During our high school years, she’d create what amounted to an assembly line atop our white Formica kitchen counter to prepare the daily lunches for me and my three brothers. She would quickly layer a sandwich with Oscar Meyer cold cuts and whole wheat bread (my favorite was bologna with mustard), and gather together precisely-cut celery and carrots with an apple for dessert. All this was carefully stacked inside a brown paper bag that was labeled with our name in black magic marker. The top of the bag was neatly folded over three times and stapled shut. To this day, Mom is still a packaging genius.
The trip to school was a long one, so instead of carrying a beverage, we were given milk money. After years of harboring guilt, I must finally confess that there were many times I did not use the coins to buy milk.
It was a horrific example of teen rebellion. The worst. Even though I was aware of the importance of milk in building strong healthy, bones, I would brazenly walk past the milk case, hand over my loose change to Mrs. Rindethorsen and purchase … yikes … Devil Dogs!
Yes, now the story can be told. Even at the tender age of 15, I was addicted to cake. Oh, I would eat the apple in my sack lunch, but I was also secretly supplementing my pubescent diet with cream-filled cakes.
For the snack cake challenged, here’s a quick primer. A Devil Dog is made of two slender layers of chocolaty, devil’s food cake with cream filling between. It’s sort of a “cake sandwich” in the shape of a hot dog bun. Devil Dogs are sold by the Drake’s Cakes Company based in New Jersey. Founder Newman E. Drake started a business selling pound cake by the slice in Brooklyn in 1888.
Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s we were bombarded by commercial messages for snack cakes – Hostess Twinkies, Hostess Cupcakes, Drake’s Ring Dings and Devil Dogs and Dolly Madison Cakes, which were a longtime sponsor of the Charlie Brown television specials. The competition for our adolescent brand loyalty was fierce. In what has now become a curious case of a corporate confection conglomerate Interstate Bakeries today owns all of the competitor companies – Drake’s Cakes, Hostess Cakes, Twinkies and Dolly Madison Cakes.
What drew me to Devil Dogs, when most of my peers were smoking in the Boy’s Room? Devil Dogs were a soothing, rich respite from the monotony of Earth Science, the mental anguish of Algebra which made my head hurt, or the perils of Chemistry Lab which quite frankly terrified me. Much like Mrs. Kast’s English Literature Class, Devil Dogs fed my restless teenage soul with something sweet and just a bit poetic – at least according to my embryonic view of the world at the time. Devil Dogs gave me a reason to persevere, to slog through Health class and gym, because I knew something luscious and just a bit illicit awaited me at lunch.
I haven’t eaten a Devil Dog in years, although I have been known to scarf a Twinkie from time to time. So, when the February issue of Gourmet magazine arrives, featuring a recipe for Devil Dog Cake inspired by the original, I can’t resist the urge to bake it. Now, you may ask, Is Gourmet slumming? Let me tell you – anyone who turns up their nose at this recipe because of its humble, mass-produced, mass-marketed snack cake origins is missing a taste of heaven. I’m not quite sure how they managed to capture that true Devil Doggy essence, but it tastes like the genuine article, and ten times better. Ruth Reichl is a genius.
I share a slice with Mom and confess the whole story of the diverted milk funds. After all these years, she deserves to know, and it is good to get it off my chest. Fortunately, Mom is very forgiving, particularly when I’m handing out squares of chocolate cake with marshmallow frosting. And, I didn’t turn out too badly, either. I still eat apples regularly.
©2008 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved