Write On!

War Cake

In Responses, Uncategorized on December 30, 2011 at 5:35 am

by Jill Glendening Clingan

Annie sat at her scarred dining-room table and fingered the cake recipes from her wooden recipe box. She furrowed her brow in concentration and didn’t even notice the wavy strands of brown hair that had escaped from her low ponytail and now curtained her soft, gray-blue eyes. She seemed to be looking through that curtain of hair into a tiny world that somehow existed inside that box. Some recipes were stained with fingerprints of vanilla, butter, oil. She self-consciously bent her nose to one of these and sniffed, hungering for a memory, a taste.

Mystery Cake

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

Coconut Cake

Other recipes, the more complicated ones, were adorned with curlicues and spirals. She had a habit of doodling when she was concentrating.

Lady Baltimore Cake

Italian Cream Cake

Waldorf-Astoria Red Velvet Cake

And then some recipes were recently penciled in on lined 3×5cards. These were the newer recipes, with curious ingredient combinations composed in an age of want, of rationing, of war.

Vinegar Cake

War Cake

Red, White, and Blue Carrot Nut Ring

Annie sighed. She got up from the table and walked over to the sugar jar on the counter. Glancing over her shoulder—she didn’t want her husband, Joseph, to see her–she opened the jar and peered down inside. She scratched her index finger on the bottom of the jar and quickly brought her finger to her mouth for a taste, just a tiny taste. Nothing but a few crystals of sugar remained in the bottom of that jar, but she closed her eyes anyway, tasted the sweet, tiny crumb, and imagined the smooth sweetness of Red Velvet Cake, the rich textures and flavors of Coconut Cake, the satisfyingly sweet crunch of… She stopped, sighed again, and closed the jar.

Annie tucked some of her long, curly brown hair behind her ears and sat back at the table. She knew she had much for which to be thankful. She had grown up with her parents in this small Kansas town right through the Depression. She had walked to school in her flour-sack dresses and had helped her family coax food from an earth that fought back with drought and dust. But still, somehow, there was always sugar. Her mother would often garnish their simple meals with an angel food cake or an apple crumb cake. Mr. Fisher, the kind grocer with sparkling brown eyes and a funny mustache, would wink and sneak her a Valomilk Candy Cup or some Licorice Snaps whenever she stopped by on her way home from school to pick up flour or sugar for her mother. And then once, when her mother was away for the afternoon, she and her sister even baked up a batch of fudge and ate the whole thing before their mother came home. Annie smiled at the memory.

But now, it was wartime. Many boys from town were far away fighting in World War II, while those at home were fighting a different kind of battle. Food was rationed. Money was tight. Joseph was eking out an existence for them growing wheat. Annie was doing her part to help both her family and her country by tending a Victory Garden. Just this past week she had canned tomatoes, corn, spaghetti sauce, relish, and apples. She and the other wives had met at the community canning center to preserve some of the last fruits and vegetables of the season, and because of the sugar rationing, they had agreed to pool their sugar together. They worked all day washing, peeling, chopping, boiling. It was exhausting work, but much more fun since the ladies talked and laughed their way through the day. Annie had gone home that night with limp hair and a limp dress, but her heart was proud as she marched boxes of jars into the kitchen and displayed them with a flourish to Joseph. He had hugged her tightly—limp dress and limp hair and all—and they had happily danced and spun around the kitchen. This winter, she and Joseph would sit at their table and twirl long strands of spaghetti onto their forks, spoon applesauce into their hungry mouths, and taste the sweet fruit and flaky crust of an apple pie. She was grateful.

But today, Annie wanted cake.

“Sugar is scarce. Make it stretch,” read a poster from the U.S. Office of Price Administration.

I’m trying, Annie thought.

What is wrong with me? she wondered. Why am I obsessed with cake? I have two weeks to wait until the next sugar ration. I have to pull myself together. Now.

She tugged herself away from her recipe box and deliberately put it away. She needed to start on dinner. She was just beginning to quick-sear the hamburgers when Joseph walked through the door. He was sweaty. He was dirty. He was grinning. She eagerly read the paper he thrust into her hands:

“Secretary of Agriculture Clinton P. Anderson in a sudden move late today ended household and institutional sugar rationing effective at 12:01 A.M. tomorrow….”*

Annie gasped and stood on her tiptoes to give Joseph a happy kiss. He grasped her soft hands with his rough, earth-worn ones and once again they happily twirled around their kitchen. She giggled. He laughed. He left to go clean up for supper. She went back to quick-searing the hamburgers and dreaming about cake.

Mystery Cake

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

Coconut Cake

Lady Baltimore Cake

Italian Cream Cake

Waldorf-Astoria Red Velvet Cake

Annie smiled. Tomorrow would be baking day.

*I took a bit of creative license with history. I imply that World War II is still going on during this story, but sugar-rationing ended nearly two years after the war was over. Also, sugar rationing ended on June 12, 1947, and obviously Annie wouldn’t have been canning apples and tomatoes in June!

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  1. Just love it, Jill. I love the way you bring these two characters to life in just a few words… And show the love between them.

  2. Really, really great! Perfect amount of details, such a great way to vingnette a large amount of time! Thanks for writing!

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