Thursday, August 31, 2006

Remembrance of Cakes Past

Mom opens the small manila envelope and slips a slightly faded photograph into my hand. “Do you remember this?” she asks. “I thought you might want to write about it.”

I pull out my reading glasses to take a closer look, and examine the photo of a 9-by-13 sheet cake. At the top, scripted in pale blue icing are the dates, 1932 – May 14th – 1983.

Mom studies my reaction, looking for a sign of recognition, and decides to jog my memory. “You made the cake for Grandma and Grandpa’s 51st wedding anniversary.” Indeed, on the back of the photo is Mom’s inscription: May 14th, 1983 – Anniversary Cake for Hilda & Steve Ernst – made by T. – 51 years married.

I see a bouquet of tiny blue and pink wildflowers, gathered together with a wavy pink ribbon. Not a bad effort for an amateur. I recall that it was actually one of the later cakes in my repertoire, and I had actually first cut my teeth on cake decorating in elementary school.

The memories come back to me, years before The Cake Doctor, The Cake Bible, Baking with Julia, the Magnolia Bakery or Martha Stewart’s Baking Handbook. I remember exploring Mom’s bookshelf and discovering a simple black and white volume on cake decorating. I was captivated by the photos of butter cream roses and scallop shell boarders. Mom had actually taken a cake decorating course years before and had all the tips and pastry bags stored away. We pulled them out, cleaned them all in hot soapy water, and looked them over. There were tips for rose petals, tiny blossoms and even branches with perfectly-shaped conical leaves.

In no time, Mom had connected me with Mrs. Becker, a pastry pro at our local church who gave me a lesson. Soon, I was whipping up celebration cakes for wedding anniversaries, birthdays and holidays. All this, before sixth grade graduation. Sometimes, the cakes were overly sweet, and sometimes, the colors a bit garish, but it was the start of creativity in the kitchen and a lifelong love of “le gateaux.”

If Mom hadn’t signed up for that first cake decorating course, I might never have paged through that text book and developed a taste for luscious layers.

Thanks, Mom, for the sweet inspiration!

© 2006 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

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