My grandmother was a saver of paper things—checks stubs from fifty years ago, Christmas cards with notes attached, and programs from every play she ever attended were just a few of the items her storage boxes held. One sunny afternoon, as my children were playing outside, I sifted through boxes of her papers. Thesounds of my girls’ laughter mingled with the creaking of their swing sets. Suddenly a little yellowed slip of paper floated to the floor. The blue ink was a little smudged in places, but it was still legible and in my grandmother’s unmistakable neat printing—it was a recipe for Depression cake.
As I read over the recipe, I realized that the cake I had been eating on Sunday afternoons at her house—and at all of the family gatherings—had a name. And an interesting name at that.
When my grandmother moved in across the street, Mom considered it a victory of sorts. Gram had always hated mobile homes, thought that only “gypsies” and “riff-raff” lived in them. I don’t know where her gypsy ideas came from, but she also called my sister and I “little gypsies” when we finally were allowed to pierce our ears. Gram and Grandpap purchased the land across the street from us and one day, their big mobile home came traveling down the gravelly Fish Pot Road, where it sat for about 30 years, next to my greatgrandmother’s mobile home, which was surrounded by climbing red roses.
During Sunday afternoons, I liked sitting on stool at my grandmother’s kitchen counter. It was a high stool with gold and brown flecked plastic covering. The wicker fish she hung above her window sill danced in the breeze, either from the window, or from the stir she created moving back and forth in her tiny kitchen. I sat at the counter eating a sandwich—usually pimento cheese, or ham salad on white bread, while she made a Depression cake. When I was a little older I helped her, I poured in the raisins, or the flour, but she really preferred to do it as I sat at the counter.
It was so much her cake to us that we came to call it the Irene cake. She brought it to every family function, usually doused with a maple icing she created. As children, we loved it and could not get enough of the sweet icing. As we grew older, we grew to hate it and were reluctant to tell her because she took such pride in it and we didn’t want to hurt her feelings.
I loved the way that earthy cake smelled as it baked and to this day when I catch the scent of a Depression-like spicy cake I think of long Sundays with my grandmother.
Please note that the recipe on this little piece of paper does not work—or at least it doesn’t work for me. I have yet to try the chocolate cake recipe on the same paper. Old recipes, especially for baked goods, are often a challenge. Have you ever tried to make an old recipe you found?