Cake By the Pound
I haven’t eaten pound cake since I was 15 and have spent the last 16 years or so trying to recreate my grandmother’s soft and moist signature of love. But alas, I always fail. As the days of craving pound cake turn to months and years, I decided it may be time to give in. I figured if I just make a pound cake, it might bring me some peace and a little closer to her. It did.
My grandmother was from Fredericksburg, VA, but spent her formative years in Queens, NY. When she retired from being a nurse in Harlem Hospital, she moved back to Virginia. I spent every summer with her until I was 13. She taught me a great deal about food, damn near everything I know. From gardening to preserving to pickling to back of the fridge meals, she is often my point of reference for anything food.
After a grueling morning in the garden tending to squash, string beans, snap peas, tomatoes, and pruning the fig, apple, and pear trees, a warm slice of pound cake was there welcoming me with open arms. But there was always a pound cake in the kitchen. It was a staple. You could eat it for breakfast with jam, butter or fruit. Sometimes I had a slice for lunch with my sandwich. Of course, pound cake was always available for dessert to accompany ice cream if you weren’t of age and libations if you were.
When I wasn’t summering with her, she made sure to send me a pound cake. Every year she would mail me a marble pound cake, my favorite, for my birthday. For Christmas, I’d get a surprise poundcake but usually an iced vanilla pound cake.
It’s funny that she’d give us a lemon pound cake to remind us of her. She was very much like lemon, necessary, always adding flavor, a bit tart, sometimes sweet with a firm but smooth exterior. I mean nobody hates lemons and everybody loves cake, so it’s a natural pairing.
I waited a few days to slice my poundcake. I was scared of how it would taste. So much had gone wrong that day while trying to bake it. The most egregious incident was I put too much batter in the glass loaf pan, and I knew it. But I was eagerly awaiting my fail. I knew the batter was going to spill over, but I also knew deep down, this was going to be another disappointment for the record in my heart. I could smell the burnt mixture hitting the floor of the oven. I poured some of the raw mixture into a bowl after cleaning out the oven. I resumed my activities with the understanding of I’ve already ruined this cake.
I’ve wasted so much flour and sugar fucking up so many pound cakes that I had begun to lose all hope at success. But I guess for me the poundcake was my way of trying to bring her back. So with each failure, I felt even further and further away from her.
My 36th birthday will make 20 years since pancreatic cancer snatched one of the most influential people in my life. I’ll still miss how the aroma of pound cakes filled the house’s air like a candle. I miss licking the bowls for the black walnut pound cakes. Eating the crispy ends of the pound cake with fresh apple butter or preserves for breakfast, I miss that too. I go back to those moments often. Marble pound cakes being eaten next to caterpillars and ants on the front porch during a hot Virginia night in July by small dirty brown hands was an annual ritual for me. I yearn for the days on the backyard deck watching squirrels while my grandma rattled off bits and pieces of family history, and I stuffed my face with iced lemon pound cake.
Fifty-one hundred seconds or eighty- five minutes have passed. I check on the mess in the dark green-ish(?) loaf dish. Despite the burnt bits at the bottom of the stove, the aroma of fresh vanilla bean envelopes the kitchen. It passes the knife test. The moist, soft, pillowy cake springs back when I perform the finger test.
I finally did it. I only wish she was there, like really there. What I would give to see her warm, loving face and infectious smile as she ate a slice.
Anyways make that food or do that thing you’ve been avoiding because you don’t want to deal with the fear or pain of the person you miss. I promise you will feel much better after.
Many foods haunt me but nothing quite like pound cake.