The tale of two grandmas (By Ronna Pennington)
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 wasn’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 family’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 wasn’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. “After all,” she said, “TV dinners were meant to be eaten while watching TV. It’s even in the name.”
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. It’s Spray Cake. The Harvard students who invented it as a class project were surprised that it didn’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 doesn’t sound very appetizing, does it?
As exciting as the notion of Spray Cake is, I’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 wasn’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 I’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.