Angel Cake

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By Cherity Cook

Twelve freshly washed eggs sat on my counter. Pink. Brown. Green. White. Blue. More colors than most people know chicken eggs come in, cradled on my dish towel, each waiting to be cracked and separated yolk from white. I always separate the eggs first, cracking them above a small bowl and catching the yolk in my hand, letting the white fall through my fingers.

My dad’s birthday cake is a labor of love. He’s turning sixty this year, and I offered to make his (and my) favorite cake. Angel food cake. Specifically, Schmida Boleman’s Angel Food Cake.

This particular recipe is the sort that ruins you: after eating this angel food cake, you won’t be able to tolerate the angel food cake from the grocery store anymore. It’s fluffy and sweet, but also silky in a way that most angel food cakes aren’t. It’s the perfect medium for the cream cheese icing–also Schmida’s recipe–that will frost it.

The recipe is older than me.

Actually, the recipe is older than him.

This recipe feels like a family recipe now, but it isn’t. Or, at least, it isn’t our family’s recipe. Rather, it was the family recipe of the family next door when my dad was growing up. It was Schmida’s recipe. When my dad was a little kid, after having been fed that particular cake several times when he was over to play, he asked her to teach him how to make it.

Schmida was an immigrant. Jewish. German. A Holocaust survivor. She spoke Yiddish and fed the neighborhood children alongside her own (the way mothers everywhere do), and when one of those children asked her to teach him, she willingly and enthusiastically did so, handing down a recipe that he would use to win the baking competition at the county fair, that he would later hand down to me.

To the best of my dad’s knowledge, Schmida’s family had come to America after surviving the camps. She had been just a baby. Her family fled that violence and oppression. They had built a life for themselves here. Refugees. Asylum seekers.

I thought about the current political situation as I added a flour sugar mixture to the egg whites. I thought about Schmida teaching a child who wasn’t her own. I thought about the desperation her family must have felt to start over. I thought about the fact that they were among the lucky ones; so many Holocaust victims were turned away at our shores. I thought about the babies now, children of asylum seekers now who are being taken away and put in “tender age facilities.” And, because it seemed awfully connected, I thought about all of my ancestors, any number of whom didn’t have their papers in order. My freckles giving away an ancestry of Irish Catholics who immigrated during a time when “Irish need not apply.” Irish immigrants, after all, were said to take the jobs of hard-working Americans.

I looked around the kitchen as my mixer did a lot of the grunt work for me. Schmida’s cake. The pasta I was about to start cooking next. Me. All of it the result of immigration, legal or otherwise. All here because someone, somewhere along the line, came here hoping for a better life.

Later, when my dad came in, he told me that the cake looked delicious.

“It didn’t rise quite as much as I had hoped,” I said.

“Neither does mine,” he replied. “No one else can quite make them like Schmida.”

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About Cherity:

Cherity is a born and bred Midwesterner who spends most of her time managing Secondhand Hearts, her ninety-eight acre sanctuary and ranch, where she shares her life with a whole barn-load of rescued critters. When she isn’t cleaning stalls or working at her “real job” in sales, you can find her writing about life, loss, love, and llamas at almostfarmgirl.com.

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