Submitted by Terese Luikens, Sandpoint, Idaho
For the first eight years of my life, I lived near my grandma and enjoyed partaking in the feasts she served for memorable holiday meals. Uncles, aunts, and cousins sat shoulder-to-shoulder around tables laden with tender beef roasts, smooth brown gravy, fluffy mashed potatoes, and always a choice of cream pie for dessert. Whenever I was eating a meal at Grandma’s house, no one ever had to tell me to clean up my plate.
On other occasions, when Grandma invited my cousin Julie and me to sleep over, we always woke up to the aroma of a freshly baked Mrs. Bacon’s Coffee Cake. Grandma served us generous slices of this warm, moist, and sweet cake with a pat of butter pooling in the center, and she never denied us a second piece.
Grandma’s cooking, like an extension of her love, filled me with comfort and contentment. She prepared good food not only for the nutritional value it gave to one’s body, but for the sustenance she knew home cooking gave to the soul. The satisfaction of her tantalizing dishes made with simple ingredients lingered long after the meal, as did the memories of her merriment in serving us.
My mother, the oldest of Grandma’s four children, didn’t find the same pleasure in cooking hearty homemade meals or Saturday-morning coffee cake. Instead of following the recipes she’d grown up watching her mother prepare, Mom relied on the convenience and ease of Hamburger Helper, frozen fish sticks, packaged cookies, and instant pudding. I never went hungry, but her meals left me wanting more than they could give: the warmheartedness and joy that came from Grandma and her cooking.
I was too young to understand my father’s disease—alcoholism—and its effects on our family. But Grandma provided the safety, stability, and order I lacked at home. Then suddenly, and without any warning, we moved away.
It didn’t take long for me to miss more than just Grandma’s cooking. I yearned for the taste of normalcy she’d provided. Without her stable, comforting presence, I could only savor the memories.
My father moved us twice in four years: from Nebraska to South Dakota and then from South Dakota to Colorado. When Dad finally went into a hospital for long-term care, my older siblings stayed with friends in Colorado, while my mother, little brother, and I moved back to Nebraska to live with Grandma.
This long separation from Dad and all my other siblings proved to be the most chaotic period of my life. But Grandma, now a widow in her 70s, became my refuge, and her kitchen became my classroom. Standing beside her at the stove or at the kitchen counter, I watched and helped her make those roasts succulent, those mashed potatoes smooth, and the cream pie filling thick. Worries about my fractured family dissolved during the hours I spent cooking with Grandma.
On most Saturdays, we pored over recipes together from the Kitchen Klatter magazines she kept in a deep kitchen drawer. She had followed those recipes for years and told of how she had perfected each one. Now, it was my turn to learn how to follow some of those same recipes, including the beloved Mrs. Bacon’s Coffee Cake. When I read the recipe, it reminded me of happier times: sleepovers at her house and waking up to the aroma of a freshly baked coffee cake.
Grandma assured me that the recipe would be easy to follow and let me try it by myself. Its simple ingredients—flour, sugar, eggs, oil, and buttermilk—could be mixed in one bowl, and unlike more complicated coffee cakes, it didn’t even require creaming any butter with the electric mixer. Mrs. Bacon’s Coffee Cake was my first independent success in the kitchen. I grew confident that someday, I would become a good cook, just like Grandma.
My father’s illness ended with his death, and the year I lived with Grandma came to a close. Years later, when I’d grown up and married, I modeled her way of homemaking, serving my husband and three sons good home-cooked meals. Like Grandma, I sought to feed not only their bodies, but their souls. I made sure that on Saturday mornings they awoke to the aroma of a freshly baked Mrs. Bacon’s Coffee Cake and served generous slices topped with pooling pats of butter. I never refused them a second slice either.
As I baked or cooked, my young sons stood beside me to watch, sometimes hiding a G.I. Joe in a mound of sifted flour or licking the mixing bowl of its leftover batter. Later, when they learned to read recipes and measure ingredients, I let them try their hands at a Mrs. Bacon’s Coffee Cake. Their confidence in the kitchen grew so much that by the time they left home, they knew how to cook good nutritious food that sustained their own souls.
These days, my granddaughter stands beside her dad in their kitchen, learning to bake Mrs. Bacon’s Coffee Cake in the tradition of her great-great-grandma: serving good food with merriment and joy.
Terese Luikens is a wife, mom, mother-in-law, grandma, sister, aunt, friend, author, yoga teacher, public school teacher, and suicide survivor. Read more about her journey on her blog, “Why Bother,” at TereseLuikens.com.
Mrs. Bacon’s Coffee Cake
Makes one 9-by-13-inch cake
- 2 1/2 cups sifted flour
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 3/4 cup white sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup salad oil
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 beaten egg
Mix together the flour, sugars, salt, and oil. Reserve 1/2 cup for the topping.
Add the baking soda, baking powder, buttermilk, and egg.
Pour the batter into a greased 9-by-13-inch pan. Sprinkle the 1/2 cup reserved topping on top.
Bake at 325 F for 30 minutes.
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