I blew out the candle on a birthday cake this week. One was plenty, because 54 would have taken forever to light. The candle was poking out of a carrot cake, dense and moist, its bright brownness dotted with bits of orange and iced in cream-cheesy frosting that was blessedly not very sweet.
“Good cake, Grammy,” we all said as we reached out our plates for one more skinny slice. My mom made the cake, as she always does. Every family gathering, be it birthday or holiday or picnic, ends with one of her cakes.
Her cakes come in lemon, in banana and in chocolate with white icing. In summer, when the zucchini grow bigger than our heads, she shreds them (the zukes, not our heads) into fudge cakes so shiny and moist you would never guess there’s a vegetable in there.
“I’ll bring a cake,” she says, at least a dozen times a year. That would be a lifetime’s worth of baking in my house.
My mom, Dorothy, likes to bake, and she’s good at it. She’s a gardener, too, but I didn’t get that gene, either. I’m quite certain I have not yet baked a cake in this millennium, and things aren’t looking good for the next one, either.
I recall a cake decorating class my mom took after she retired from teaching, but she’d been baking cakes long before that. I can picture her elbows flying all around as she scraped the sides of the bowl as the mixer tilled the batter. She always cracked the eggs into a separate little bowl first, to make sure they were fresh before mixing them in. (A friend’s mom cracked the eggs right into the batter, and it didn’t seem right.) Mom would let us lick the beaters and the spoon. I remember afternoons at home with my younger sister, before I started school, when Mom would bake a cake. We weren’t allowed to run around or the cake would fall.
Her frosting has ruined store-bought sheet birthday cakes for me. That supermarket frosting is usually so sweet it makes my teeth hurt, and it’s gritty. My mom’s frosting is different, buttery and smooth and not very sweet. I’ve never made it, but it starts with her scalding some milk on the stove. I’m sure she’s memorized the recipe after 57 years of marriage, but it used to be on an index card stained with vanilla.
My birthday cake arrived this week on a pretty glass plate and covered with a crystal bowl.
“You keep those,” she said. I now have cabinets full of pretty glass plates that her cakes rode in on. This week, she said I could use the plates when I bake my next cake.
“Or you can use it to serve fruit,” she said. Moms know.
We’ll celebrate Mother’s Day with a few events this weekend. I don’t know whether Mom will be baking a cake; it wouldn’t seem right to ask her to, but she would. She’s been known to bake her own birthday cake.
So thank you, Mom, for all the cakes – for everything, really. I’m guessing we rowdy kids probably caused a cake or two to fall flat.
But you never let on.
Beth Dolinar can be reached at email@example.com.