Thursday, May 8, 2014

Mamma's Strawberry Cake Recipe

In our family, you get to do a lot of what you want on your birthday.

There was no school (although I think on MY birthday, I'll have the kids do a full day of schoolwork without fussing!).

Matt woke up early and made the kids pancakes for breakfast.

I gave Syd a big toy dragon with moveable wings and a dragon rider whose butt has a magnet in it so he won't fall off even when the dragon flies upside-down. She's played with it a lot, but she also plays with two of the twist ties that came with it; she twisted them into dolls, made outfits for them, and keeps them with her constantly.

For lunch, we walked downtown to an over-priced sandwich shop (Matt and I actually split one meal, it was that bad), then the kids did some gardening at the library.

I got the kids to let me do a "photo shoot" with them:

The kids had their first ever tennis lesson--and they LOVED it!

Matt gave Syd a certificate to keep to help her remember that he bought us all tickets to see Marvel Universe Live in January. How cool does that look?!?

We made homemade pizzas and watched Spider-man (the Toby McGuire one, NOT the reboot--ugh!).

Usually on your birthday, you also get the exact cake that you want, but Syd was having trouble deciding, so I suggested that we make my Mamma's strawberry cake. It's got an elaborate ingredients list and was always made for special occasions when I was a kid, and even though it's been made by other family members since Mamma died, I never had the heart to eat it, although in my mind I can taste it perfectly.

I hate it that Mamma died when I was pregnant with Syd, and the two never got to meet. But even Will was just a toddler, so I also hate that she has no memories of her. I guess I hoped that by starting to make some of Mamma's favorite recipes together, it would make her more real to them.

What I had forgotten, though, was the toxic nature of 1950s cuisine. I actually studied this on a tangent in grad school, so I can tell you that in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s, recipes became particularly... odd. Advances in technology caused the introduction of tons more convenience food, from cake mixes and boxed Jello to dairy products and a wide variety of canned goods. Raises in wages meant that more people could afford store-bought convenience foods, and they also became a status symbol, as in "Hey, she could afford a Duncan Hines cake instead of a cake that it took her three hours to make from scratch. She must be FANCY!"

But at the same time, the time and effort that goes into making meals remained a status symbol, as well--you still got a lot of street cred for that whole "slaving away in the kitchen" thing. So to satisfy unconscious desires to both use a lot of packaged foods AND slave away in the kitchen, there started to be a lot of really weird, elaborate recipes that used a ton of packaged, name-brand foods in really weird ways. 7-Up cakes. Jello salad.

So here's Mamma's strawberry cake recipe, from the handwritten cookbook that she made me for Christmas one year:

Strawberry Cake
  • 1 box white cake mix
  • large box strawberry Jello
  • 1 cup Wesson oil
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 cup mashed strawberries, drained
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup coconut
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  1. Whisk cake mix and Jello powder together. 
  2. Add other ingredients in order listed.
  3. Blend well.
  4. Bake at 350 degrees in three layers. [Mamma doesn't list a time. I baked my cake in one bundt pan, because I don't have any round cake pans. I started at 43 minutes, which was the maximum cooking time listed for a bundt cake on the box of cake mix, but ended up having to add a total of fifteen extra minutes onto the cooking time.]
  5. Cool completely.
  • 1 stick Oleo, softened
  • 3/4 cup nuts
  • 1 box powdered sugar
  • 3/4 cup coconut
  • 1/2 cup mashed strawberries
  1. Cream sugar and Oleo, adding other ingredients.
  2. Cover cake well with plenty between layers. If icing is too thin, add more sugar; if too thick, add a few drops of milk.
I pretty much made this as written, although I couldn't bear to use margarine, and I don't know how much powdered sugar came in a box, so I just made regular butter and powdered sugar icing and added the other ingredients. And I have to say, although it's also horrifying, that Jello does dye and flavor white cake REALLY well. The whole thing was neon pink even before I mixed in the mashed strawberries, and it did taste of "strawberry." So if you don't have sensitivities and you really want a neon-colored, artificially flavored cake, dump a box of Jello into it!

Here's the finished cake (actually decorated by the kids and eaten the next day, because they were too full for cake after our day of fancy meals!):

You can sort of tell that the mashed strawberries by themselves actually did an excellent job of coloring and flavoring the icing. 

I'd like to try a version of this cake that uses more whole foods, with applesauce instead of oil, extra mashed strawberries instead of Jello, and perhaps whipped cream or cream cheese frosting instead of butter, so that it hopefully retains most of the flavor and color of the cake that I remember from my childhood, but doesn't make me worried that we're all going to get cancer and die.

The kids, also, have been inspired by this cake, but not exactly in the same direction: their new goal is to try versions of cake made with different flavors of Jello!

It may be a long, hyper summer...


Tina said...

What a great way to help the girls know who your Mamma was!

My mother-in-law has a lot of recipes that require large amounts of packaged foods. When she starts baking, I'm actually thankful that I can't eat gluten.

julie said...

I am kind of picky about other people's cooking, just because, I think, I do almost all of the cooking around here, so I always get to eat exactly what I want exactly the way that I like it.


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