My aunt posted a recipe for Lane Cake on Facebook this week, reviving memories from my childhood. My grandmother used to make Lane cakes, but I wasn’t a fan of cake when I was a child, so I don’t think I ever ate a slice. I certainly have never baked a Lane Cake, and after reading the complicated recipe, I understand why I haven’t tackled it.
I also have a better understanding of the disapproving face my grandmother made when she tasted cake from a mix at a family reunion or funeral or some other kind of “covered dish” gathering. She would turn her nose up a tiny bit and whisper the word “mix” between clenched teeth. That was my warning to pass over that particular cake.
Mama remembers Daddy’s cousin Exa Olive coming to visit from Arkansas and making the delicious whiskey-laden cake while she was in Jernigan. I wonder if people younger than my generation are still familiar with this confection — yet another contribution made by an Alabamian.
During the heyday of classic southern cakes, Emma Rylander Lane, from Clayton, Alabama, introduced her “Prize Cake” — which later became known as “Lane Cake” — in her self-published cookbook, A Few Good Things to Eat (1898). Her recipe got its original name when it won First Prize in the baking contest at the county fair in Columbus, Ga. When I was growing up, being able to offer a piece of a perfect Lane Cake was a point of pride among gracious ladies who entertained, as were their Lady Baltimore cakes and the beautifully layered Rainbow Ribbon Jell-O salads.
With fall in the air, it’s normal for my mind to turn to cooking for the holidays. My family has been such good sports about tofu turkey for past Thanksgivings and meatless hot dogs on July 4 that I owe it to them to take the time and put forth the effort to make the complicated batter, and the tedious filling, and the final icing that a Lane Cake calls for.
Besides, both Faulkner and Harper Lee alluded to Emma Lane’s cake in their fiction. That counts for a lot.
Marian Carcache welcomes
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