The story behind Mrs. Wilson’s Mother’s ‘Hand-me-down’ chocolate cake
Do you remember that slippery oilcloth some people used to cover their kitchen tables with way back in the ’30s? Well, one of those oilcloths, my 4-year-old brother Tommy, and a cake that my mother used to bake were all part of an incident in my childhood that’s as vivid as if it had happened only yesterday.
I remember racing home from school one crisp fall afternoon. As I rushed into the kitchen, the tantalizing aroma of my mother’s special chocolate layer cake overpowered my senses.
The Incident occurred right after my mother placed the just-frosted cake on the oilcloth-covered table. She turned her back briefly, and Tommy, who was the youngest and most agile of my three brothers, managed to climb up on the table in about two seconds flat. He leaned one elbow on the table, and was about to sneak a bit of frosting with his other hand. All of a sudden, his elbow slipped on the oilcloth, and splat! His hand landed right on top of the cake, leaving a perfect imprint.
Mother turned around and glared. Those were Depression days, and a chocolate layer cake was strictly a once-a-month treat. Besides, we were expecting Mrs. Coleman, our next-door neighbor, for dinner that night.
So naturally, we all expected an explosion. But to our astonishment, Mother said, “That gives me an idea!” She calmly outlined the handprint on the cake with white icing. Then she placed a candied violet on the ring finger and a white icing Victorian ruffle at the wrist. And at dessert time, when she brought the cake in, she announced in, she announced grandly to Mrs. Coleman that this was called ‘Hand-Me-Down’ Chocolate Cake — from a recipe that had been in the family for generations!
That’s really all there was to the Incident. But every time Mother baked her chocolate layer cake, we’d beg her to turn it into a “Hand-Me-Down” again. And, like mothers throughout history, she would always give in.
‘Hand-me-down’ chocolate cake recipe
3/4 cup butter or margarine
1-3/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Hershey’s Cocoa
1-1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/3 cups water
Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla; beat 1 minute at medium speed. Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt; add alternately with water to creamed mixture. Pour batter into 2 greased and floured 8-inch cake pans. Bake at 350F for 35 to 40 minutes. Cool. Frost with chocolate frosting and decorate.