“This cake will do just fine girl?”
Said the woman dressed in a peach color flowered dress and house shoes that kicked up dust as she walked back in the house- slamming the door.
Let me start at the beginning.
One of the most entertaining things for me to read is about people who’ve “discovered” themselves. A discovery that always seems to take place thousands of miles away from home. Sitting at a small bistro table sipping coffee in France or skipping down the cobblestone streets in Spain. Often I wonder why they had to go so far. Does finding yourself, whatever that entails exactly, require that you cross an ocean?
What about 20 miles down the street, is this far enough along the lines of longitude and latitude to properly find who you are? Of this I’m unsure, but it can definitely put you in a place to find where you don’t want to be. Like standing in the hot Louisiana sun, holding a scolding hot sheet pan of cake, wondering how you got yourself into this mess.
But that’s not the beginning of the story.
Imagine being a freshman in college, outside the confines of where you’ve spent your entire life, all 18 years of it. Detached from the people who’ve surrounded you in this cocoon of familiarity. Imagine meeting someone, you’re in love instantly or in this case, captivated by a man with strange eyes and sweet words.
That’s where this begins.
Walking along the campus grounds of Tulane, he wasn’t a student, his reason for being there…
“Just tagging along.. cher.. “
More truthfully, visiting some other girl that had caught his eye. But so what?.. You’re blinded by the technicolor of intense attraction being wrapped around you like a tangled web, refusing to remember those ridiculous situations you were warned of.
“Those creole folks got voodoo magic, that’s the devil and the devil is a liar, be watchful of him” Perhaps that’s what it was, perhaps that’s what it wasn’t.
One day sitting at a table in his mother’s house, listening to his uncle tell me about the art of burning “cane” in the Louisiana fields, I instantly felt this sense of belonging. Possibly it was the voodoo, more than likely it was the cake. Because at the time, as I listened on, I was finishing off my third slice of this buttery, almost gingerbread like cake that I’d been told was made with cane syrup.
“It’s how we live, they don’t have this up in Carolina” said my beautiful man while he held my hand under the table as his legs brushed up against mine. That same night we watched the smoke rising from the burning cane fields as he told me some story that I can’t remember. Yet, the vivid memory of his mother and her scowl of indifference as she’d watch me out the corner of her eye will always be with me. That and the only time that she ever genuinely smiled at me. Which would be four years from then, as I drove away, never to look back.
Again none of this mattered, just this man who had completely enraptured me with his tall, dark and handsome good looks and smooth accent..
Now, many years later, dark and handsome is sort of how I would imagine the devil would look as he reigns from hell with a glint in his eye.
But that’s not part of this story…
Riding down the highway as he drove me back to school, listening to Sade tell you how this here just is no ordinary love, solidified what I foolishly felt.
I’m gonna marry this boy.
Which I did, marry that boy, wearing a summer dress and sandals, in a historic building that read city hall on the plague outside the door. The exact opposite of what I’d always dreamed my wedding would be, that would however come later, to someone else. This same day I found myself standing in the hot sun holding a sheet pan of Cane Syrup Cake that I was to carry down the hill to the people waiting below.
“We always eat this cake, do you think they’d want something else”
“Your husband-that’s what he is now-loves that cake, that’s what you’re here for. That cake will do just fine girl” said my now mother in law as she rolled her eyes, kicking up dust as she walked away. Turning around heading down the hill, I brushed off the unease of her hostility and went on to celebrate the day. He held my hand under the table as he smiled at me, my future ex-husband and again I had this jaded sense of belonging. It was there, roughly 20 miles from our house, close to the once burning cane fields, that I had the false realization that I had indeed “found myself”.
If only had this truly been the case…
*A few quick notes: You’ll notice (other than the flower/ cheetah print realness that I’m giving you) that the cake in the photos is more sheet cake than the loaf size the recipe calls for. I simply doubled the recipe and baked the cake in a 9×13 in baking pan at 350 degrees for about 45-50 minutes, to accommodate the Sunday Dinner crowd.
Store this cake by wrapping it in plastic wrap and it can be kept at room temp for 3-4 days*
Louisiana Cane Syrup Cake
Prep Time- 20 mins Cook Time 35-45 mins Yields: 8 servings
Adapted from an old article from Times Picayune
1 ½ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/3 cup shortening
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup of pure cane syrup, ( I use Steen’s)
1/3 cup boiling water
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 8 by 4 in loaf pan with cooking spray. In a large bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Set aside.
In a separate bowl (it will need to be big enough to mix in the flour mixture), combine the shortening, sugar, syrup and boiling water and stir to blend. Add in egg and whisk to combine.
Stir in flour mixture a little at a time to the shortening mixture. Mix until smooth. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for 35 to 45 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean when inserted through the center of the cake. Allow cake to cool before turning it out to prevent it sticking to the sides.
Slice and serve while still warm with a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream and a drizzle of cane syrup.