Friday, August 20, 2010

Cake and the sweet life.

Last Sunday was baking day for me. I entered red velvet and pineapple upside down cakes in the Kentucky State Fair and they were due by 5 o'clock Monday.

When I was a kid and in 4-H I entered lots of categories for the county fair. My sister did the same thing. Luckily our projects weren't just baking. There was sewing, silk thread embroidery, forestry, canning, meal planning and table design. Girls growing up on Indiana farms saw their futures as farm wives. My mother was a farm wife and when our daddy died she was a farmer. I won lots of blue ribbons during this time and even once a grand champion in the Indiana State Fair for an embroidered picture of the Lord's Supper on white linen.
I stopped entering things in the fair when I left home for school. I started again when we bought our first house. Dennis would help me and on the Sunday before the entries were due, I'd make six cakes. It was a whirlwind of flour, sugar, washing mixing bowls and baking pans. Then again I stopped after he died.

About eight years ago Reggie encouraged me to try again. He is a good baker and enters about ten things from yeast braided bread to herb plants and apple pie. He's won lots of ribbons over the years including blue ribbons. I have always entered just two cakes. I won a fourth place, second place and third place ribbons over recent years.

This year I had carefully planned to have all ingredients on hand and at room temperature; the mixer bowls and beaters were clean. The recipes were practically memorized. I was ready. I started with the red velvet cake because I could be whipping up the pineapple upside down while that one baked. I turned on the oven to preheat and had the butter and sugar creamed. I just added the paste made from dry cocoa and red food coloring when I checked the oven. It was cold.
I checked the plug, the connection from the cord to the stove, flipped the circuit breaker back and forth; no heat. It was about 9:40 a.m. by then. I covered the bowl and put it in the refrigerator and put everything away. I sat down and thought about the situation while reading the papers.

Reggie called to check how things were going. I told him of the dead oven. He said, "Well bring your things over and bake them here." What a prince! I completed the assembling of both cake batters, put them in the appropriate pans, figured how to get them the two miles or so to his place and spent the afternoon trading use of his oven for my cakes and his breads.

When I got home I removed them from the pans. I wrapped the layers and closed the kitchen door. Next morning I got up early and frosted the red velvet. About 11:45 a.m. we loaded up my truck with my stuff and his stuff. We drove out to the fairgrounds and got the exhibits entered. It felt good to be finished.

Reggie won two ribbons. This year I did not win a ribbon.

I will be getting a new stove in a couple of weeks. I'm already thinking of making more cakes for practice. I used to make cakes for neighbors when I was young. They loved them and that was like a reward to me because they would always want me to stay and talk to them. 

It is hard to describe what baking those cakes and entering them into a fair contest does for me. I had a good childhood. Learning domestic things felt good and if I had become a farm wife, I would have been happy for Dennis was the son of a farmer. But both of us left home and went to school, never returning. Perhaps making those cakes is a step back into sweet nostalgia for something that never was.