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Legacy Pound Cake

April 20, 2014

 

On a chilly, rainy Tuesday afternoon last week, I officiated at the funeral service for Mrs. Sina Green. Had she lived another six months she would have been 100 years old. Mrs. Green was born when Woodrow Wilson was in the second year of his first term as President of the United States. The Boston Braves – later to become the Milwaukee Braves, now the Atlanta Braves – won the National League pennant in 1914. That year marked the beginning of World War I.

Though rain was pouring last Tuesday, Floyd’s Pacolet Chapel was at near capacity. Usually when a person lives to a ripe old age, attendance is limited.

Some years ago a ninety-five-year-old matron asked to meet with me to plan her funeral. She said, “There’ll be a lot of surprised people when I get to heaven.”

“Why will they be surprised?” I asked.

She explained. “My family and friends have been in heaven so long that by the time I arrive, they will have all assumed that I went to the other place.”

I doubt that anyone would think such a thing about Mrs. Green.

Many in the crowd that gathered in the chapel for her service were relatives and close friends. As they came into the chapel from the inclement weather, I asked, “What do you remember most about this lady?”

Without hesitation, many answered, “Her old-fashioned pound cake.”

My picture appeared in the very first Stroller cookbook. Inside the front cover of that fifty-seven-year-old publication was one of those family pictures that you wish you could avoid when you are almost thirteen and the oldest of eight children. In that photograph, taken by B and B Studio, I was standing behind six of my seven younger siblings. My right hand was resting on my mother’s shoulder, and my left hand was on the shoulder of my younger brother Bill.

As I recall, my mother had submitted a recipe for caramel cake to the Stroller just a few days before my youngest sister, Kitty, was born. Seymour Rosenberg called Mama several weeks later to arrange a time for Harry White to take the picture. By then Kitty was six weeks old, and my dad had been hospitalized with a serious infection following knee surgery. Mama agreed to the photo but said up front that she had no time to bake a cake.

I rode my bicycle to Community Cash grocery store, located at the corner of Lucerne Drive and Union Road, to purchase the out-of-date angel food cake pictured in the photograph. Though Mama was pretending to cover that cake with caramel icing, she was actually spreading Peter Pan peanut butter on top. After the photographer left, we all tasted the cake but fed most of it to the dog.

Mama died in 2001. A part of her legacy is old-fashioned, down-home Southern cooking. In fact, with a good bit of motherly cajoling and masterful delegating, she compiled and published her own Neely Family Cookbook in 1991. Her goal was to preserve many of the favorite family recipes and stories. She wanted all of us to be able to do some cooking.

“People just do better when they’ve been fed,” was her wise advice.

My culinary repertoire is limited to outdoor grilling; boiled shrimp; made-to-order omelets; bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches with mozzarella cheese; and my world-famous peanut butter and banana sandwich.

If the old saying “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” is true, the men in my family may be the best examples. Good cooking has always had a special place in my heart.

My mama, a graduate of Winthrop College, was a home-economics major. With eight children and forty-five grandchildren, it was good that she was an excellent cook. Mama could prepare almost any food, but she always depended on Dad to make the best grits I have ever tasted.

My grandfather, though not much of a cook himself, had some of the best culinary advice: “Don’t get married and hire a cook; just marry the cook.” Pappy did exactly that. In fact, he met my grandmother during a cakewalk at a Methodist church. Pappy won her pound cake. It was so delicious that he decided to court her.

I understand from Mrs. Green’s family that she never gave out the entire recipe for her legendary pound cake. My grandmother was the same way with her recipes. Over time I believe my aunts and sisters figured out exactly what ingredients went into the treasured cakewalk recipe that I inherited from Mammy. Her melt-in-your-mouth pound cake was beyond compare.

Mammy’s Pound Cake

1 pound sugar                        3 tablespoons cream
1 pound butter                       3 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 pound flour                          1 teaspoon lemon extract
1 pound eggs

All ingredients must be at room temperature. Cream the butter, and gradually add the sugar. Then mix alternately small portions of flour and eggs. Add cream, vanilla, and lemon. Beat mixture hard for 10-30 minutes, including mixing time.
Grease and flour a tube cake pan. One inherited from your grandmother works best. Pour batter into the pan. Pound the pan on a hard surface 20 to 30 times to remove all bubbles from the batter. This explains all the dents in the antique pan.

Put the pan containing the batter into a cold oven. Set the oven to bake at 200 degrees for one hour. Then, increase the heat to 300 degrees and bake for about two hours more or until done. (Check the old-fashioned way, with a broom straw. Pull a straw out of a real straw broom. A plastic broom will not work. When you think the cake is done, stick the straw into the cake. Quickly take the straw out of the cake. If the straw has batter on it, the cake needs more time to bake. If it comes out clean, the cake is done.) Turn the cake onto a cooling rack.

Mammy’s pound cake is delicious! It can be served warm. Thin toasted slices make a tasty breakfast treat. For special occasions, top it with homemade ice cream.

As a child, I thought the name, pound cake, came because Mammy pounded the pan on a wooden cutting board before putting it into the oven. The name actually comes from the exact weighing of the principal ingredients on kitchen scales. That includes weighing the eggs – out of the shell.

Try Mammy’s pound cake. You’ll love it!

It might even bring romance into your life as it did for my grandparents.

Kirk H. Neely
© April 2014

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