Feasting and Memory
“Feasting is also closely related to memory. We eat certain things in a particular way in order to remember who we are.”
Jeff Smith (The Frugal Gourmet Keeps the Feast)
My children loved spending holidays at their grandparents' houses in North Carolina, but for different reasons. At their daddy's ancestral home in Chapel Hill, they had fifty acres, an automotive shop, a barn and a fishing pond with which to entertain themselves. They tromped around for hours, finding arrow heads, and all manner of old, rusty vehicle engulfed by vines. Their grandfather's shop was complete with an oil pit, every imaginable tool, every piece of salvage from every building site he'd ever worked on. There were two War War II Army Jeeps, always in a state of “being repaired.” The barn was like an archeology dig—decades of stowed miscellaneous artifacts of multiple generations. Days could be spent digging through the troves of construction equipment and plumbing parts, as well as boxes of letters and cards dating back to the twenties and thirties, old furniture from time immemorial, toys from children long grown and gone. Someone could write an anthropological treatise on the curious culture of the small-time, semi-landed, Southern gentry by poking around that property.
At my parent's house, there was little for children to do, so holidays there were all about food. Unlike me, my mother was a baker. She knew what sort of sweets her grandsons' liked, and she had some ready to go when they walked in the door. One of their favorites was what she called, “He-Man Cake.” Here's the recipe (though I warn you, it's hazardous to your health):
½ cup Crisco (shortening)
5 Tbsp. Cocoa
1 stick of butter
1 cup water
Bring all this to a boil and then cool.
Mix in a bowl:
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 tsp. Vanilla
½ cup buttermilk
1 tsp. Baking soda
Add the two mixtures together and pour into a greased 9 x 13 pan. Bake at 350 for 30 or 40 min.
Frosting: 1 stick of butter; ½ cup of sweet milk; 5 tsps. Cocoa; 1 tsp. Vanilla. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in 1 box of confectioner's sugar, and 1 cup of chopped pecans. Pour on the cake while hot. Leave cake in pan to serve.
If you're a chocoholic, I guarantee that this will meet your needs. Just make sure your life insurance is up to date.
Walking back through the memories of holidays past, perception blurs. What I experienced then, all the trials and tribulations of both families, I don't experience now. Instead, I see them all as flawed human beings doing the best they could. Quirky, and sometimes outrageously difficult, but the sweetness of the shared history overcomes the angst of those troubled times. Perhaps that's the product of aging brain cells, or perhaps it's a result of a widening crack in the heart. Whatever it is, all I feel today is gratitude.
In the Spirit,