The most southern of southern deliciousness? Some might say grits but what makes grits the “good” kind is a matter of opinion. The best grits to this Atlanta girl have an obscene amount of butter, which could prove embarrassing in a restaurant or on a first date, plus liberal usage of salt and a sprinkling of pepper. Some like cheese in their grits, or shrimp but I’m a purist. Unfortunately, restaurants rarely do them well. Then there are many, like Jay, who would really prefer them not to be on their plate for fear they will touch (and infect) their eggs. Next up as a possibility is cornbread – which is an immediate “no” because so much cornbread has sugar or something else sweet added – yuck! Ok, ok….how about fried chicken you say? Yes, I can see that as a contender – just be sure it is juicy yet not greasy, crispy skin and succulent – but then you have the white or dark meat debate to haggle over.
All of this brings me to the very best of southern delicacies, which is anything but delicate – the Southern Pound Cake. As a little girl, I got to help Ello, our housekeeper/nanny/cook, who was also my adored friend, make her mouth-watering pound cake regularly. My “help” began at around two years old, by watching and licking the beaters, then progressed to sifting and separating eggs to eventually mastering the complete recipe myself (what a proud day). I used to beg Ello (pronounced L.O.) to leave a little more batter in the bowl for me to lick. I couldn’t believe that she could scrape that batter to where the bowl barely needed to be cleaned! My heart jumped with joy whenever I heard Mama say, “Evelyn, would you mind making a pound cake for…..” Apparently, a funeral spread, a wedding shower, a new neighbor’s counter just weren’t complete without one of Ello’s pound cakes. I even had a little business when I was about 14 when Mama’s friends would pay me to make them one of Ello’s pound cakes. Not as good as Ello’s, of course, but they sweetly humored me until my interest waned.
Of course, there are a million different recipes for this southern mainstay. Everyone who makes a pound cake thinks theirs is the best. My neighbor/surrogate Grandma, Granny Bettye makes a delicious one that she gives as gifts often. She takes two (one is just not enough!) to the salon we share on occasion and one day, the color specialist, Liz, begged for the recipe. Bettye gave the recipe to Liz, who excitedly tried it out. Liz was crushed – it didn’t taste the same as Bettye’s! Liz wondered if Bettye had left something out on the recipe card (by accident of course). Betty’s response is that it might be the pan, which after 1000 cakes is very well seasoned. My friend, Julie, made a pound cake for our family this Christmas. I am not exaggerating when I say her car was not out of our driveway before William and I had stripped off the saran wrap and cut ourselves a big slice. I have a running joke with my friend, Jacki, who had the nerve to tell me my pound cake wasn’t the “real” kind because it has sour cream in it. We laugh about it but I’m sure to some, it is no laughing matter.
But here is what I know, a warm piece of pound cake right out of the oven is something close to heaven for most. Most homemade pound cakes are pretty darned good, no matter the nuances of the recipe. Anytime of day is a good time for a yummy slice with a glass of cold milk or a cup of joe. Toasted with a little butter spread on it is the perfect breakfast. A pound cake is great for a house full of guests – at the ready for midnight snackers or an afternoon pick me up. Arriving at anyone’s door with a pound cake in hand makes you a welcome sightt indeed. A delicious pound cake can make a celebration more festive and a sad occasion more bearable. A pound cake is a gift of love.
I am happy to share just one of the wonderful legacies my dear Ello left me.
ELLO’S FAMOUS SOUTHERN POUND CAKE
3 cups plain White Lilly flour, sifted 3 times
3 cups sugar
2 sticks butter, softened
6 eggs, separated
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. lemon extract
¼ tsp. baking soda
8 oz. sour cream
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease (with Crisco) and flour Bundt pan. Sift flour three times. Cream butter and sugar together. Add 6 egg yolks, gently stirring each one in separately, by hand. Add vanilla and lemon extracts and baking soda. Stir by hand. Add one cup of flour, stir. Add sour cream, stir. Add another cup of flour, stir. Add rest of flour and stir in but not too well. Beat egg whites until stiff but not too dry. Fold egg whites into batter with large spoon. Beat with mixer until smooth – about 3 minutes. Pour batter into pan and gently shake it until evenly distributed.
Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour and five minutes.
Then send up a little prayer to Ello of thanksgiving and perhaps a request to keep an eye on your cake.