“When I write of hunger, I’m really writing about love and the hunger for it, and the warmth and the love of it…and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied…and it is all one.” M.F.K. Fisher
I’m so so hungry this morning. For food? Yes and no. We hunger for so much more than sustenance. The foods we love and the foods we don’t love all have stories for us, about us. When we share a story about our food life, if you listen closely you’ll hear more than a recipe for the perfect turkey. Today I’m hungry for the food of childhood summers reminiscent of long lazy days. I want the foods that tell stories and satisfy with love even more than with calories. This week that means chocolate sheath cake!
In my family as in most there were fine cooks and simple cooks. People tell me that my Mother was a great cook. But as I remember her kitchen she didn’t cook very often and then it was food food because one should eat. She used to say – we’ll play like it’s done. By the time I was eight years old she was cooking for only the two of us. And after all, a little girl doesn’t eat that much. Once in a while she would conjure up a feast. Mostly though, we ate simple fare and spent our time on other pursuits. My Mother could tear the whole house apart when she was inspired by a project. She wasn’t afraid to try anything even if it made a horrible mess. Although Mother gave up cooking for the most part she loved food and miraculously never gained an ounce. I think she was too busy for weight. It just couldn’t get a grip on her. She moved too fast.
Later in life when I was grown and she moved more slowly, after taking her to the doctor I would ask – what would you like for lunch, Whataburger or Mexican? Mind you, we still had donuts left from our morning pre doctor stop. Without skipping a beat, she always answered – Both – and she meant it. I would make a few mild attempts at encouraging her to choose one or the other. Both, she insisted. And so, Both it was. First, we would have a sit down lunch of Mexican food where she cleaned her plate as I struggled with how full I felt. Then, I’d drive through Whataburger to pick her up a large burger, fries and coke which would be enjoyed and gone before the day was over. Mother loved food, all food. I’m not sure if it was sheer gusto for the enjoyment of the simple pleasures in life.
Or Perhaps she remembered what it was like to be without. There were times when I was a girl that work was hard for her to come by and the fridge was pretty bare. A few slices of cheese and a jar of pickles doesn’t offer a great many choices. She was so clever that she once made tomato soup from saved up ketchup packets! I assure you we never went hungry. And Mimi’s house wasn’t far away, with something always simmering on the stove. We’d leave her house with a full tummy and Tupperware laden with leftovers.
That is probably why I try to feed everything and everyone who comes near me. You think I’m kidding? Just ask anyone who’s been in my kitchen. Seriously. there’s bird seed for the wild birds. Nectar for the hummingbirds. Crumbs for the fish at the lake. Even my composted scraps are offered to the animals. They’ve been gobbled up by raccoons, opossums and coyotes now and then. Those animals, the wild ones, sneak up at night and drive the dogs crazy! Why are you at my house? Why?! Those egg shells belong to me!
Where was I…oh yes… So, although I have good strong food memories of my Mom, they aren’t so much to do with her actually cooking. For that I only have other people’s stories of her skill in the kitchen and a handful of treasured recipes. Yesterday, I baked her Chocolate Sheath Cake in the same silver pan that she always used. Ah, chocolate cake you say. That’s nice. I must have a dozen chocolate cake recipes. Wait, no, no, you don’t understand. As a girl I didn’t like chocolate. That’s right, I didn’t like chocolate. I can hear you gasping in horror. When you’re a kid chocolate is everywhere! It’s the thing! Chocolate cakes, chocolate frosting, chocolate ice cream, chocolate candy, hot chocolate, chocolate milk, chocolate is Everywhere. All I could think was – oh, chocolate, do you have anything in vanilla or maybe some refreshing lime sherbet. Why does everyone want chocolate? Are you still with me? Have you passed out and hit your head on the pavement? It was hard to be a kid who didn’t like chocolate. You’re instantly different in a rather odd sort of way. What do you mean you don’t like chocolate? Everyone likes chocolate. Not everyone. Not me. I learned not to share that part of myself, the part that other kids didn’t understand.
