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It was the age of kitchen wisdom, it was the age of heat-and-serve TV dinners. Nothing sums up my tale of two very different grandmothers better.
One, Grandma Buck, was a kitchen ninja. She wasnâ€™t tall enough to reach platters on the top cabinet shelf, but watching her cook homemade meals with the items within reach was like watching slow-mo Keanu Reeves in The Matrix. Her homemade cakes and pies were a hit at the familyâ€™s every-other-Sunday dinner ritual.
The other, my Malvern grandmother, was known to all us grandkids as Mama Hay (short for Hazel). She loved shoe-shopping and yard work much more than cooking. Her pies and cakes were perfect because they came from the Pollyann Bakery and her cookies were from a boxed mix. One particular plate of oatmeal cookies looked like a platter of minute-steaks. She wasnâ€™t into baking at all. We loved the treat of heated TV dinners and the opportunity not to sit at a table to eat them. â€śAfter all,â€ť she said, â€śTV dinners were meant to be eaten while watching TV. Itâ€™s even in the name.â€ť
From their generation to mine, cake baking has seen a number of changes. I believe that Mama Hay would be doing cartwheels and backflips over a new product that is catching a lot of buzz. Itâ€™s Spray Cake. The Harvard students who invented it as a class project were surprised that it didnâ€™t already exist. Using the same ingredients from a cake mix, they paired it with a whipped cream can principles to create their unique treat. Simply tilt the can and squirt the mix into a dish, microwave for a minute and you have a tasty cake just like that. In my opinion, it should probably be called Squirt Cake; but that doesnâ€™t sound very appetizing, does it?
As exciting as the notion of Spray Cake is, Iâ€™m afraid it says a lot about our society. In the 1960s and 1970s, we were too busy to make a cake from scratch, so many people used a mix. In my own home we alternated between mixes and scratch recipes, and I have very fond memories cake baking of both kinds with both parents. That means it wasnâ€™t so much about the cake as it was about spending time together to make it. I recently saw a bottle of cupcake batter on the supermarket shelf and a little piece of my soul died. We have become a society that is too busy to mix cake from a box.
So Iâ€™m torn between the revolutionary coolness of Spray Cake and the societal changes that it obviously marks. I never want to be too busy to bake a cake the old fashioned way with my daughter. It also makes me wonder what cake baking evolutions she will see in her lifetime.