Folk Recipe/Foodways – Chocolate Cake

Folk Recipe/Foodways – Little Nonnie’s Chocolate Cake – American

“For every birthday in our family, I make the same cake. It’s a recipe from my great-grandmother… she was born in Chicago, but her parents were from Ireland… and she married a German man. I don’t know if she made it up or not, but it’s been the same cake at every birthday since she was alive. It is a dry cake, and it’s supposed to be, but the icing is amazing. The cake is made like regular cake: flour, eggs, butter, and cocoa powder. But there is one secret ingredient that gives it the unique touch, and that’s sour cream. Then the icing is made with powdered sugar, butter, chocolate, and coffee… so the cake ends up being sort of a mocha chocolate cake. And it only works if you do it an exact way… if you try to double the recipe, it won’t turn out right. But this cake is a family tradition because every family member always gets one on their birthday… and everybody loves it… it’s their favorite. And it’s always the grandmother that makes it. We call it ‘Little Nonnie’s Chocolate Cake,’ that was my great-grandmother.”
The informant believes that this cake is important because it is a family tradition and gives the family something to look forward to, and something they all have in common: they all love this cake.
I agree with the informant in that this cake provides a commonality between family members, and gives them a characteristic that identifies them as members of this family. Furthermore, this cake ties them to their ancestors and their family history. Although this cake isn’t necessarily German or Irish, it makes the family think of these people and where they came from, and their heritage. Additionally, the idea of a “secret ingredient” makes it that much stronger of an identifying characteristic. Only the family is aware of this “secret,” so it binds them together, and makes them feel as though they are unique as a family unit. The fact that the grandmother always bakes the cake allows her to be tied to the younger generations, to teach them, and nurture them. An intergenerational link within a family is extremely important, as it allows for family heritage to be passed down. Additionally, this cake alone serves as an excuse for the family to gather, which gives it a social aspect.