When our family talks about my Great Aunt Sissie, someone always brings up her prize-worthy coconut cake. It’s as much a part of her as the country store she ran and the white hair on her head. Though Aunt Sissie is no longer with us, her recipe will live on through her grandchildren who still get together throughout the year to bake the cake in her memory.
Great Aunt Mary Alice made the best chocolate cake ever. It was a staple at family functions and is in our family cookbook. Thanks, Mom!
There’s something about baking…
During the pandemic lockdown, it seemed that everyone became Betty Crocker, turning out cakes, pies, breads, cookies, and all sorts of other baked goods. And why not? Just thinking about something baking in the oven stirs up (pun intended) a lifetime of good memories and happy feelings. Who doesn’t conjure up sweet recollections of childhood when they walk into a house where the smell of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies permeates the air?
An article on lifescience.com says, “The delicious scent of baking bread wafting out from the open doors of a nearby bakery can act like a time portal, instantly sweeping you from a busy street in New York to a tiny cafe in Paris that you visited years ago. Scent particles, in general, can revive memories that have been long forgotten.” According to the article, the portions of the brain that deal with smell are intertwined with the portions that handle memories and emotions. In fact, “Scents are the only sensations that travel such a direct path to the emotional and memory centers of the brain.”
But I think it’s about more than scent. Around the world, baking is synonymous with happy times and celebrations. In ancient times, the baker was considered one of the most important members of society, expected to wow guests at feasts and banquets with his pastries and sweet concoctions. Cakes, like the ones we bake today, came about in the United Kingdom during the Middle Ages. Even in wartime, baking was seen as essential. During WWII, with the lack of eggs available, applesauce cake was invented so that celebrations could proceed with the ever-important cake!
Today, we wouldn’t think of having a celebration without cake or cupcakes or some other baked treat. Can you picture a Thanksgiving or Christmas without pumpkin pie? Even normal, non-celebratory days call for baked goods. What summer day isn’t made absolutely perfect with a slice of warm fruit pie and a dollop of ice cream?
Even scripture tells us of the importance of baking. Ezekiel 4:9 reads, “Again, take wheat and barley, and beans and lentils, and millet and spelt; put them in a single vessel and make bread out of them.” And Luke 22:19 says, “Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them saying, ‘This is my body which will be given for you; do this in memory of me’.” Throughout the Bible, bread is the thing that provides sustenance as well as a link to God Almighty, from manna in the desert to the opening of the eyes of the Cleopas and his companion after the walk to Emmaus.
Like those times in the Bible, the biggest feeling that baking brings us is comfort. The warm feeling we got when we first went to college and Mom sent a tin of cookies, the delight we feel when we walk into the home of a friend and smell the cake she just baked for our visit, the memories that are evoked by the smell of a French pastry, a hot cinnamon bun, or a homemade coconut cake, are just a few of the ways that baked goods speak to us and remind us of happy times and bring us comfort.
While there are many things about the Great Pandemic of 2020 that I do not wish to recall years from now, I will always get a smile on my face when I think of the words that I heard so often over the last few months, including last night: “Mom, can you bake that blueberry-lemon cake? I’m dying to have it again.” That one recipe, discovered by accident, brought us so much joy during a time of fear and uncertainty. I’m not going to admit how often I baked it, but I know that each time it came out of the oven, I had a roomful of anxious volunteers to try the first bite.
Years from now, perhaps this recipe will be something my girls teach their children to make while telling them the story of the time the whole world stopped. I don’t expect that whole ordeal to be one big happy memory, but maybe, just maybe, they will recall eating this cake after sharing a family meal, while playing a game of Catan, or when watching a movie together. Maybe it will remind them of the time we all lived together for the last time–before Rebecca got married and before Katie graduated from college–when all we had were each other, a comfortable home, food on the table, and a hot oven that never stopped producing one baked good after another. I hope they will remember that baking, cooking, and preparing meals is more than providing sustenance and more than trying out new recipes. It is most often an act of love.
You’ll have to excuse me now. I have a cake to bake.
FOR THE CAKE AND FILLING
1 box vanilla cake mix, plus ingredients called for on box
2 1/2 c. blueberries
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp. granulated sugar
1/2 c. whipped topping
FOR THE FROSTING AND TOPPING
1 c. (2 sticks) butter, softened
2 (8-oz.) blocks cream cheese, softened
2 1/4 c. powdered sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
Blueberries, for garnish
Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 9-x-13 pan with parchment paper, and spray with cooking spray. Bake the cake according to package instructions. Let cool completely.
To make the blueberry sauce: In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine blueberries, lemon juice, and sugar. Bring to a simmer and cook until thick and creamy, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove from heat and pour into a medium bowl.
Let cool for 15 minutes, then fold in whipped topping.
To make the frosting: Using a mixer, beat butter and cream cheese together. Add powdered sugar, lemon zest and juice, and vanilla. Beat until smooth and fluffy.
Let cake completely cool. This is so important! If it’s not cool, the frosting will melt. Once cook, use the back of a wooden spoon to poke holes all over the cake, then pour blueberry mixture on top. Spread frosting on top, then garnish cake with more blueberries.
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Amy Schisler is an award-winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture Me, Whispering Vines, and Island of Miracles are all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016. Island of Miracles has outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her follow up, Island of Promise is a reader favorite. Amy’s children’s book is The Greatest Gift. The suspense novel, Summer’s Squall, and all of Amy’s books, can be found online and in stores. Her latest novel, Island of Promise, was recently awarded First Prize by the Oklahoma Romance Writer’s Association as the best Inspirational Romance of 2018 and was awarded a Gold Medal in the Independent Publisher Book Awards 2019 for Inspirational Fiction. It is the 2019 winner for Best Inspirational Fiction in the RWA Golden Quill Contest, Best Romance in the American Book Awards, and a finalist for the Eric Hoffer Award of Fiction. Amy’s 2019 work, The Devil’s Fortune, a finalist in the Writer’s Digest Self-Publishing Awards and winner of an Illumination Award, is based, in part, on Amy’s family history. The third book of Amy’s Chincoteague Island Trilogy, Island of Hope, was released in August of 2019.
Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017), Summer’s Squall (2017), Island of Promise (2018), The Devil’s Fortune (2019), Island of Hope (2019).