Bella Fontana

A weekly column about life in Bellefonte, PA, reprinted from the Centre Daily Times

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Town is never short on special occasions -- or cake recipes

Because there are so many occasions for cakes around here -- celebration, competition, seduction, sympathy -- it stands to reason there should also be lots of cake recipes. Some can be found on batter-stained pages in standard recipe books; some were clipped from newspapers or copied onto faded scraps of paper. But the most interesting and authentic to me are the ones in those spiral bound cookbooks put out by local organizations as fundraisers.

The newest one is "Raider Recipes," published by the Bellefonte Area High School class of 2008 and on sale at Plumbs Drug Store for $15. Here you can find Sarah Neff's Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake, Mildred Boone's Funny Cake and Barbara Milton's Hawaiian Wedding Cake. Because these recipes have been passed around for a long time, no one expects that the name attached to the recipe is the creator. The name means the baker has tried the recipe, probably many times over.

Besides mayonnaise cakes, recipes in other books call for strange ingredients, such as tomato soup in a spice cake, 7Up in a lemon cake or Coca-Cola in a chocolate cake. There's even a cake made with sauerkraut. Wacky cakes are like funny cakes and call for vinegar but no eggs. When box cakes began to replace scratch cakes, mixes were "doctored" with salad oil, instant pudding and pie filling.

"The Bellefonte Kitchen Sampler," published by the Bellefonte Junior Women's Club in 1977 includes classics such as oatmeal cake and sour cream coffee cake. Then there is carrot cake, which people seemed to think of as a health food. Nancy Miller, though, sets us straight: "Very rich. A little goes a long way."

The same could probably be said for Martha Nastase's Cheesecake for a Crowd. The first ingredient listed is nine pounds of cream cheese.

Many local recipe books include regional-sounding favorites such as Texas Sheet Cake, Mississippi Mud Cake and German Chocolate Cake.

A cake known variously as Poor Man's Cake, Depression Cake or War Cake shows the ingenuity of homemakers during hard times. One version has no eggs, no milk and only two tablespoons of lard for shortening.

Friendship Cake did not live up to its name. It began when someone gave you a plastic bag of fermented dough with mimeographed care and feeding instructions attached. Soon the stuff took over the fridge, billowing like the Blob. You had to keep baking cakes, like the one that called for a can of fruit cocktail, or giving away bags of dough. When my batch finally died of neglect, I shed no tears.