One of the service clubs at a high school where I worked held a bake sale once a week. The students convinced me to volunteer to make something special for the cause each Wednesday. I wasn’t particularly creative and I had very little time, so I usually just purchased a box of brownie mix or a refrigerated roll of chocolate chip cookies and called it day. While none of the cookies were ever left behind, the brownies were definitely the hit and way easier to make than anything else. My contribution was well meaning but never particularly outstanding.
My mother was well known for bringing her chocolate cakes to church bake sales. Hers were always moist and tasty, but what really made them wonderful was the butter cream icing that she made from scratch. I could have eaten a bowl of it without the cake. She usually added whole pecans to the top of the cake and altogether it was a tasty delight. I remember times when someone would grab her cake and purchase it before she even had a chance to set it down. On one occasion the cake she had made got bumped and started falling apart. From the perspective of beauty it was a mess, but a regular customer of her specialty purchased it anyway, insisting that it was going to taste fabulous no matter how it looked.
My grandmother made strawberry shortcake from scratch. It consisted of very thin layers of yellow cake divided by homemade whipped cream and fresh strawberries from her garden. In all of my life I have never tasted a more delightful dessert. I’m not alone in this regard either. People would come from all around hoping that she would make one of those fabulous cakes for them. She always baked one whenever we came to visit which we still remember with Pavlovian delight. Once in awhile she substituted one of her berry pies. Those were a very close second to the cake. As with the cake everything in the pie was made from scratch including the berries that she grew in her garden. My mouth waters just thinking of how good both of the her signature desserts always were.
Grandma believed in using everything. She never threw out food. When she made too much dough she would grab some apples or peaches or berries or whatever was available at the moment and create fried pies. Those ruined me for the fried pies at the grocery store or fast food restaurants. Grandma’s were literally gourmet quality with a light and flaky crust encircling a filling that was like nectar from heaven.
My mother used to make fudge every single Christmas. It was unlike any I have ever encountered. It did not use marshmallow cream. Instead it was more like Mexican candy but very chocolatey. It never lasted long because people always ate more than one piece. We never thought to ask her for the recipe and now we have found than none of the instructions that we find for fudge come even remotely close to hers. Our family has been on a quest for years to discover how she must have made it. We will know when we find it because he taste is so unique. Thus far we have struck out.
Mama also made the best pecans pies ever. Again I never thought to ask her for her recipe, but my brother did and his are as good as hers ever were. I laugh because I found out that she used the directions on the bottle of light Karo syrup but made alterations here and there that were her own ideas. She used twice as many pecans as the recipe called for and made double the number of pies from a single set of instructions. The result was less of the gooey filling and more of the crispy pecan flavor. Trust me when I say that they were spectacular.
I suppose that I should have taken after my grandmother and mother when it came to baking, but I never had the time to create things from scratch. My cakes come from mixes and my pies come from the freezer section of the grocery store. Once a year I make pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving but I use frozen crust and the recipe on the side of the pumpkin can. I only go all out for Christmas when all of my cookies are created with love from my favorite recipes. I have to admit that they are wonderful, but I try not to make too many because they have added a pound here and pound there to my girth with each passing year.
My Aunt Valeria made the best carrot cake that I have ever experienced. She grated the carrots by hand and when the cake was done she crowned it with an amazing cream cheese based frosting. Those cakes were so time consuming to make that she only prepared them for very special occasions. She made at least three of them just for me and after much cajoling on my part even revealed her secret recipe. It was a treasure that I kept safe like I would have done with a bar of gold. Sadly, it somehow got lost and since she is now gone from the earth I will never again be able to recreate it. I can’t even begin to explain how sad that makes me.
The art of baking is a skill that I have never quite perfected. Perhaps I’m too impatient. I move around like a crazed rabbit and always seem to fill my hours with other things that I must do. I can’t keep still long enough to do proper baking, but I do so appreciate those who have the knack and the willingness to create those stunning desserts. For now I’ll just be happy with my Oreo cookies and a box of quick banana bread. it’s probably the best that I am ever going to be willing or able to do.