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Aunt Mary’s German chocolate cake and sweet Thanksgiving memories

No knock against Betty Crocker. But some ingredients, like time and patience, can’t be boxed.

The German chocolate cake from Mary Eason that John Fountain says reminds him of his Aunt Mary’s cake.
John W. Fountain

I lifted the white lid that covered the German chocolate cake to feast my eyes upon it only to be suddenly overwhelmed by its sweet scent, which filled my nostrils with a bouquet of caramel and fresh coconut, ushering me back in time.

Some guys are steak and potatoes men. I’m a cake man, though desserts rarely follow my meals these days. My waistline isn’t what it used to be. So mostly I abstain, except on special days.

My birthday. Christmas. Thanksgiving. Then, I fully indulge with no guilt or shame, and with a childlike delight — my metamorphosis from manhood to boyhood triggered by just one bite. Homemade chocolate-frosted yellow cake and caramel cake tickle my tummy.

But nothing compares to German chocolate cake made the way my Aunt Mary made them when I was a kid. Not from a box but from scratch.

No knock against Betty Crocker. But some ingredients can’t be boxed.

Aunt Mary’s triple-decker German chocolate cake shimmered like a caramel brown jewel with pecan halves swimming in a frosting sea. As a boy, I would stare at it, waiting for the cutting, anxiously salivating.

Aunt Mary, my mother’s eldest sister, was a supreme cake baker. She picked up some of her skills from my grandmother who possessed the secrets of good soulful Southern cooking that always kept the family fed and delightfully pleased through good and lean times.

I can still smell Grandmother’s cornbread dressing, the scent of sage and roasted chicken wafting through my grandparents’ house, where the family gathered for Thanksgiving dinner.

Or there was Grandmother’s peach cobbler, perfected with cinnamon, nutmeg and sugar, but not too sweet, and a delectable consistency of peach-filled doughy-ness and toasted-crunch upper crust.

I used to watch her knead the dough with her gentle brown hands, then press it flat with a rolling pin, carve out strips for the cobbler’s top. Grandmother was masterful, her labor filled with tender loving care.

On occasion, I witnessed Aunt Mary — sifting white flour, caramelizing white sugar and pouring in evaporated milk slowly, stirring, studying, taking her time. Time. It was a key ingredient.

Time. “The indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole.” Time.

In some ways, my cake memories seem a lifetime ago, too many faces and voices now relegated to memories in my mind. And over the years, I have come to accept the reality of time. Of what it steals and leaves behind. Of how it sometimes taunts, haunts, teases, leaves us longing if only for one more taste of yesterday.

Time is cruel. But sometimes it is kind.

In time, I had come to accept that I might never encounter a peach cobbler as perfect as Grandmother’s, or a German chocolate cake as glorious as Aunt Mary’s. But perhaps I did not account for the virtues of time.

A few years ago, my family met Mary Eason, with whom we became friends and later discovered makes one heck of a butter cookie. But that wasn’t her specialty, she assured my wife. That would be German chocolate cake, made from scratch. The kind that “takes about an hour and a half to make the frosting.”

“Gotta go low and slow,” Miss Mary, as I call her, explained.

Miss Mary’s German chocolate cake arrived on my birthday in September, pecan halves swimming in caramel coconut frosting. The moistness of every forkful melted on my palate, my mouth exploding with delight and ushering me gently down memory lane, one more time…

It’s Thanksgiving time now. Time for Miss Mary’s German chocolate cake once again, and time for tasting old sweet memories.

Email: Author@johnwfountain.

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