My family and I talked a lot over Christmas about Daddy’s fruit cakes. His yearly project meant we would hear many times just how he was going to make it, we would have to admire the ingredients as he laid them out on the counter, and when his edible work of art was complete we would have to sample it. And we did.
But Daddy was not the only cake baker in that house. Mama’s pound cakes are well-known to family and friends. Because of recent health issues she hasn’t made one in a while but she will and we’re waiting. Mama never needed a holiday to prompt her to make a pound cake, although production ramped up during special occasions. There always seemed to be a half eaten cake on the counter and another in the freezer, usually heavily wrapped and labeled “okra” to keep us from getting into it.
A few years ago I asked Mama for her pound cake recipe. I love those cakes and thought it might be a good idea to learn to make them. Mama gave me the recipe and admirably hid her shock that I would attempt to make a cake of all things. Just scrambling an egg presents me with a challenge.
“Follow the recipe and you can’t go wrong.” Mama said.
Daddy asked, “You never made a cake before?”
“No.” I said, “But I’ve eaten enough to consider myself a professional.”
“I bet a dog won’t eat that thing when you’re done!” Daddy laughed.
I listened to Mama’s baking advice, bought all necessary ingredients, went home, and began to follow the recipe.
No I didn’t.
I can’t remember exactly how I altered the recipe and I didn’t plan to, but those tiny details became so tedious. My first mistake was to say I even wanted to bake a cake at all. More mistakes followed.
I thought if a little sugar was good then a little more was better. Butter is nice so extra butter should be nicer. The notion of needing to add the eggs “one at a time” (which the recipe noted and which Mama stressed) just seemed silly. In they all went together. I don’t recall how long the cake was to bake but I thought if I increased the temperature by just a little bit then it should cut down on the cooking time. Finally, I learned that there is a difference between baking powder and baking soda after all.
When the cake was done, or so I assumed, I took it out of the oven and realized immediately that it didn’t look just like Mama’s. I was sure it would still be delicious.
The few parts that didn’t stick to the pan slid onto the plate rather nicely. I eagerly tasted a piece of my first pound cake.
Once I stopped choking, I called Mama. Daddy answered the phone and I described my results.
“I told you that thing wouldn’t be fit for a dog to eat!” He laughed again.
“Did you follow the recipe?” Mama asked when she got on the phone. I could hear Daddy still laughing in the background.
“Mostly.” I lied.
“Well bring it over here and let me look at it.” Mama said.
I pieced the cake back together in the pan to make it “pretty”. When I got to Mama’s, she and Daddy were sitting in the yard. I walked up to Mama and held the pan full of butchered cake out in front of her.
“Here it is.” I said in a tone that I hoped would make her believe I had faithfully followed the recipe and was still baffled by the finished product. “What could I have done wrong?”
Mama looked at the cake, made a horrible face, and asked, “Do you want a list?”
Daddy, in very colorful language, gave his opinion of my cake and laughed as he added, “I told you a dog wouldn’t eat that thing when you were done with it!”
Mama decided she didn’t want to taste it because it “didn’t look right”. Daddy, once again in very colorful language, told me just why he didn’t care to taste it either.
In spite of the mess in the now ruined cake pan we all had a good laugh. I walked to the end of their yard and threw the cake out into the garden where I assumed birds, if desperate, might eat it. As I walked back to where they sat, Mama and Daddy were joking about whether or not birds might soon die by the flock.
“I told him even a dog wouldn’t eat that mess.” Daddy said to Mama as I sat down with them.
As we talked about anything other than cakes, my aunt Noody walked from her house next door to join us. On the way, she stopped to let her dog Maggie out for an evening run. As the four of us talked, I noticed Maggie making her way to the edge of the garden where I had dumped the cake.
“Well Daddy.” I said smugly. “Maggie is about to prove you wrong.” I pointed to the dog as she approached the cake pile and gave it a sniff. I bet a dog would eat my cake. I awaited my minor victory.
They all turned to watch the dog. Maggie approached the cake pile and sniffed. She raised her head and paused, adding to the mounting tension. She lowered her head to sniff the cake again. That’s when it happened.
Maggie lowered her front end, leaned slightly to the side, and dropped to roll in the cake. Not just a light roll, but a full grinding-the-cake-into-the-shoulder roll. She stood, sniffed the cake again, and rolled on her other side. Adding insult to injury, she walked away from the cake pile, stopping just long enough to kick grass over it with her hind legs. She then trotted away never having taken a bite.
The wheezing sound I heard next was Daddy laughing. “You do know what dogs generally roll in, don’t you?” he asked through the laughter.
Mama made the horrible face again and looked at Noody. “You’ll never be able to get that smell off that dog.”
I laughed too and stood up to walk towards Maggie and the cake pile. I wasn’t going to let Daddy win this one!
“Come here Maggie!” I called as I picked through the cake pile to find a piece I thought she might find edible. It wasn’t easy.
Seeing something in my hand, Maggie came running. I leaned down and handed her the piece of cake as Daddy, Mama, and Noody watched from the other end of the yard. Maggie took it from my hand! I was about to declare a victory when Maggie backed up, raised her head slightly as if to sneeze, then threw her head forward spitting the cake onto the ground. She stared at it.
So did I. She still hadn’t eaten any of it.
Maggie looked at me, wagged her tail, and barked at the piece of cake.
I gave up and walked back to where the others were sitting. They were laughing and appeared to be looking past me. I turned around just in time to see Maggie getting back to her feet after a second roll in the cake.
Daddy was right. Even a dog wouldn’t eat that cake. But she certainly enjoyed it just the same.
Stuart M. Perkins