Food as Memory
Chocolate Crazy Cake. Or Crazy Chocolate Cake with Icing, as the official recipe reads. We just refer to it as plain ol' Crazy Cake. It started on my dad's side of the family, and we called it Nannie's Crazy Cake. To my cousins on mom's side of the family, however, it's Granny's Crazy Cake. My mom showed us how to prepare it, and I remember making it at Granny's house when I was young.
I would pull one of the ladder back chairs from the table and scoot it over to the counter space between the sink and the stove. The middle ladder slat bumped up against the white and silver-flecked Formica.
Flour, sugar, cocoa, salt, and soda sifted into a rectangular metal pan. The sifter made my hand ache if I took too long a turn. The next task was my favorite part of the Crazy Cake recipe: make three holes in the dry ingredients, one larger one for oil, and two smaller ones for vinegar and vanilla. I can smell it, as if I'm making it now, the way the vinegar interacts with the cocoa and soda. Two cups of water poured over the whole pan and mixed with a fork.
Once the sauce pan for the icing cooled, Granny would let me scrape the leftover fudge off the sides and lick the wooden spoon. Maybe this was my true favorite part of the Crazy Cake recipe.
The icing can stand alone. Once, my Aunt Judy had carefully scraped off her icing and set it on the edge of her plate. She chatted on with the other aunts and uncles at the grownup table, savoring the cake and saving the icing for last. The story goes that I happened to be making my way past her place and spied the square of fudge-y goodness. I picked it up and took it. “Thanks,” they tell me I said, “that’s my favorite part.” And I made away with the stolen treasure.
Family reunions, Thanksgiving meals, Christmas celebrations, birthdays, Fourth of July, company coming—all gatherings and occasions where I remember eating my grandmother's chocolate cake. It's a time stamp, a marker of the memories where laughter and joy went with the Crazy Cake.