My parents built a cabin in a quaint, little town located in Southern Illinois. The town consists of narrow country roads with old houses appearing ever so often. The only vehicles that drive on these road are pickup trucks and four wheelers. I prefer the latter. When riding down the roads, I think about the vast history of each homestead, the generations of actual people who lived their lives there for the past two hundred years. A tiny graveyard in the middle of a clearing in the woods even shows stones from the 1700s. On weekends, we attend a one room church that practically doubles in attendees when my family is present. The same people have been there every Sunday morning, week after week, year after year, for their entire lives. Aunt Dene is one of the members of the church and she’s the youngest woman in her 80s I’ve ever known. Aunt Dene, who is “Aunt” to everyone, has never lived anywhere else but this narrow, country road on which our cabin is built. Her stories display a lifetime of memories. I had the privilege of hearing these stories when Aunt Dene gave me the gift of time as she passed down her Red Velvet cake recipe that had been in her family for many years. To gain the authentic feeling of baking Red Velvet cake in Aunt Dene’s kitchen, make sure the weather is a pleasant 65 degrees, open the window above the sink to let a breeze blow through, occasionally open the creaking screen door to pet the stray cat who has made your porch his home, be sure the only background noises are the hummingbirds feeding on the feeder outside and the clanking of cooking utensils, drink sweet tea, and bake. Bake slowly. Take great care in each step of the recipe. Patience is the secret key. And you’ll bake the most fantastic Red Velvet cake you’ve ever tasted.
Main Ingredient One: Patience
Sift together 2 cups and 4 TBS Swans Down cake flour, 1 tsp salt, and 2 TBS cocoa. Sift 3 times. Patience in sifting makes the cake taste like velvet.
Main Ingredient Two: A Touch of Love
Hand mix 1 1/2 cups sugar and 1/2 cup of butter flavored Crisco.
Main Ingredient Three: Acceptance of Changing Time
Add two eggs, 1 tsp vanilla, 1 oz of water and 1 oz of food coloring (An ounce can be converted to 6 tsp.) Mix these with an Electric Mixer. “This was not as easy when my mom was young.” –Aunt Dene
Main Ingredient Four: Smiles and Stories of days long ago.Add 1 cup buttermilk and the sifted ingredients. Alternate starting with sifted and ending with sifted. Then add a combined 1 tsp baking soda and 1 tsp vinegar. Mix with electric mixer.
Now, picture the window still open, the sounds of crickets and cicadas singing their nightly songs, and the occasional scent of a burning bon fire.
The Icing on the Cake:
Warm 1 cup of whole milk in a sauce pan.
Wisk 1/3 cup of Gold Medal Wonder quick mixing flour and 1/2 cup of milk
Add to the sauce pan.
Cook on medium heat till boiling and boil for 1 minute.
Put pan in ice water to cool, stirring occasionally.
Mix the cooled mixture with electric mixture for 1 minute.Add 1 cup white Crisco, 1 cup sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, and a pinch of salt.
Mix with electric mixer for 5-7 minutes till creamy and smooth.Piecing it all together:
Use a knife to cut an incision of about an inch around the circumference of each cake. Be sure this incision is in the middle.
Then separate the cake into halves with a piece of string, moving it back and forth until you have sliced the cake in two. Do this to the other round cake and add icing to each of the four pieces. Layer them one on top of the other until all four pieces are held together by the icing. Ice the sides and top of cake till all red is covered.
Final Ingredient: Understanding the memory you’ve just made.
Wish you had brought your camera along to document the process, but know it might not have been the same if you had. Sometimes old fashioned mental pictures are the best you’ll ever take. Hug Aunt Dene and say that her time spent with you was even more of a blessing than she can know. Carefully place the covered cake on the back of the four wheeler and ride to the cabin to share with your family. Smile.
(I made my cakes shaped like hearts for Valentine’s Day, but that’s a lovely part about baking – You are always free to make new memories, even while remembering the old!)