My mother’s intense concentration indicated not to disturb her while she held her icing knife. She smothered the middle and sides of her two-layer cake in either sweet buttercream, chocolate, caramel, or seafoam frosting. Then the top. Delicious perfection!
With each cake Mom baked, iced, and sliced, her patience, discipline, and joy in creating something beautiful and yummy seeped into my taste buds and memory. Sadie Lee O’Brien, my mom, became the first cottage caterer in one of the fastest growing cities in the country. She began with special-order wedding cakes for our neighbors in Warren, and eventually catered dinner parties for our family doctor.
Although I remember Granny took her homemade birthday cakes to her little church to celebrate the children’s birthdays, somehow I don’t recall Granny icing and decorating a cake when I visited her as a child.
I was a young mother the summer day I observed Granny ice a cake. Surrounded by my three daughters and a handful of nieces and nephews younger than my children, all elbows leaned on the table toward the object of temptation.
Well aware of their intent, and with Mom’s engrossed expression on her on face, Granny used a butter knife instead of an icing knife to spread the frosting.
That particular day, we gathered around the same kitchen table where I’d sat every childhood summer vacation. Then, Granny filled my plate with her fried chicken, fresh green beans boiled in bacon and onion, and buttery little new potatoes. And bottomless glasses of iced sweet tea. Granny turned her back to the cake for a wink. A great-granddaughter swiped her frosting. Then another.
A matriarch with eyes hidden under the bun in the back of her head, Granny turned to the table, hands akimbo and dishtowel on her shoulder. “Now, don’t y’all skin my cake!” she said, belly jiggling under her apron.
Everyone laughed as Granny’s playful grace settled into our family history. To my knowledge, no one breached her trust to leave her cake alone until she sliced and served it to us that night.
There’s no family story of my children swiping my mother’s frosting from her cakes. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, particularly when my middle daughter, age nine, spent a summer month with “Nana” in Kentucky.
For Kelly roamed the McCoy Bottom with her boy cousins, sometimes with dirty fingers in wait to swipe the icing off the cake Nana baked for dinner’s dessert.
You see, as Granny, my mother practiced the same playful grace with her grandchildren when it came to skinning cakes.
Dear Reader, as my daughters now refrain from eating sugar, and so does my only grandchild, I’ve iced one cake in the past year: cream cheese frosting on a carrot cake.
How very thankful I am for friends who appreciate the intense concentration of holding an icing knife while spreading frosting over a cake. For that blessed example of grace in Granny’s kitchen.
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