Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Gladys Busse Did Not Like Spice Cake

Gladys Busse did not like spice cake, or should I say "she did not like that spice cake." In fact, out of the more than 100 handwritten recipes collected in her cookbook, there was just one cake that did not bake up to par. Gladys, a woman who seemed well-organized in print, made a note of it, writing "rotten" over a series of bold ink strokes. Two other sponge cake recipes appeared in the pages that followed.

Pouring through Gladys' unassuming burgundy notepad, I found myself designing her life. I created it partially on what I actually read in the book, and then expanded upon that. I may be making up a bit of Gladys' story, but truth be told, I feel privileged to be holding a piece of her past.

Gladys was well-educated. She finished high school and went on to an all girls college for two years. Her penmanship is neat and her spelling is very good. I am certain that she enjoyed cooking, and took pride in it as this was a key opportunity to nurture her family and friends. She had great patience to write 45 pages front and back. She was also apt to punctuate -- "Candies!" -- with exclamation points.

Gladys was in her prime in the 20's. Just above the butter cookie recipe is written "Sept. 29, 1927." From my rather rapid googling, I discovered that in the 20's gas ovens were powered on and then simply got hotter. Gladys' baking directions specify timing but they do not specify a baking temperature. She uses "moderate" to describe the necessary heat. Other good old-fashioned signs of the times include her preference for lard, "4 good cups of flour," and "a pinch of salt."

Gladys wasn't all about the food though. She had in interest in skin care, and copied down Aunt Jen's Cream of Roses face cream recipe. Not only did Gladys use this every morning and every night, but she also spooned it into small tins at the holidays. One recipe yielded 3 quarts, so she could give to all the ladies in her cooking club, the ones with whom she swapped recipes.

As i flipped through the book I wondered about Gladys' dreams. Perhaps she was looking for financing to open up Gladys' Grill, a neighborhood eatery serving up authentic home cooking and tasty desserts. Perhaps Estee Lauder had got wind of the face cream. I wondered about Gladys' significant other and also about the small child who probably grabbed Gladys' notebook on more than one occasion and decided to scribble just a bit in it before being caught.

One of these days, I am going to try one of Gladys' recipes. I have already nixed the Salmon Wiggle dish. Sounds a bit too gelatinous. And I won't make anything that calls for lard. The Molasses Cake is a possibility because next to it in parenthesis Gladys had written "Never Fail." Why, then I wonder, hadn't she used "!"?