Angel Food Cake Demands Strawberry Icing

Aug 7, 2017

Angel food cake is light, fluffy and tricky to make. Recipes call for something like six egg whites, which leaves me in a quandary as to what to do with the rest of those eggs.

That’s why I bought a $5 grocery store cake from Food Lion the other day. Naked and spongy, it sat there in its round plastic house like a peeled banana, begging for icing. And the first thing I thought of was strawberry, which I happened to have in the pantry.

Dressing the bare cake with my 2017 plastic-tub icing wasn’t as good as the old-fashioned boiled variety or even the mix-from-a-box icing that’s hard to find these days.

But why strawberry?

Credit Tamra Wilson / WFAEats

Then I remembered the day I discovered angel food cake – a light, fluffy delicious dessert served on a glass plate – or rather it discovered me, at Aunt Mertie’s.

I was about four, playing with a friend at the neighbor lady’s house. This was in the days when mothers taught their children to never call an adult by their first name without a prefix. In our part of the world, friends and neighbors became “aunts” and “uncles.” Aunt Mertie – no blood relation – had allowed my young friend Jill and I to take over her front porch. It was cool and surrounded by bridal wreath and hydrangea bushes with blooms as big as our heads. We set up our playhouse on the far end, well away from the porch swing.

Mertie’s house was one of those clapboard affairs with a sturdy block railing that had gaps between the blocks – spaces that became pantry shelves and little pretend baking ovens for our “kitchen.” Jill and I put in rocks and sticks and weeds we’d pulled.         

Mertie’s front door was open, and the screen allowed at least a breeze in hot weather. Organ music from soap operas – The Secret Storm, Search for Tomorrow, The Guiding Light – wafted outside from the TV set.

Around two o’clock, Aunt Mertie came to the door. “Would you girls like some angel food cake?” All I heard was cake. I’d never heard of “angel food” before. It sounded like something from Bible School. Jill said she’d like some, too, so in we went.

Aunt Mertie’s house, like most of them at that time, was a visit to the 1930s. Dark oak furniture, china cabinets stuffed with glassware and figurines, doilies, filmy curtains, room-sized wool rugs.

We were served the cake at the dining room table on fancy pink glass, the etched ware that everyone would later call “Depression glass.” The cake was light, and it had strawberry icing and was the fluffy boiled type, not something from a box. The combination was perfect—the cake, the strawberry icing the perfect accompaniment, the tart lemonade in a real glass tumbler.

I have no idea what all was said or anything else about that day. But I remember the pink icing – and how pleased I was to learn what angels ate for dessert. 

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