Just like grandma’s

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.

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  1. Dawn Falcone said,

    Thanks for sharing your story about your grandmother. If you ask for the recipe you could keep some elements & then add to it to make it your own. I’m a big fan of keeping tradition, memories & comfort food alive.

    March 21, 2005 at 11:46 am

  2. Julie said,

    I agree with Dawn. Preserving the flavors that meant something to us also gives us something unique to share with others. And I love the link to the food timeline…

    March 21, 2005 at 9:17 pm

  3. Lynn said,

    Oh Jessica, that’s such a heart-warming story. I know exactly what you mean about that moment five years ago, when it was the perfect cake.

    I’d still ask for the recipe though, if she has one at all (Chinese cooks are notorious for flinging things into the pan without measuring them) and tweek it to your liking. That way, you maintain the memory of her cake, and have your own adaptation that’s more suitable to your current taste.

    March 22, 2005 at 1:56 am

  4. Anonymous said,

    Jessica, thank you so much for entering your post into the competition…it was really wonderful to read about your grandmother and her carrot cake. No matter what happens, you’ll always have those lovely memories- how special.

    Make sure to check back for the round-up in the next day or so, and the results next week!


    March 22, 2005 at 1:11 pm

  5. Boston Gu-Gu said,

    Dear Jessica, what a lovely story you shared, I remembered grandma was so pleased with a big smile on her face when she found out that you were looking for her carrot cake receipe. You know we found it because she was able to tell me that receipe was kept inside zipped pocket of her purse for the past 15-20 years.

    I just wish I had seen your story of “Just like grandma’s” in March, because she would have been so unbelievably overjoyed about you were telling the story. It was at least 20 years ago I had her carrot cake, now I can only dream about it. I miss her so so much,

    Love, Boston Gu-Gu

    September 14, 2005 at 1:48 pm

1 Links to this post

  1. Su Good Eats » 24-Karat Cake

    […] I’m only 24 years old, but I’ve already inherited an heirloom. An heirloom recipe, that is. Last year, I praised my grandmother’s carrot cake as one of the best desserts ever. That’s saying a lot because chocolate is my favorite food. But I have fond memories of that cake because it accompanied me since I was four, from birthdays to holidays to “every day.” Sadly, my grandmother had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and stopped cooking several years ago. […]

    May 29, 2006 at 8:55 pm

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