Friday, March 5, 2010

Cake Genealogy

I am very interested in our family genealogy. What makes it fascinating to me is not just the family tree, or the stories that go with the individuals, but the recipes that have been passed down through the generations. These recipes have the ability to conjure up the best memories and visions of my childhood. I have since copied recipes into a file onto my computer, but I keep the originals, handwritten, given to me by my mother, my grandmothers, stained index cards, cookbooks with special notes written in them, scraps of paper, because even those bring strong memories of the people who made them.

In my family there are a lot of good cooks and a lot of recipes. The food stories could fill volumes. But this is about just one of our all time favorites, my grandmother’s sour cream chocolate cake. My grandmother was the first to bake this luscious cake. My mother took this recipe when she was married, and as far back as I can remember, this was the official birthday cake in our family. It has changed over the years; cream soured with vinegar from my grandmother, store bought sour cream from my mother, and when I returned from cooking school, I got more creative with each celebratory cake I made, substituting buttermilk and yogurt for the sour cream, changing types of flours, different sugars. Now, I’ve gone back to my mother’s recipe. My kids began helping me to bake the sour cream chocolate cake when they were 2. It was messy work, but someone had to lick the bowl. Now my son and daughter make my birthday cake, together, fighting over who licks the spatula or bowl, just like I did with my brother and sister. I share chocolate cake stories with them like my favorite dog nibbling on my wedding cake, or carrying cakes across the country on airplanes, making the cake for the family I lived with in France. My kids now are old enough to come to a yearly neighborhood party near my mother’s and they continue the tradition of bringing the chocolate cake that I have been doing every year for 20 years. They know if there isn’t sour cream, vinegar and milk will work just as well. And, the recipe they use now when they bake the cake is spotted with chocolate covered with my notes on all my variations. I could print out a clean sheet, but where are the memories in that?

Judy K.

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