My grandmother made this fantastic cake when I was growing up. She made it for every celebration. Matter of fact, I can’t remember a time we didn’t have the cake when we went to her house. My grandmother was a chocolate cake type of woman, a trait she passed down to her son, granddaughters, and great-grandchildren. My father, to this day, doesn’t believe a dessert is worth eating if it is not chocolate. My buttermilk cake recipe is only acceptable with chocolate icing on it and chocolate ice cream on the side. For every celebration, every small get together, my grandmother would make this chocolate cake. It was fudgy yet light and the icing was smooth, almost like a melted Hershey bar. Her cakes were always square, never round, and sat perfectly on this old Fostoria cake platter.
I have been trying to recreate this cake experience since my grandmother died over 14 years ago. This cake was just a part of my childhood always there, at every celebration, at every holiday dinner, it was a routine part of my life growing up. It is only now a bit removed that I realize how special that cake was. After she died, I found her frosting recipe, and I treasure the original, hand-written card that holds a place of prominence in my cookbook.
It took me years of practicing to decipher her recipe and re-create her icing. I wanted to recreate her cake because I want to re-create those moments: the celebrations, the holidays where we gathered. I want to remember how it felt to be surrounded by people who loved me and each other. I wanted my children to taste and feel what it was like to be loved by this crazy group of people we call family.
The Practice of Remembering
The practice of remembering is especially strong during the holidays. The layers of practices and traditions breakthrough time, connecting us in the present with the community of saints that have gone before us. These threads of love found in chocolate cake, or mashed potatoes, or your dad’s famous deep-fried turkey, form a tight weave during the holiday season. And while we can remember alone, the practice is more meaningful when we are together. (There is nothing better than watching a toddler have her first taste of Gram-Gram’s chocolate cake). During these celebrations, our collective memory molds together, softening the edges of our personal experience and bringing what may have been blurry into focus.
In the Old Testament, God instructs the Israelites to remember all the ways that God was present with them. All the examples of God saving them. All the time, God kept His promises to them. The Jewish people throughout their history have used the practice of remembering to connect the past to the present and future. Weaving together a community that is strengthened by their shared experiences brought into reality through the practice of remembering.
The Shema found in Deuteronomy says:
“Israel, listen! Our God is the Lord! Only the Lord! Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your strength. These words that I am commanding you today must always be on your minds. Recite them to your children. Talk about them when you are sitting around your house and when you are out and about, when you are lying down and when you are getting up. Tie them on your hand as a sign. They should be on your forehead as a symbol. Write them on your house’s doorframes and on your city’s gates.”
These are famous lines. Even though they didn’t escape slavery, even though they didn’t walk through the Red Sea; even though they didn’t wander in the wilderness; even though my children have never tasted my grandmother’s chocolate cake; through the practice of remembering, we keep what is important right in front of us.
Deuteronomy goes on:
“In the future, your children will ask you, ‘What is the meaning of the laws, the regulations, and the case laws that the Lord our God commanded you?’ Tell them”
As Thanksgiving approaches, it is a great time to remember and tell the stories that bind your community together. Maybe you do this through food, or through tradition, or some object that holds special meaning. Hold onto these practices (or create a new one to pass down), take pictures, write down the recipes, teach them to your children and their children. So that they might always remember the love of family, the gathering of community, and the threads that bind us together from generation to generation, past, present, and future, forevermore.
About the Author
Erin Reibel is a pastor and mother of four children. She loves to bake and is still working on perfecting her grandmother’s chocolate cake recipe. Currently, Erin is working to build an online faith community for people who want to nurture their faith but struggle with the time demands of modern life. You can find out more about the community she is building at www.hometablecommunity.org or on Facebook and Instagram @hometablecommunity.