This post is an entry for the “Comfort Me” contest, hosted by Moira at Who Wants Seconds? Check out her site to read about other people’s favorite comfort foods!
For some reason, food made by grandmothers tastes better than anything else. Maybe it’s because grandmothers had years of experience in the kitchen. Or maybe, in my case, it’s because my grandmother raised me.
For the first four years of my life, my family lived in my grandmother’s home, so she cooked for all of us. My grandmother sold that house years ago, but I still remember her egg rolls, mini guavas in the backyard, and her carrot cake.
Since I’m a dessert person, the thing I miss most is the cake. It was dense, had blackened walnuts,was perfectly sweet, and was fragrantly (but not overly) spicy. It was the standard by which I compared all other carrot cakes. I’ve never had another carrot cake that matched hers.
What’s even more amazing is that she probably concocted the recipe herself. Up until recently, ovens were not common in Chinese homes. Most pastries were steamed, resulting in a fluffy, spongy texture. Rich desserts, like pound cakes and devil’s food cakes, are unheard of in China.
So my grandmother’s dense carrot cake is an anomaly. How or why she made it remains a mystery. Although carrot cakes hit the American mainstream in the 1960s, my grandmother could not have gotten the recipe from a book or on TV. She doesn’t know English. I think she made her first carrot cake by playing around with ingredients here and there. That’s impressive, considering that baking requires exact proportions of flour, liquid, levening, fat, acid, and sweetener.
The last (and probably final) time I had her carrot cake was about five years ago, on my birthday. She made the cake in a bundt pan, like she always did, without frosting. Since then, her health and memory have declined. She no longer cooks today.
Dare I ask her for the recipe? Will she remember it? Or should I let the cake remain a fond memory?
My tastes have changed in the last couple of years. If I were to have her cake again, I’d probably think it was too oily. But at that moment, five years ago, it was perfect. I’d like to remember it that way.