The Compromise Cake

One of my friends who has an eye out for old community cookbooks at rummage sales, flea markets, and thrift shops ran upon a Christmas Sampler from the girls of Ladies’ Night Out at the First Baptist Church of Florence, Mississippi. 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–a barbecue or 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 were cooked with water and sweetening into a thick, fragrant sauce. The layers were made with sorghum, applesauce, and flour, thin and crisp, really more like a big cookie than a cake.

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 brought to the wedding, stacked and cut on the spot; the more layers, the more popular the bride. Stack cakes usually had at least five layers and most people believed there should be an odd number for luck. I’m sure someone had a stack or two ready in case things didn’t add up right.

The catch is that because of the dryness of the layers, a stack cake–at any height–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 cooks. My theory is that the cake was intended to go with the couple on their honeymoon in case things got out of hand.

I offer their decidedly non-traditional recipe as a hopeful aside, an incidental, a footnote, not to past matrimonials, but to present reconciliations.

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
1/2 tsp. cloves
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 c. chopped dates
1/2 c. shortening
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla

Lightly oil and flour a 10-inch tube pan; refrigerate. Combine applesauce and soda; set aside. Mix raisins, dates, and pecans; set aside. Whip shortening with sugar, add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine flour and spices; add 1/2 cup flour mixture to raisin mixture. Gradually mix very well remaining flour with shortening. Add applesauce and fruit/nuts mix. Stir in vanilla. Spoon batter into prepared pan. Bake at 350 degrees for an hour, or until toothpick dry. Cool thoroughly before removing.

How to Make Cornbread

Like most simple recipes, cornbread is more about procedure than ingredients. Pour about an eighth of an inch of oil, corn or vegetable, in the bottom of an eight inch skillet, and stick it in the oven on a high rack at about 425. Then take three cups of white self-rising corn meal and about half a cup self-rising flour, mix in a bowl with a scant teaspoon baking soda and a dash or so of salt. Add about 1/3 cup of corn or vegetable oil and mix with dry ingredients until about the consistency of rice. Add one large beaten egg, mix well, then add enough buttermilk to make a thick batter and enough water to thin slightly; water enables the meal to swell and makes for lighter bread. Take your skillet out of the oven, tilt to coat the sides with oil, and test the heat with a drop of batter. It should sizzle; if not, heat some more. When oil is sufficiently hot, pour in the batter, spread evenly, and put back in oven. Bake until golden brown. Remove by inverting skillet. Eat with butter immediately, and enjoy being alive.