Anecdotal Evidence: Cake Pan

Excerpt from some 1999 email

Back when I was in college, I didn't give change to panhandlers. Smart fellow that I was, I knew that change wouldn't do them any good. Every few days, I'd dump the change out of my pockets and toss it into a cake pan.

The cake pan filled up. It spilled over. When I moved, I left piles of coins behind in my rooms. Still, plenty of coins remained in the cake pan. When I moved, the cake pan was heavy. I could tell which box it was in.

Eventually, I figured out that whether or not this change would do panhandlers any good, it certainly wasn't doing anyone any good in that cake pan.

And so I started to give change to those who asked for it. When I thought to, I grabbed a handful of change from the cake pan and dumped it into my pocket to give away later.

I just slid the last coin out of that cake pan. I guess I'll give it away soon. At first I was thinking about making a cake in that cake pan. But it looks kind of gross. I guess you don't know where that money's been.

Excerpt from some later 1999 email, mushed together with some other mail, after cleaning out the cake pan turned out to be a lot easier than I'd thought

I was all excited to be making a cake in that recently-emptied-of-change cake pan. I've never made a cake that was intended for a cake pan before. I've made gingerbread--but that's more of a flat-baking-dish sort of thing. I've never made a round-pan-layer kind of cake.

So I looked in my cookbooks. My cookbooks are veggie-hippie-luvv cookbooks, written back in the 70s when it was, briefly, possible to use words like "macrobiotic" without a trace of irony. These cookbooks weren't just teaching their readers some new recipes, they were teaching a new way of life.

A lot of this new way of life involved getting back to basics, specifically Making Your Own Bread. One cookbook, Laurel's Kitchen goes on about bread... for a while. I swear it's not just a recipe. These people were trying to regain some sense of a household rhythm--the time spent waiting for bread to rise, to bake. Bread was to be the anchor of this new kitchen.

My dad lived through that time. My dad remembers eating a lot of bread. A Lot of bread. He recalls it being an anchor in more than one sense of the word.

None of my hippy-dippy cookbooks had cake recipes that used cake pans. They assumed that I, a proper 70s whole-grain crunchy-granola soy-muncher, would have no cake pan. They assumed that I would have a loaf pan, because of course I bake my own bread. Good, whole-wheat peasant bread, rich in nutrition and down with the cause.

I don't know what they thought about cake pans back in the 70s. Were they a sign of a bourgeois lifestyle? Hadn't Marie Antoinette said, "Let them eat cake?" (Although, according to some urban-legend debunkers, she said "Let them eat shit." (Although, according to some urban-legend debunkers, cake was cheaper than bread back then.)) Anyhow, these cookbooks had few recipes for cake, and those recipes recipes called for loaf pans instead of cake pans. Maybe cookbooks from the 70s weren't going to be my best source.

It so happens that I liberated a couple of 50s cookbooks from my (maternal) grandparents' house when we were clearing it out. I just planned to scan in some of the food pictures. Have you seen any cookbook food pictures from back in the 50s? They had some weird color-transfer technology going on back then or something. I mean, I don't know much about the history of color printing technology, but it's obvious that there were still some limitations to the system back in the world of 50s cookbook publishing. Maybe color was a new phenomenon back then. Maybe they thought, some color is good--more must be better.

You sort of get an idea of how the Jell-O salad got popular then. Anyone looking in cookbooks of the era would have thought that food was supposed to be that color.

These cookbooks (The Penny Prudence and the New American) had recipes for cake. They were kind of strange. The recipe I used (Penny Prudence, Devil's Food Cake, Chocolate Frosting) called for strange ingredients. They wanted "soda" and "powder", which I figured out must be baking soda and baking powder. They called for "sour milk". A web page told me that, if I couldn't find sour milk at my grocery store, I could add lemon juice to regular milk. I've only spent most of my life trying to prevent milk from going sour, and this recipe wanted sour milk. But I digress. The recipes called for baking chocolate and sugar to be melted together--I suspect that they did not have handy bags of chocolate chips back in that day.

Anyhow, this was my first-ever attempt at a layer cake. This was not my first-ever layer cake, though--the attempt failed. I poured too much batter into the cake pan. During baking, it puffed up and over the edge and onto the cookie sheet which I had (thank paranoia^W goodness) placed there. While the outside was cake, the middle was more of a pudding.

Dammit, I don't even like cake. I don't want pudding.

I sure hope I get this thing right next time. I want to make a cake that I can foist off on my co-workers, not a squidgy chocolatey mess I'll feel obliged to eat myself.

Excerpt from yet later 1999 email

I didn't think that the center was ready. There was a definite Cakefenokee (from the language of the Georgia Caketaw tribe; it means "trembling cake") phenomenon going on there. But the outer part of the cake was getting on towards past-cooked.

Really, I put too much batter in the pan. Everything else was just symptoms of that.

(Eventually, I succeeded in making a layer cake using that pan. The cake turned out about as deformed as the pan was, and the frosting turned out... strange (though perhaps that much sugar was normal for the 50s).)


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