The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Notes on Pound Cake

By Susan M. Thigpen © 1992

Issue: July-August-September, 1992

When I was a little girl, my grandmother always seemed to have a pound cake around just waiting for visitors to drop by. When I visited, she would get the pound cake out of the cupboard and cut me a slice. Then she would get out a wedge of hoop cheese, cut a slice of it and lay it on top of the pound cake slice. Then she would pop it into her oven until the cheese was bubbly. Boy was it good. I've never seen anyone else melt cheese on top of cake, and often wondered why.

Mountain people decorate pound cake in many different ways. You can top a slice with just about anything and have a gourmet treat. A lot of people favor fresh strawberries and cream whipped high. Sliced peaches is another delightful topping, especially if they are fresh, sliced and sugared the night before, so they make their own syrup. Practically any fruit makes a good pound cake topper. I recently read a story that will appear in the December issue of The Mountain Laurel describing applebutter gravy poured over pound cake. It sounded delicious and I know you will look forward to reading it.

No decent country cook would think of icing a pound cake. The very best pound cakes aren't flavored with lemon or coconut flavoring either. Only vanilla for traditional pound cakes, and it has to be extract, not just a weakened-down flavoring! Real country pound cakes do not have soft drinks as ingredients either. Real country pound cakes almost drip with real butter and are a heavy, close-grained texture, not light and fluffy. Real pound cakes have a sugary, crispy brown crust on top and crack on top while being baked, showing the rich yellow interior.

Do you know what the expression "sad" means when referring to a cake? A "sad" cake is one that falls while being baked. If it falls too much, the cake looks like a disaster and is gooey inside. If a pound cake falls just slightly, most connoisseurs of pound cakes think it improves the texture of the cake. One elderly gentleman expressed it this way. He said, "A pound cake should be just sad enough to bring one tear to each eye."

A perfect pound cake is no simple matter to bake. You have to have a really good recipe and just the right ingredients. Plain flour, the right milk, real butter and enough eggs make a big difference in pound cake. If you take short cuts with a pound cake recipe, it will end up being an entirely different cake.

I recently ate a cake that was an exception to the plain pound cake rule. It was a black walnut pound cake and absolutely delicious! It isn't often we get to taste that distinctive old fashioned flavor of black walnuts anymore. Perhaps the flavor of black walnuts is more distinctive than any other nut. The trees were once plentiful and many a mountain family spent long winter nights cracking black walnuts to sell the meats to buy Christmas presents. Cracking black walnuts is not an easy or fast job.