In the Church we often study the story of President George Albert Smith’s dream in which he saw his deceased grandfather George A. Smith and was asked what he had done with his name. President Smith was able to tell him that he had never done anything about which he had to be ashamed.
I hope I have a few years before I have to face my grandmother in a similar situation about her pound cake recipe.
For those people not familiar with the South, a pound cake is a lusciously heavy southern cake made in a tube pan that used to involve a pound of sugar, flour, eggs, milk, and butter, hence, the name. Today’s recipes involve measuring cups, and every southern family has a pound cake recipe sure to be the best pound cake recipe of all. In fact, the air can get quite testy when comparing recipes, bless our hearts.
Pound cakes are the most wonderfully versatile dessert. You can eat them unadorned in flavors of plain (vanilla), chocolate, or any other flavor you can add, such as lemon or almond, my personal unfavorite.
Pound cakes are also the basis of desserts such as strawberry shortcake, trifles, or just pound cake and ice cream. If you’ve got a good pound cake recipe-as every true southern woman does-you have the dessert for every occasion covered.
Sometimes pound cakes can be misunderstood. I have learned to enunciate the word “pound” when speaking to western immigrants to our ward. While planning a dinner one time and speaking of sisters bringing “pound cakes,” one sister newly relocated from Utah consistently heard “pancake.”
She finally spoke up in frustration.
“Why are we having pancakes for dessert?”
We explained it to her. She also had a husband who couldn’t figure out that you could both “cut on” and “cut off” lights and you don’t go to a restaurants and order chitlins without tasting them first. In fact, some of us southerners don’t order them at all. But that’s another column.
My family’s recipe-the best!
So if every family has a pound cake recipe, then mine, which has its roots in the Eastern Shore of Virginia, surely does. And we do. It’s my grandmother’s recipe. Her name is Fannye Rogers Bull Donahoe. I don’t know if the recipe goes back further than that, but I wish I did.
“Mama”-pronounced “Maw-Maw”-made a pound cake most every Saturday morning with her pink Kitchen-Aid mixer. She loved pink as much as she loved everything in order and on a schedule. My daddy retired from the Army when I was 15 and we moved to Mama’s town. I discovered the exact time she made a pound cake and would show up.
I was literally an anorexic teenage girl at that time on a strict 1,200-calorie diet and exercise plan, but I made sure that licking the beaters fit in, as well as a thin piece of cake after Sunday dinner and one later that evening.
Mostly I annoyed my grandmother being there at her elbows, but the beaters were worth it. Sometimes I took my chances and begged her to make the pound cake chocolate. I didn’t get my way often, but when I did, I felt I’d hit the jackpot.
In 1982 my grandmother, a staunch Methodist, died, after years of looking forward to entering Peter’s pearly gates. She never quite came to terms with the fact that I and my sister joined up with the Mormons as teenagers, but hopefully by now she understands.
From her I inherited the way I rest my fingers against my lips in contemplation, her love of pink, a thank you note in her scrawl in response to one of mine for thanking her for her example of reading her Bible every night, and the pound cake pan.
It’s an aluminum pan that’s getting a little thin and the tube a little wobbly, so I keep it sheltered and replaced it with a very expensive stoneware one. But so far I’m not feeling the love. Maybe that’s why . . . well, read on.
Time to confess
Everyone seems to love my pound cakes, but I think I’m a fake. Perhaps indeed this column is a confession. Our bishop did give a talk last Sunday on what sins needed to be confessed to bishops and although I listened closely, this particular situation doesn’t qualify.
Confession: My chocolate pound cakes aren’t as good as my grandmother’s and I don’t know why. Even though Bro. Martin once paid $25 apiece for two chocolate pound cakes at a Young Women’s auction, I have never thought they are as good as my grandmother’s. In fact, I hope Bro. Martin didn’t look her up after he reached the pearly gates and tell her his purchases were dry. I asked him to look my father up the last conversation we had, but I didn’t mention Fannye Rogers.
So I can do pretty well on the vanilla ones, but the chocolate ones are unreliable, even if I follow the recipe exactly, and this is where the hereafter tends to be a little scary. You see, I’ve recently changed my grandmother’s recipe. It’s a good thing, though, because there’s hope for my cakes, plus I’ve realized how strong my testimony is that families are eternal and that we will meet up in the hereafter.
The change happened when a friend of mine told me that she had a recipe for a chocolate pound cake that had won a blue ribbon at the Kentucky State Fair. I pulled her aside and asked what the recipe was. A blue ribbon is a powerful temptation, especially when both the spirit and flesh are weak.
It turns out it was the same as my grandmother’s recipe, except for one less egg. Plus, she had a measurement for the cocoa-3/4 cup-which I sort of always guessed about. And then she said it didn’t matter if you used evaporated milk or not. The thought of using regular milk in my grandmother’s recipe brought me back to the time I dared to wear bright blue eye shadow in her presence. Dare I also change her recipe?
But I tried the recipe and it seemed to work. A nice gooey top presented itself. Problem solved! My family loved it. I passed the recipe around and granddaughters began making it. I felt like the pound cake chain was unbroken.
The circle was unbroken
I had a tradition to carry on. A couple of pictures with smiling grandchildren holding chocolate pound cakes have made it on Facebook! One of the children even has the middle name of Riley, which belonged to the husband of the pound cake grandmother. Somehow I feel like I can count that as doing a little family history. I felt even more eternally linked.
Alas, however, my last chocolate pound cake was too dry. I had made it exactly as I had before it was too dry. I took it to my husband’s reunion anyway and didn’t even apologize . . . until the last minute when a cousin confessed she had eaten two pieces and I asked so quietly that my husband couldn’t hear me: “But wasn’t it a little dry?”
Then my granddaughter made one that burned. And then I re-made it and it crumbled. What is with all these pound cake disasters? Bid my fearful heart be still.
I don’t think it’s possible, but could my grandmother have discovered that I corrupted her recipe? Is she reaching from beyond the veil to correct me, like when I would move her gold leaf candy dish over an inch on the end table to see if she noticed? (She always did.)
But there is repentance and forsaking, so I am going to try a chocolate pound cake with six eggs, evaporated milk, and the same amount of cocoa. I never really saw how much cocoa Mama put into the cake or if she took any flour out to compensate for the dry ingredients, so I might, just might, venture to take out one-fourth cup of flour. Maybe she did that. Maybe I’m inspired!
I’m only 60, almost 61, and in really good health. I hope I have at least 20 years left to figure this out before I have to face her and answer her question of “Susan Kay, what have you done with my pound cake recipe?”
It’s my plan to say “Nothing I can be ashamed of, Mama.”
Then I’m going to ask her why she didn’t leave me the pink Kitchen-Aid.
Susan is a freelance writer in beautiful southern Virginia. Her novel “Miracle of the Christmas Star” may be found on Amazon.com.
Here’s the recipe if you want to try it:
Mama’s Pound Cake
Cream together 1 cup butter and cup Crisco. Add 3 cups sugar, 6 eggs, 1 cup evaporated milk, and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Mix on medium speed three minutes.
Add 3 cups plain flour and teaspoon baking powder. Mix on low for seven minutes.
Put into a greased and floured tube cake pan.
Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour and 25 minutes. (Mama said 30 minutes, but I like it a little moister on the top. You decide.)