The Compromise Cake

My friend Michelle Hudson, who volunteers at the St. Luke’s Thrift Shop, always has an eye out for community cookbooks or ones decidedly offbeat such as the eggplant cookbook in the shape of an eggplant she once found. Several weeks ago, she ran upon a Christmas Sampler from the girls of Ladies’ Night Out at the First Baptist Church of Florence, Mississippi and therein I found a recipe for compromise cake, not just any old compromise cake, mind you, but “The Compromise Cake”.

The recipe just stopped me in my tracks; just what kind of compromise does this cake represent? Given the zeitgeist I suspected some sort of quasi-political origin such as a traditional dessert for such a Southern political event as a barbecue or a fish fry, but when I passed the recipe around on social media for clues, a friend, upon seeing the applesauce ingredient, pointed out that apple cakes were traditionally served at hillbilly weddings back in the day, so maybe the compromise is between the groom cake and the bride cake.

That’s how I learned about apple stack cakes, which mountain housewives made from apples they’d dry for the winter. Pieces of apples were threaded onto strings and hung in the rafters or in a special outbuilding that had a small kiln inside for drying fruit and other foods. Dried apples are sweet, pliant and flavorful and were cooked with water and molasses into a thick, fragrant sauce. The layers were made with sorghum, dried apples and a little flour, thin and crisp, really more like a big cookie than a cake, and applesauce was spread between the layers. Stack cakes usually had at least five layers and most people believed there must be an odd number. Stories were told about poor mountain brides who could not afford a wedding cake and were gifted with stack-cake layers donated by friends and family members. The layers were allegedly brought to the wedding, stacked on site, and cut on the spot. Purportedly the more layers, the more popular the bride.

The catch is that at any height, because of the dryness of the layers, a stack cake must sit for at least two days. Given that time, the moisture from the apples–and more often than not the applesauce between–softens the layers a bit, melding the flavors and making the cake moist and delectable. Cutting into a stack cake as soon as it is assembled is a disservice to the cake and the cook. So, the wedding theory is a charming story, but a freshly stacked cake is no gift at all, and if people then were really that poor (and I assure you they were) likely a groom’s cake was just not even considered.

So, the mystery remains, and I offer the recipe as a hopeful aside, an incidental, a footnote, not to past matrimonials, but to present reconciliations.

The Compromise Cake

1 1/2 c. applesauce
1 c. raisins
1 c. chopped pecans
1 1/3 c. sugar
2 c. cake flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 c. chopped dates
1/2 c. shortening
2 eggs
2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa
1/2 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. vanilla

Grease bottom of 10-inch tube pan; line bottom with waxed paper. Grease and flour lining and pan; set aside. Combine applesauce and soda; set aside. Combine raisins, dates and pecans; set aside. Cream shortening; gradually add sugar, beating well at medium speed. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine flour and spices; add 1/2 cup flour mixture to raisin mixture; toss gently and set aside. Gradually add remaining flour mixture to creamed mixture, mixing well. Add applesauce mixture and raisins mixture. Stir in vanilla. Spoon batter into prepared pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to 325 degrees and bake an additional 20 minutes or longer or until toothpick tests clean. Cool in pan 15-20 minutes. Remove from pan and cool on wire rack.