No matter which way you slice it, for me, birthdays are all about the cake.
Cake did not make a regular appearance on the family menu when I was growing up. There were desserts, mostly seasonal, like strawberry rhubarb pie, blueberry grunt and apple crisp. There were raisin oatmeal cookies, to dunk in your tea after dinner. There was the occasional decadence of a Lemon Meringue Pie, maybe just because my Mother felt being in the kitchen that particular weekend.
But a cake? A cake was made for special occasions; an airy sponge to go below fresh strawberries and whipped cream at a summer family get together. Gingerbread Cake for Thanksgiving dinner. Lemon Loaf, Date Nut Loaf and Fruit Cake at Christmas. And, of course, Birthday Cakes.
What made the day so special is that there was a cake, baked just for you, complete with frosting (that made it REALLY fancy) to share with family and friends. You could say that the cake was truly the icing on the birthday.
On my sister’s 13th or 14th birthday she had a party. It snowed, big fluffy February flakes that muted the world outside our drafty windows, while her new Honeydrippers cassette provided the sound track to a half a dozen teenagers in our TV room. Her cake was white, inside and out, like the winter month that she was born in. Frosted and decorated with cinnamon hearts as she was a Valentine’s baby. It became a tradition, heart shaped candy on her birthday cake.
My older brother once had a party in the back yard with the handful of kids that were part of our summer neighbour hood gang. We played a game of memory; items collected from around the house were placed on a tray, you had one minute to study them, then one minute to write down as many things as you could remember. The winner got a bag of plastic flies, the “It Store” was a new, and very popular, joke shop with the under 12 boys that summer. Instead of making a car shaped cake Mom parked a model car right in the icing. It thrilled my brother to bits.
My younger brother celebrated by camping out in front of the house with his three best mates; an inseparable group of four that stuck together from daycare through to university. His birthday at the beginning of September marked the end of summer, their camp out the last ditch effort to squeeze in some fun before school started. His left over birthday cake was stored in the rectangle tin that once held delicate cookies sent from Japan. Left on the counter for afternoon snacks it’s sweetness soothed the pains of going back to school.
We threw a surprise party for my Mothers 40th birthday. I don’t recall who came or how long the party rocked on into the night but I remember the cake. My Father ordered it from Dairy Queen and picked up after work. It was a frozen ice cream cake, with beautifully piped curly-ques at the edges and clear gel icing scrolled across the top. But somehow they miss spelled my Mother’s name and we were left with a cake that exclaimed “Happy Birthday Anthole”. My sister and I were in hysterics, both with laughter and with worry.
For my Father there was usually a Carrot Cake baked. The perfect not too sweet cake, sometimes frosted with cream cheese icing, sometimes left to be enjoyed plain in all it’s quirky vegetable dessertness.
Being born midsummer I was almost always guaranteed to get a Zucchini Chocolate Cake for my birthday. A family recipe from “Great Aunt Hattie”, it has been passed down for generations. During zucchini high season it solves the much answered question of “What else can we make with zucchini?” It might not sound very appetizing, but I have converted several birthday cake recipients over the years. Without fail turns out moist and perfectly chocolatey; sweet but not overwhelming.
Mom would always bake it in two round spring form pans. The cooled layers were stacked up and glued together with strawberry jam and the whole thing was covered with a thin layer of chocolate icing. When someone says “Birthday Cake” this is the only confection that appears in my imagination.
This year I will be making my own cake. I guess that means I am all grown up now. I don’t have zucchini; I may have been born mid-summer, but it is mid-winter in Fiji right now. I don’t have strawberry jam, or icing sugar. I don’t own spring form pans and probably won’t even turn on the oven.
But I do have a surplus of over ripe bananas, (the ones the birds didn’t sneak in and eat that is), and several passion fruit and a couple limes and a coconut ready to be cracked open. So I am going to make what has become a staple in my cake making arsenal; Banana Cake with Coconut and a Passion Fruit and Lime Glaze. I will bake it in a cast iron pan on the stove top, making a tent out of foil and keeping an eye on the flame so I don’t burn it. And when it is done I will do what has become a habit lately; cut one piece for myself and give the rest to friends, or the girls in the marina office, or the guys in the yard.
I don’t plan on telling anyone it is my birthday today. But, to mark the special occasion, I will let them eat Cake.