe, she has simply written : Frost with Burnt Caramel Icing. No instructions, no ingredient list, no special secrets revealed.
I would like to say that this tradition of culinary secrecy ended with my Aunt, but I laugh to myself now as I remember my Mother sneaking out of church down the back stairs one Sunday morning, determined to avoid a lady who’d requested the recipe for her Christmas Fudge. I use that fudge recipe still, every festive season, a family privilege reserved for those of MacDonald blood, but I feel the ice cold stares of the matriarchal wing of my family whenever anyone asks for the recipe. “I’ll just make you some”, I usually reply, unwilling to disturb those formidable women gone on before. I have toyed with the idea of finally sharing these recipes by engraving them on my tombstone, thereby ending the secretiveness once and for all even as I ensure that my grave will be visited for years to come.
I am once again honored to have been included in By Invitation Only,
the brainchild of Marsha Harris, creator of the beautiful blog, Splenderosa.
You can find all the other essays on this month's topic of Sharing, HERE.