My daughter, Sarah, stands on the kitchen stool, spatula in hand, ready to scrape the edge of the mixing bowl. The bowl turns on the stand, swirling the angel food cake mixture in a whirlpool of white. I join the rhythmic sound of the mixer as it spins, humming the melody of an old hymn: “In the sweet by and by, we shall meet
on that beautiful shore. . .” As I sing I am transported to a similar scene some thirty years
before when my grandmother taught me about heaven and angel food cakes. . .
* * * * * * * * *
My bike fender rattles as I turn into Grandma’s lane. Pine needles crunch under the tires as I coast to a stop by the rusty pump. I am greeted by the faint tinkling of piano mixed with squeaky soprano. I hurry through the kitchen in time to join the chorus:
“In the sweet by and by, we shall meet on that beautiful shore. In the sweet by and by-y,
we shall meet on that beautiful shore.”
“Landsakes, child, you surprised me!” Grandma stops to give me a squeeze.
“Don’t stop,” I plead. “Play another one.”
We go through our favorites: “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder, I’ll Be There”, “In My Heart There Rings A Melody”, “Tell Me the Story of Jesus”. All are lively songs, filled with images of Jesus and heaven.
“That’s enough for these old bones,” Grandma sighs and closes the songbook. I won’t have enough strength left to bake the cake.”
“I can do it!” I chime. “You just tell me the directions.”
“Well, I guess I learned to bake my first angel food cake before I was much more than ten,” Grandma beams as she begins to move measuring bowls and utensils about.
“Is that why your angel food cakes are so famous?” I ask following her footsteps. Grandma laughs at my reference to her baking fame, but I know the reputation of Forgey angel food cakes. All my cousins and I relish those fluffy masterpieces each birthday. No cake walk, food auction or carry-in dinner was considered successful unless a Forgey cake was there. Whenever Grandma attended a potluck, folks would greet her with, “Did you bring a cake, Luella?”, instead of the usual “hello” or “how are you”.
“Mary Ellen says one of your cakes sold for $50 at an auction. Doesn’t that make you famous?”
Grandma chuckles as she ties an apron around me. “Well, you can tell your sister
that I’m not Betty Crocker and if folks want to spend their money on a tower of sweet fluff, that’s all right with me. ‘Specially when it goes for a good cause.”
We begin the process of separating the eggs and somehow Grandma gets ahead of me. I spend most of my time picking pieces of eggshell out of the slippery bowl.
“Maybe you’d like to begin the sifting,” Grandma suggests.
I gladly wipe my hands and move to the sifter. Back and forth I go from one side
of the table to the other, taking first the sugar and then the flour out of the special bowls
used for measuring, sifting them into small heaps on newspaper. Soon both my apron and hands are dusty-white.
“Ready for the muscle stretcher?” Grandma asks as she brings the mixing bowl and places it in my lap.
“Ready,” I answer, although I know this to be the most challenging part – beating the thirteen egg whites with the wooden-handled wire whisk. Around and around I whip my arm, quickly at first. The liquid becomes frothy then begins to whiten. When one arm tires, I switch to the other hoping the desired stiff peaks will form before I wear out. Finally, Grandma comes to my rescue and soon the batter piles into cloud-topped mountains.
I ponder, then ask, “Why do they call this cake ‘angel food’?”
“Well, now,” Grandma replies, “that’s why this is such a special recipe.” She strikes a match and lights the burner under the metal oven on the kerosene stove.
“You see, long ago, when the Hebrew people were lost in the wilderness, they
asked God to send food. So, He made this special recipe. It was pure and white, light and fluffy and it tasted like honey. He would send it down from heaven to the people each day. It would fall on the earth and the people would gather it up. They called it “manna”, but, because the people knew it came from heaven, they figured the
angels must have helped in God’s kitchen. So, many years later people began to call it “angel food”.
“How’d you get the recipe? Did an angel give it to you?”
“Not directly,” Grandma smiles, “although every good and perfect gift does come from the Lord. I’d allow that someone figured out the ingredients along the way and passed it on. My grandmother taught me the recipe and now I’m showing you.”
“I’m glad God thought it up,” I muse. We fold the last of the flour and sugar into the batter and pour it into the tunnel pan.
“It’s even made in a circle,” Grandma adds. “Like God’s love, it has no end.”
Using her apron to open the oven door, Grandma slides the cake onto the rack. I
finish licking the spatula and rinse my sticky hands. We clean up the kitchen and then I
ask, “Can we sing some more while it bakes?”
“Well,” Grandma cocks her head and winks, “maybe there’s some life left in
these old fingers for another tune or two.”
Soon the fragrance of the baking angel food fills the air as our voices join in the
sweetness of the moment. . .
* * * * * * * * *
“Why do they call this ‘angel food’ cake, Mommy?”
Sarah’s voice breaks my reverie and I stop humming. I smile as I begin to
reiterate the story of how God fed His children and how I learned to bake the special cake. I share how her great-grandmother gave me a taste of heaven by sharing her faith in her kitchen and at her piano. I think about how we are stirring up memories and, at the same time, making new ones.
“Is your grandma eating angel cake in heaven now, Mommy?” she asks as she licks the spatula.
“I’m sure of it.” I answer. I can see her sitting on the shore of a glistening lake,
munching on a spongy piece of white. She only stops occasionally to join the chorus of
the celestial, white-winged creatures beside her. I can hear the familiar strains of a song
that echoes God’s promise taught to me years before.
“Now,” I say to Sarah. “I want to teach you a special song.”
The old melodic refrain fills the kitchen. “In the sweet by and by, we shall meet
on that beautiful shore. . .”