Thursday, April 16, 2009
The Preacher’s Corner
Easter memories and coconut cake
I am looking at an old photo of my cousin and me standing on the front porch one sunny Easter morning with our grandmother, all dressed up and ready for church. The day was already far along, for as six and eight-year-olds we had awakened almost as early for the Easter bunny as we had for Santa Claus a few months before. By this time we were old enough to dye our own eggs, and had made a grand mess in the breakfast room doing that the day before.
Somehow, our mothers had gotten us quieted down, cleaned up, and presentable to pose for this photo, and then we were off to Sunday school and church, already anticipating a huge Easter dinner, to be finished off with one of grandmother’s homemade coconut cakes!
My grandmother was a magnificent cook — not in the sense of those television cooks who combine unusual ingredients and serve their portions in tiny dollops centered on huge plates — but in the sense of wonderful, well-prepared old-fashioned country cooking — the kind that kept cooks in the kitchen all day Saturday getting ready for the Sunday gathering of friends and family.
The white coconut cake was Grandmother’s specialty. She’d perfected her recipe before cake mixes were invented, so even though cakes came in boxes, she preferred to make her white cakes from scratch, carefully dividing her egg whites from the yolks, mixing up the batter and pouring it into pans lined with oiled paper so the batter wouldn’t stick, then making her icing with sugar and Karo syrup before turning to the coconut. You could not buy frozen coconut then.
So I recall with some amusement my tiny grandmother’s gyrations over the whole coconut she had brought home from the store — piercing it with the ice pick, draining the milk, breaking the nut into pieces with a hammer, then baking the meat, and grating the pieces, before sprinkling it over the layers she had topped with her beautiful, glistening white sugar icing.
Now, Grandmother made a fruit pie every day for our noonday dinner, with the occasional custard or lemon ice-box pie for variation. There were always slices left over which were mine to enjoy after school, but the coconut cake was another story. Even though it was made on Friday or Saturday, it could not be sliced until Sunday dinner — or in the case of the memory I am recalling, Easter Day!
Grandmother’s cakes were just that — homemade — and were not dolled up like the creations of the bakery. Still, they were pretty, in a comfortable way, centered on her crystal cake plate, and after the dishes from the first course were cleared, she liked to bring it into the dining room and place it before her on the snowy tablecloth.
Daddy would carve the ham, roast beef, or turkey, but Grandmother sliced her own coconut cake! We children always sat at the far end of the table, and so were the last to be served as the dessert plates were passed around. My cousin and I could hardly wait!
On Easter Sundays I tend to wax theological from my pulpit about the resurrection and its meaning in our lives. That is what the seminary taught me to do.
But I think, for my grandmother, Easter found its greatest meaning in the family gathered around her table. After church the family came together. Because of those memories I can never separate family and church in my thinking. If you can be together this weekend you are blessed. If not, pray for those from whom we are separated across the miles, and be thankful for your happy recollections of wonderful Easters gone by.
(Editor’s Note: Due to the vagaries of cyberspace -- Milton’s column was emailed last Tuesday and received Wednesday. Which is why his Easter column is the week after, instead of the week of...)
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