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May 21, 2017

More than fifty years ago my picture appeared in the very first Stroller Cookbook, the collection of local recipes published annually by the Spartanburg Herald-Journal.  Seymour Rosenberg wrote the daily Stroller column and compiled the cookbook.

Inside the front cover of that publication is one of those family pictures that you wish you could avoid when you are almost thirteen and the oldest of eight children. I was embarrassed.  In the photograph, taken by B and B Studio, I am standing behind six of my seven younger siblings. My right hand is on my mother’s shoulder. My left hand is on the shoulder of my brother Bill.

Mama had submitted a recipe for caramel cake to the Stroller 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. Kitty was six weeks old. Dad was hospitalized with a serious infection following knee surgery. Mama agreed to the photo but said she had no time to bake a cake.

I rode my bicycle to Community Cash Grocery Store located at the end of our street on the corner of Lucerne Drive and Union Road. I purchased the out-of-date angel food cake pictured in the photograph; the one Mama is pretending to cover with caramel icing. She was actually spreading Peter Pan peanut butter on the store-bought cake. After the photographer left, we all tasted the cake, but we fed most of it to the dog.

Mama died sixteen years ago. A part of her legacy is old-fashioned, down-home Southern cooking.  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 the stories behind them in the cooks’ own words. Her cookbook has become a collector’s item, at least in our family.

“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 jelly sandwich, sometimes with the deluxe banana and mayonnaise addition.

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.

Mama, a graduate of Winthrop College, majored in home economics. With eight children and forty-five grandchildren, it’s a good thing she was an excellent cook!

Dad learned to cook grits in Barnwell County from my step-grandmother, Miss Maude. Dad made the best grits I have ever tasted. And his sweet tea, oh, my!

My grandfather was not much of a cook, but he had some of the best culinary advice: “Don’t get married and hire a cook; just marry the cook.”

Pappy did exactly that. He met my grandmother at a Cakewalk at a Methodist church. Mammy was born and reared in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. Pappy traveled to her hometown, twenty miles north of Savannah, to install the electrical wiring for a sawmill. On a Saturday night, Pappy entered the Cakewalk. When the music stopped, he won Mammy’s pound cake: And Mammy won his heart!

I shared the treasured Cakewalk recipe that I inherited from Mammy in a Stroller Cookbook several years ago. 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. Gradually add the sugar. Mix alternately small portions of flour and eggs. Add cream, vanilla, and lemon. Beat mixture hard for 10 –20 minutes.

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. Our distressed antique butcher block is the perfect hard surface.

Wham! Wham! Wham! This explains all the dents in the antique pan.

As a child, I thought the name, pound cake, came because Mammy pounded the cake pan on a wooden cutting board before she put the cake into the oven. The name actually comes from the exact weighing of the principal ingredients on kitchen scales. That includes weighing the eggs. Be sure to weigh them out of the shell.

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 and let the aroma fill the house.

Mammy’s pound cake is delicious! It can be served warm. Thin slices toasted and buttered make a delightful breakfast treat. For special occasions, serve a warm chunk of Mammy’s pound cake with fresh homemade ice cream

Mammy’s pound cake might change your life. Pappy and Mammy had nine children and thirty-six grandchildren. It all started with her pound cake.

When I got married I took Pappy’s advice. I, too, married a wonderful cook. Clare is a high school history teacher by training, but she is a professional homemaker by vocation. One of the many things I appreciate about my wife is that she has always fed our family well. When I children were small she made peanut butter soup to encourage them to get good protein on cold winter days. She made light fluffy cottage cheese pancakes insuring that even with whole-grain batter our family would receive the added dairy benefits. While she bakes excellent cakes in the style of her mother, Miz Lib, Clare’s specialties are loaded with chocolate. Her hot chocolate chip cookies are so yummy the kids like to eat the dough before she puts it on a cookie sheet.  Her double fudge chocolate brownies are to die for.

I am not at all sure my theology is on solid ground when I affirm that I believe heaven will include banana pudding, strawberry short cake, apple pie, peach cobbler, Mammy’s pound cake, and Clare’s double fudge brownies.  We’ll just have to wait and see!

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