The old and tattered recipe is kept in my cabinet until Christmas time. Then, everyone asks me to make it. Not because I’m a good cook, but because it is a coconut cake everyone expects at the Rainey gatherings around the holidays.
To tell you the truth, sometimes I have changed the recipe just a tad and have used icing out of a can. No one ever mentioned anything.
My grandmother started making it in the 1920s — or before. I cannot find the date on the old newspaper from which it was torn.
After my grandmother passed away, Mother learned how to make the cake in true Southern belle style. She had a rhythm and flow for making the layers of the cake. My girlfriends and I received so much joy from observing the process that was unique to my mother in creating five-layer tortes.
First she made the layers. While they were cooling, she took a nap. Well, don’t all Southern ladies take a little nap in the afternoon to rest up from all that … humidity?
Later she froze the layers. When she got the feeling it was time to ice the cake, she removed the cold layers from the freezer, made the icing, and poof. A five-layer coconut cake no one could resist appeared.
I don’t remember a lot about my grandmother’s method for making the cake. She was a farmer’s wife. I am quite sure that even though she was a daughter of the South, she never had naptime on any day of the week. Both my grandmother’s and my mother’s cakes were delicious.
It was a historical moment when I was finally passed the torch and presented with the coconut cake recipe. I became hysterical when I read it and realized I would have to make it. I could manage making the layers to the cake, but how on earth could I make that icing I so longingly desired?
The ingredients were simply sugar, vanilla and water. The instructions made me call for smelling salts. They read: “Stir the frosting until you get the feeling it is time to add to coconut.”
My grandmother made the cake when she got all the right feelings. My mother iced the cake when she got the feeling it was time to take the layers out of the freezer. They both apparently understood when it was time to add the coconut to the steaming frosting. How could I ever live up to their matchless abilities?
Not long ago, I learned one should never keep the truth about a recipe from family members. Well, I didn’t lie. I just smiled when family members said, “Oh, the cake is so good.” If it was good, they didn’t need to know they were eating canned frosting because I never got the feeling it was time to add the coconut and had dumped out several recipes of icing.
Last year, I went a step further. It was not honest. I e-mailed a photo of the cake I made at Christmas to a few friends with my new camera phone.
The story is not over. My niece Paige Rainey is getting married to Taylor Lokey. Taylor does not want a traditional groom’s cake. Oh no. He wants family members to bake our ancestor’s recipes for the groom’s table. You guessed it. He has requested our family’s traditional coconut cake.
Now, I love Taylor. But I think he is trying to see if his new family’s nerves will stand up. I also think he is testing us for honesty. It is a beautiful and heartfelt request. But I cannot mess up their day. Paige will never forgive me. Thank goodness I’m not the only family member asked to make a dessert.
I will probably not follow in my grandmother’s footsteps and make the cake in one day. I know I will not follow in my mother’s steps and take a nap after making the layers. I will start two weeks before and practice.
So, if my career is put on hold for a few weeks, laundry piles up and I become a bit irritable, I’m giving everyone clear warning.
Will someone please tell me how to get the feeling it is time to add the coconut?
PAM RAINEY is a 42-year Denton resident and a real estate agent who has helped many seniors make decisions about living arrangements. You can reach her with suggestions at RpmRny@cs.com or 940-367-1188.