Sunday, September 14, 2008

Cake with a Story and a Sweet Memory

This is the cake which I will take for dessert to the meeting of my Short Book Club tomorrow. Yes it does look a little plain but it is delicious and dobs of whipped cream dress up any cake you know.

For me this is a very special cake, Sunken Grape Cake, a cake with a story, which I would like to share with you. The recipe* was given to me by a dear friend, C, who sadly passed away a several years ago from cancer. Below are parts of the eulogy I gave at her memorial service, which was a story in itself as I had viral laryngitis but could not persuade anyone to read the eulogy for me. So I croaked into the microphone and what with my accent and my defective voice I am sure no one understood a word.
C was not one of those friends of very long standing whom I met when I first came to Canada. In fact we first met in the early nineties, when we belonged to the Pfaff Club, both owners of a Pfaff computerized sewing machine and together we learned the intricacies and capabilities of our new toy.
Later, in the mid nineties, we crossed paths again as I joined the Islanders group of the Faculty Women's Club, of which C was a long time member. Then when I retired fully in 1998, I joined many of the other interest groups of the Club and she seemed to belong to all the same ones as I did. So we quickly became friends due to our common interests. She was from Edinburgh, my father was from Glasgow, I had traveled in her homeland and was interested in the stories of her life there. We both had lived in London for a time and both had traveled widely. We shared the immigrant experience, coming from far away places to settle in Vancouver and to my mind we just seemed to be kindred spirits.
We spent hours talking on the phone and often went together on the various outings of the club. The more I got to know her, the more I realized what a wonderful, kind, generous person she was. She was the first person to extend a helping hand, to give someone a lift, to lend something she had to anyone who needed it and to welcome all the new people who joined the Club, either for short periods or for longer ones. But it was really hard to reciprocate because she wouldn’t let you do things for her.
On one occasion I was able to lend her a navy blazer for a sail past she was to attend with her husband. I was so happy to be able to do something for her for a change, but of course when she returned the blazer it had been dry cleaned and was accompanied by a clematis plant in a pot, which I still have to this day.
C. loved food. She was a wonderful cook. She knew all about food ingredients and all the classic and nouveaux ways of preparing food. She always knew what the exotic things were in the recipes or on the plate when we lunched out together. She knew all the best restaurants and she formed our little group of five people, the Lunch Bunch, who ate out once a month when we tried all the new or different restaurants which, usually, she discovered. She was a gracious hostess and constantly tried new recipes which she discovered in books, on the Food Network and online. We always teased her about watching the Food Network.
She also generously shared these recipes with her friends. In fact one of the recipes, known as C’s Sunken Grape Cake, has a life of its own. We all seemed to make it often and bring it to various events. We had to check with each other, is C bringing it, or someone else perhaps, to whatever occasion for which we were asked to provide cakes or squares. We even shared it with other friends so there are people who never knew C making it.

In fact, someone brought it to the the reception after her memorial service and there were people at the reception who asked me for the recipe which I dutifully emailed to them since I knew she would have graciously offered it if asked or even if you only said I really like that cake.
I admired C greatly for her goodness, her kindness, her generosity of spirit and her genuineness. But most of all I admired her for the way in which she handled the last few months of her life, with such grace, courage and dignity.

C was co-convener of the Thursday Walking Group, as I am now. I'm sure you know what a close-knit group we are as we go for a walk in various places all over the Lower Mainland and always have lunch together afterwards. Some of the members, who are unable to walk so far now, or have various periods of incapacity due to injury or whatever, often meet us for lunch anyway.
So, as C underwent various tests to discover the reason for her ill health, we all worried along with her. When she phoned to tell me the definitive diagnosis she said, “I don’t want you to feel sorry for me. I don’t want people to treat me differently and I don’t want to talk about it.” I hope we didn’t treat her differently but of course we talked often about it. How could we not? It took over her life and she herself brought it up all the time. But she never gave up hope, even when the medical profession could do nothing more for her. She was always cheerful when we spoke, in person or on the phone.
On December 8th, 2005, the walking group met for a Christmas pot luck lunch at a member's house. C was determined to be there and her husband did indeed bring her. She was frail but beautifully groomed and dressed, as always, with her lovely smiling face and her spirit shining through. We were all delighted to see her. It was a very joyous occasion and 14 of us sat at the table and celebrated the season and the fact that she was able to be there with us. Someone took some wonderful pictures with her digital camera, to memorialize the occasion and she sent them to C. Most of us did not see her again (she died ten days later), although we all phoned regularly and if she was not well enough to talk to us, we talked to her answering machine. And we wrote cards and sent flowers, anything to show her how much we cared.
We all miss our dear friend C and talk about her often. Yes, she belonged to the Short Book Club too, so it is fitting that we eat her Sunken Grape Cake at one of our meetings, don't you think?

* Recipe for this Sunken Grape Cake can be found here, although it is actually the creation of Monique Sui, co-owner of Zefiro in Portland.


CalumCarr said...


I'm not often lost for words but I am.


Dragonstar said...

A beautiful, moving tribute.

And the cake looks delicious!

Janice Thomson said...

What a touching post JMB. It's an honour to know such a compassionate soul.

CherryPie said...

The others have said it all, very moving xx

Dr.John said...

A beautiful tribute to your friend.

James Higham said...

Ah, that all cakes could have such a story.

leslie said...

What an extraordinary tribute to your friend. Sounds like you felt about her the way I felt about my friend Kathy who just passed away from cancer. I'm going to check out that recipe now.

Nunyaa said...

What can I say? It is all written before me, beautiful words from a compassionate person for another who was the same :)

mrsnesbitt said...

A lovely cake and a heart warming story.
Lovely indeed.

Carver said...

What a beautiful story and moving tribute to your friend.

jmb said...

Thanks to everyone for commenting on this post which I was hesitant to post but finally decided to do so anyway.

Taking this cake to the book club meeting did allow us to reminisce about our friend so it was a very good thing. Someone even said what do you thing C would have thought about this book, which 6 out of 10 did not even finish because they disliked it so. We don't believe she would have finished it either.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

A lovely tribute to your friend and the cake looks absolutely delicious.

Ellee Seymour said...

Thanks for the recipe, I would love to try it. Just wish I was sharing it with you and your friends. And yes, it is a lovely story, very touching.

Sienna said...

What a courageous lady and beautiful tribute to her. The human spirit is truly remarkeable, and you know I'm going to give that recipe a burl.