My mother and I lived in my grandmother’s house for a good portion of our lives. Mom was 29 1/2 when she moved out of Gram’s house (I was 7). About 15 years later, Mom moved back into Gram’s house. She lived there until she passed away 2 years ago. I continue to live in the house.
Gram never charged us rent. She never asked me for money for anything – bills, food, taxes. In fact, she would write me a check to pay for my car registration every year. (I never cashed those checks.) Mom had access to my checking account, so I would tell her to pay Gram’s bills from my account. We never told Gram. We just did it. It was a secret between me and Mom.
My grandmother was one of my very best friends. I could talk to her about anything. And she knew she could talk to me about anything. She knew she could, but she didn’t. It wasn’t that she didn’t trust me. No. That wasn’t it. There are some things that people of her generation just don’t talk about, with anyone. I’ve always been interested in family history, so I would ask Gram questions about the family and growing up in Chicago. But she would only tell me the superficial things. Things like Al Capone not being a bad guy. “He took care of the neighborhood. He made sure the churches and the schools had what they needed for the kids. We weren’t afraid of him. The only people who were afraid of him and his guys had reason to be afraid of him.”
My genealogy research has unearthed some rather interesting family secrets. I won’t go into them here, but some of them are pretty juicy. And I’ve learned about cousins that no one new about…not even my mom and aunt. But Gram didn’t talk about these. She had to know. There’s no way she couldn’t know. But she kept those secrets. Gram was an excellent keeper of secrets.
What she willing shared, however, were her cooking and baking secrets. But only if the person she was telling understood the importance of her revealing those secrets. These were secrets she would only share with family. Oh, sure, she would answer some questions about measurements somewhat elusively. For example: “a handful” (her handful or my handful?). But, for the most part, she was very forthcoming about how to make spaghetti sauce, lasagna, meatballs, stuffed bell peppers, cabbage casserole, pot roast, beef stew, chicken soup, pasta fazool (pasta e fagioli), a wide variety of cookies, and…her pound cake.
I always loved Gram’s pound cake. Whenever I needed something for a potluck, I’d ask Gram to make a pound cake. When Gram asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I’d ask her to make a pound cake. So good!
As Gram got older, I asked her to teach me how to make her pound cake. It was too hard for her to spend too much time standing over a mixer. So, if I wanted pound cake, it was up to me to make it. So Gram would sit on a bar chair on the other side of the kitchen counter and take me step-by-step through the process. It took longer because she was telling me what to do rather than doing it herself, but we both enjoyed it. We got to spend time together and she got to teach one of her grandchildren to do something she loved.
Eventually, I was able to make the pound cake without Gram telling me what to do at every step. She could sit at the kitchen table while I was measuring and mixing rather than at the counter where I was working. But I still made sure Gram was there. I still asked her questions and got her approval before doing certain things. It was our thing. No one can take that time with my Grandmother away from me.
One of the best compliments my Grandmother ever gave me was when she said my pound cake might just be better than hers. I will forever disagree with that statement, but it was really nice to hear that from her.
I do my best to carry on some of the culinary traditions. I make lasagna and meatballs for Christmas. I make Gram’s meat stuffing at Thanksgiving. And I make a mean turkey soup. But pound cake has become a specialty for me. I now make it without having the recipe on the counter next to me. I just grab what I need and get to work. I’ve played with the recipe a little. I think Gram would actually be proud of me. She was always reworking recipes if she found something she liked better – a little more flour here, a little less salt there. So, yeah, I think I would have her approval and I think she would like the results.
So, in the interest of sharing secrets, I’m going to give you, dear reader, the recipe for my grandmother’s pound cake. Give it a try and let me know what you think.
1lb Imperial Margarine (4 sticks, softened, but not melted)
1lb (1 box) Confectioners sugar (I like Domino brand)
2 tsps vanilla extract (I prefer Watkins brand, but it’s super expensive)
6 eggs (large or jumbo, room temperature)
3 1/2 cups Cake Flour, sifted (I’ve found that Swan’s Down brand is best)
- Mixer – I have a professional grade Kitchen Aide, but any stand mixer will do. If you only have a hand mixer, that will work, too. Just make sure you’ve rested up and have some stamina. 🙂
- Measuring cups for dry ingredients
- Measuring spoon
- Cake pan – I use my grandmother’s Wear-Ever ring pan for a full-sized cake. But I also use EZ-Foil pans – ring and loaf – in various sizes.
- Preheat oven to 350 Degrees
- Beat the Imperial margarine until creamy
- Use spatula to scrape the margarine off the sides and bottom of the bowl to make sure that none of the margarine clumps
- Beat a bit more to make sure it’s all creamy
- Add the Confectioners sugar – I do this gradually by mixing 1/3 of the sugar at a time. Beat until well blended and creamy
- Add vanilla extract. Beat until well blended
- Add eggs one at a time. Beat each until well blended before adding the next egg. I will scramble the egg in a small bowl before adding it to the mixture.
- Let the mixture blend while you’re measuring out the Cake Flour into a separate bowl.
- Add the cake flour gradually. I will put in about 1/2 cup at a time and let it blend well before adding more flour.
- Once all of the flour has been added, scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl again. Make sure that there are no lumps of margarine or flour.
- Blend the mixture for a few more minutes while you’re preparing the cake pan(s).
- You can prepare the pans in one of two ways:
- Butter the sides, bottom, and corners of the pans well. Then add flour and coat the inside of the pan thoroughly.
- Use a baking spray (this is what I do). I prefer Baker’s Joy, but Pam or any other spray will do. Just make sure it’s specifically for baking and that it has flour in it.
- Pour the mixture into the cake pan(s). Make sure it’s evenly distributed. Some people will tap the pan on the counter to make sure everything settles. I don’t do this, but there’s nothing wrong with it. I use the spatula to make sure that the batter is evenly distributed.
- Place in oven for 45 minutes.
- Check the cake with a cake tester or a toothpick. It’s done when the tester/toothpick comes out clean. If needed, put the cake back in the oven to bake. Do this only at 5 minute increments – you don’t want to over bake.
- Take out of the oven and let cool.
- The cake should slide right out of the pan. Place on a plate and decorate as you’d like. A sprinkle of Confectioners sugar works well.
That’s it. It looks like a very involved recipe, but it’s actually pretty simple.
Here is the biggest and most important secret of all: Make a pound cake for someone you love – a family member or friend – and think about them while you’re making it. That’s the way to turn a really good pound cake into a great pound cake.