Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Cake That Started It All...

We buried my grandmother today. She passed away Monday afternoon at age 95. As we were at the funeral home, everyone talked about what a great cook she was. At one point, it seemed the whole family was in the funeral home's kitchen, snacking and talking. My cousin Marcia said, "Isn't this exactly how Mommy (that's what her side of the family called my grandmother, whom we called Emmy) would have wanted it? You couldn't walk in the house without being offered a plate of food!" She was exactly right. Food was a big part of Emmy's life, and it was the way she showed love.
My sister and I went to Emmy and Pa's house every Monday and Friday afternoon after school, and we spent most Saturday mornings with them as well. Emmy was the person who "infected" me with the baking bug. All of my vivid memories of her involve cooking, canning, and baking. She even had a fully equipped kitchen in her basement, in addition to her main kitchen upstairs! We spent many hours in both of those kitchens, but I was always most interested in baking with her.
She always made lots of pies...your traditional apple and cherry pies, but also things like gooseberry pie and rhubarb pie. I always got the scraps and loved to cut shapes, sprinkle them with cinnamon sugar, and bake my own little snacks. She always encouraged my love of the "domestic arts," my favorite of which was cooking. Anytime I ever asked to cook or bake, she was ready to help. One day while at her house, I baked a cake "all by myself," which meant that I was under her watchful eye and had plenty of help with measuring and cutting! It was called a "Doctor Bird Cake," which I think is similar to what a lot of people call a Hummingbird Cake. I decided that there would be no more fitting way to honor Emmy's memory than to make that same cake tonight.
It's incredibly simple to make. My recipe, which came directly from Emmy, states in large, capitalized letters "DO NOT USE MIXER!" So I didn't. But I wonder if that has more to do with simply not wanting to clean up the mess that an 8-year old might make with a hand mixer than the texture of the completed cake! The whole cake is made in one bowl, and you need nothing more than a wooden spoon. The ingredients are simple (and fattening!), and the result is delicious.
This cake is full of bananas, pineapple, pecans, and cinnamon. It's topped with a simple cream cheese frosting. The next time I make it, I might increase the cinnamon and maybe add some nutmeg, but tonight, I made it just like Emmy taught me.
Doctor Bird Cake
Emma Bickers
3 cups flour, sifted
2 cups sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups cooking oil (I used canola)
1 cup crushed pineapple in juice (undrained)
3 eggs
2 cups diced banana
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
DO NOT USE MIXER! Preheat oven to 350 degrees Sift all dry ingredients into large bowl. Add banana, oil, vanilla, eggs, and crushed pineapple (juice and all). Mix until just blended. Do not beat. Pour batter into a greased and floured tube pan. Bake for 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Set aside to cool on cooling rack. After 10 minutes, turn cake out onto cooling rack to finish cooling.
For Frosting:
3 oz. cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 cups confectioner's sugar
Beat cream cheese on medium. Add melted butter and confectioner's sugar. Beat until light and fluffy. Frost only the top of the completely cooled cake.


  1. What a nice way to remember your grandmother. Her cake looks delicious.

  2. so sorry for your loss. my granny passed away a few months ago and my time with her always revolved around food too--she gave me my first cooking notebook and we would clip recipes and paste them in it. she was famous for her biscuits and gravy and cornbread dressing.

    what a lovely way to remember your emmy!


  3. I think it's great that she passed down each of her passions to us. You got the cooking, I got the sewing. On Monday I thought of sewing something in her honor, and I believe I will, but I haven't decided what it will be yet. Do you have any ideas?

  4. Allison might want to make a pair of potholders with Emma's favorite recipe written on the material.


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