You will be pleased to know that I’ve grown to the point where I like chocolate fine now. A nice piece of dark chocolate after a meal is perfect and yes I can be satisfied with just one. That’s only because it’s not my be all, end all, go to food. That would be cookies! Did you hear my deep sigh of contentment. The world’s most perfect food – Cookies! No plate, fork, or napkin necessary. When things are bad and getting worse, keep a cookie in your purse! I am utterly convinced that if you slather on peanut butter and add a side of milk or maybe fruit you have a perfectly well balanced meal. When I’m having one of Those kind of days I even bake them warm for dinner. The veggies can wait until tomorrow. This terrible horrible no good very bad day will be redeemed by cookies for dinner. I’m off topic again…but seriously, cookies, I’m just saying. Now you know why one of the names I answer to is Cookie. I can live with that.
So… a Mother who didn’t cook much, creative meals now and then, a kid who doesn’t like chocolate, and cookies Rock. What does all of that have to do with my Mother’s chocolate cake? Why is It so special? Cookie, You don’t even like chocolate for goodness sakes. Chocolate Sheath Cake is one of only two cakes I recall my Mother baking. And, until I was rather grown it was the one and only form of chocolate that I liked. The only chocolatey food that made me sigh with ease and light up my face with joy. The only form of chocolate that made me like everyone else, my mother’s cake. Although these days my pantry is blessedly full and my choices are many, Mother’s Sheath cake still does that for me. Is it the chocolate? I doubt it. When it comes to chocolate I can take it or leave it. It’s my Mother, of course. She did something for me that no one else could. She loved me whether I liked chocolate or not. My first gift of unconditional irreversible love.
I don’t like chocolate. You don’t like broccoli. She doesn’t like soccer. And he doesn’t like football. Not everyone will love you unconditionally. But, we’re each lovable just as we are no matter what we don’t like to eat or to play. Jack is different from Huckleberry is different from Ellie is different than Bo. My Ellie girl loves cookies just like me! Huckleberry is crazy for cheese, all kinds, and pancakes. Bo is a bacon aficionado. And Jack j juice box, well, Jack likes a little taste of everything. Don’t you Jack? I love the ways they aren’t like each other. I love the silly things that only they can do. We needn’t hide that which makes us different. Rather, share it and see how much fun there is in another way. Bo doesn’t like rough play so he climbs up on the picnic table and watches instead. The other dogs like him just the same.
From time to time when I’m hungry for something more, for something undefined, then I bake Sheath cake. My Mother’s cake in my Mother’s pan. I love the way the lid slides on and off. It gives a satisfying click when it’s closed up all the way. I love the window that lets me peek through to see the goodness inside. I love to leave a fork in the pan so I can easily snag a bite every single time I walk through the kitchen. No, it doesn’t last very long that way. But yes, if you should arrive before I’ve polished it off I will share with you, from the opposite non fork side, of course. When the pan empties, I’m good. I’ll go months without making it or even thinking about it. Then all of a sudden I am missing something… hungry for something I cannot quite define. A secret anniversary of the heart perhaps.
There is food that fills our tummy. There is food that provides a well balanced diet. Then, there’s the food that speaks to your heart. Whatever yours is, eat it slowly, savor the taste of it, recall its story, and please, share it with someone you love.
Chocolate Sheath Cake
In a bowl mix
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
In a saucepan bring to a boil
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening
4 Tablespoons cocoa
1 cup water
Pour over dry ingredients and mix
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
Mix well and pour into a greased 9×13 pan
Bake at 400 for 30 minutes
Five minutes before the cake is ready make the icing
In a saucepan melt
1/2 cup butter
4 Tablespoons cocoa
6 Tablespoons milk
4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup chopped pecans
Pour the thin hot icing over the hot cake.