When my sweet aunt was ill, my cousin visited her bedside in the hospital. He thought his Mom’s appetite would improve if she could enjoy some home-made chicken soup. So, he asked his Mom for her recipe. Her reply?
“You’re asking me NOW??”
My aunt was 99 years old at the time.
I could just picture the very same thing happening to me except it would be for Christmas cake instead of soup. Mom’s made us her mother-in-law’s—Nonna’s—traditional Italian Christmas cake forever for the holidays. Mom started baking the cake back when she was a newly wed, so forever is around sixty-eight years!
I had brought my 91-year-old Mom to buy the Christmas cake ingredients back in December. But, Mom managed to bake it herself before I had a day available to assist her. Last week, Mom mentioned having extra ingredients left over. Enough to bake another batch of cakes! Christmas cake in February: fantastic!
We set up a date to do it together. Mom mentioned how I could do the mixing. That it wasn’t easy for her to do anymore.
Well, the day arrived. Mom had pre-measured all the ingredients and set them in separate bowls and measuring cups: milk, dried fruit and coconut, and flour. I told Mom I felt like I was on a cooking show, being spoiled like that!
Mom had already started to cream the butter, too. She let me take over. Good thing she wasn’t watching closely. On my own mixer, “to cream” is to set the mixer on a high setting. Mom’s setting was “7” so I dialed it up, and the mixer just about flew off the counter! I kept the mixer in a “safe mode” after that, right down at “1”. Even on this low setting, the mixer started to walk in circles around the counter! All I know is they don’t make new mixers as powerful as the old ones! Mom mentioned she usually places the mixer near the wall on the counter, far from her, because sometimes the batter flies out. Apparently!
After the creaming met my Mom’s standards, I slowly started to add the flour. I figured it would go easier if I poured in some milk at the same time. Noooo! Mom informed me it would turn into a paste if I did that. And, this is why I needed baking lessons😊
I had almost finished adding all the flour when the mixer started to smell like an electrical fire. Mom asked me if I stopped because I needed a break. I explained that I thought her mixer was overheating. I had noticed it was already scotch-taped for some reason. I didn’t want to be the one to cause it to totally break down!
Mom said I could always mix it by hand. She was a Girl Guide Leader before. She’s very resourceful. And prepared! Mom had all the proper size of bowls readily available. I spooned the mixture from the mixing bowl into the large white bowl. I stirred the batter while the mixer relaxed and took a break. Mom found me a wooden spoon after I worried I would bend her metal spoon.
Next, it was time to add the fruit, raisins and the special ingredient: coconut!
Okay, this was the tough part. You needed a lot of muscle! Mom instructed me to add just a little at a time or it would be too difficult. Once I started, I asked Mom how on earth she ever managed to mix it all together in December! She answered, “Just a little at a time!”
I moved from mixing it on the counter to mixing it on the kitchen table. I needed to have more height for better leverage. Mom let me in on another tip: She places the big plastic bowl in the sink to secure it well and to be at the proper height. I put it there, too. I liked that idea!
While I did this, Mom mixed up the last ingredient: egg whites. The mixer had rested sufficiently to work once more. I was relieved I hadn’t broken it. Mom did such an impressive job of beating them; beautiful enough for a magazine photo!
I did my best to “fold” the egg whites into the cake batter. I don’t think I’ve ever folded food before. And, then the cake batter was poured into three paper-lined pans.
The pans were placed in the oven at 275 degrees. I was worried that was rather low but when I googled it, Google said to bake anywhere from 275 to 350 degrees. And, Google knows best. We weren’t sure how long to cook it. Mom knew it would just take a long time. She’d keep an eye on it and sent me on my way.
With the last remaining piece of Christmas cake (from December) and an index card with the recipe written out on it. Lucky me!
Thanks, Mom for handing down the recipe and the tips. While I can’t guarantee my cake will measure up to yours in the future, I’ll do my best to honour the tradition.
I’m glad I didn’t wait until you turned 99 to ask for the recipe😊