Friday, May 13, 2011

Wacky Cake

I was remembering the old woman who lived across the street from my grandparents. She became my friend the winter of my West Coast stay.

It was an interesting time. I was young. There was so much to do. A hiking club introduced me to some weekend treks along coastal streams and along the bay. It's a very beautiful area there. I also did what I called urban hiking, walking extensively to explore the city on my own. The streets and sidewalks, free of snow, delighted me in my first experience away from the cold.

Some evenings, comfortable at home with grandma, I studied Swedish with her. We used beginner books which were either checked out from the library or were hers. I cherish the memories of our sitting together over the books. She patiently listened as I read aloud and tried to make progress in the language into which her parents were born.

Just as the hiking club introduced me to the wonder of the coastal terrain my grandmother was opening new views for me too. She introduced me to Nellie across the street.

Nellie was aged and crippled and completely housebound as I recall. It was probably not a visit I wanted to make. I accompanied grandma as part of the respectful manners I thought I better display. I knew I was reflecting, by my actions, the job her daughter had done in raising me.

Initially I felt out of place as the two old neighbors visited. I averted my gaze from Nellie's legs. They looked withered as if with disease or simply the aging process. It can be hard to face physical realities of this kind when at the other end of the age spectrum. I made an effort to focus on Nellie instead. It was, as I found, surprisingly easy to do.

She was kind. She had the generous interest of someone who stays linked to life. Her body might have the signs of degeneration but all her youth was in her attitude and the stories she told. Yes, that's where she had me. When she began talking about her past she had me spellbound.

It's regrettable how little we retain when the good stories flow. I listened rapt as she described bits and pieces of growing up as either a rancher's or farmer's daughter near Spokane.

Despite the concentration given to the stores I'm left with only one picture from all she shared. The picture is hazy in its details but the overall impression as as vivid as when she left it with me.

She talked of crouching alongside her father, beside haystacks for cover, under full moon nights in the dry farmlands of eastern Washington. It was rabbits I believe they were hunting. Nellie told how big they were. They were maybe a Western species, not like the cottontails back home.

I could sense the excitement in being out late with her dad. It might have been her first, fifth or fifteenth time. She was surely a self-sufficient little girl.

Maybe she was her dad's right hand, taking the place of a son who might otherwise have joined him as silent hunters of the summer night. Maybe Nellie was the oldest with the expected responsibility to help her father and learn from him. As likely, she was the born tomboy soaking it all in.

The full moon brightened the fields as Nellie peered from the shadow of the haystack, perhaps leaning around her father's shoulder in a quiet moment of taking in the scene.

Nellie gave me an experience of what it was to grow up as she did. Their river valley was filling with farmers and the prospect of irrigation, or the project already operational, was promising them prosperous futures. Her girlhood was one step removed from the pioneer era. Possibly some of that was sprinkled in, too, as she opened her background on those winter visits of long ago.

One visit I took home a recipe from her. It was for Wacky Cake, a favorite of hers. It's super uncomplicated. It doesn't require eggs or a mixing bowl. The recipe has been in my file ever since.

The recipe may have been a lifesaver for Nellie and those of her generation. After all, there's always a reason for cake. In good times and in lean times there's a call for a dessert to bake or bring for a family occasion, school party, church festival or community get-together.

When your chickens weren't laying eggs, or if hard economic times meant eggs weren't in the house at all, there was reliability in this recipe that lists no eggs.

Eggs went on my grocery list today, being nearly in the boat that past cooks have been. But in the meantime I went ahead and made Nellie's cake. No eggs, the top of the recipe card says.

Wacky Cake

In ungreased 8 x 8" pan put 1 1/2 cups flour, 1 cup sugar, 3 Tablespoons cooking cocoa, 1 tsp. baking soda and 1/2 tsp. salt. Mix thoroughly with fork. Make 3 holes in dry ingredients and pour in 6 Tablespoons salad oil, 1 tsp. vanilla and 1 Tablespoon vinegar. Over this pour 1 cup cold water. Mix well with fork and bake at 350 degress about 25 minutes.

Ro Giencke - May 13, 2011

No comments:

Post a Comment