My Mom and Dad were great cooks. Their repertoire ranged from feeding large crowds with slow cooked pit bar-b-cue or fried catfish to “southern meat and three.” To sit down at their table when they cooked roast beef, potatoes, peas, butterbeans, corn, squash and hot biscuits was a southern country culinary delight.
However, to the larger general public in their region they were known for their cakes. Their specialty cakes were chocolate, carmel and lemon cheese. Their cakes showed up everywhere. You would see them in charity auctions and at parties all across their part of Alabama. One night, we were attending a charity auction where Mother and Daddy had donated one of their 11 layer chocolate cakes. The bidding began to rise. It got to $800. Daddy bid $1000 for his own cake and then gave it back to the school and they auctioned it off to another couple for $1000.
Shortly after Labor Day the orders would begin to come. As the season moved towards Thanksgiving and Christmas, it was not unusual to walk into their kitchen and every level space would have a cake layer and the air would be thick with the aroma of whatever icing was going on the cake.
The lemon cheese cake had a sticky icing so it could not be shipped. You had to come to their house to pick it up. The chocolate and caramel cakes have a firm icing so they could be wrapped and shipped. I can remember one year they baked and sold 300 cakes between Labor Day and Christmas. Their customers came from throughout Alabama, northwest Florida and southwest Georgia. They even shipped a lot of cakes to Michigan, Minnesota and Texas. Needless to say, the UPS people knew the way to our house.
Daddy was the more outgoing and affable of the two, and he loved to take cakes to their physicians. As you might imagine, they had their regular family practice physician, dentist, ophthalmologist and each of their staffs, but as they aged, more physicians came into the picture. When Daddy was diagnosed with pancreatic and lung cancer, the oncologist and his staff joined the stable of physicians. As an expression of his gratitude to the doctors, nurses and their staffs, Daddy would take them a cake at Christmas. Many of them became customers and it wasn’t unusual for Mother or Daddy to leave a doctor’s appointment with an order for half a dozen cakes.
I didn’t inherit my Dad’s ability to cook, but I did inherit his attitude of thankfulness for the people in his life who contributed to his well being and the full life that he and Mother enjoyed.
Mother and Daddy have both gone to spend eternity with God, but the tradition of delicious cakes continues. My sister, Debbie, and her husband, Tag, inherited Mother and Daddy’s cooking ability and they have taken on the mantle of baking cakes for the public. Recently, Debbie and Tag added the caramel cake to their list of offerings. As any 1 son would tell his baby sister, “it is almost as good as Mother’s, and very worthy of the Thomas baking tradition.”
As people have done for years, I placed my order for several cakes. Last week, I made my annual Christmas pilgrimage to Hurtsboro and packed my truck full of caramel cakes. As Daddy would have done, I’ve delivered these to many of the people who are special to Nancy and me.
What Christmas traditions are most special to you?
In our home, we say Merry Christmas!!! We hope it will be so for you.
-Tommy and Nancy Thomas