My Mom Mom was beautiful. Beautiful in the way women born in the 20s were. She was always well-groomed, buzzing about tending to and caring for someone or something. She was a God fearing woman. She sat in the same spot every Sunday, and she had her name inscribed in the front of the hymnals that rested in the pew in front of her. She never missed a Sunday at church, or a Wednesday, or a Friday.
Apparently, before any church bazaar (as we call church fundraisers/charity events in the South), she would hole up in her kitchen and make hundreds of cheese straws (recipe to come) and her infamous carrot cake. She was a one-woman operation who’d mix and bake up confections for months before an event.
I inherited her Carrot Cake recipe before I got married. I never got to taste “hers” (or one that she baked) because I didn’t touch carrot cake when I was a kid. Which was ridiculous. But like every child, I couldn’t really conceptualize carrots in a sweet cake. Now, it’s one of my absolute favorites.
Though I never ate a slice of carrot cake she prepared, as soon as I started making her recipe, I felt a strong sense of nostalgia. Was it her handwriting on the recipe card? Was it knowing she had followed this exact same recipe for years when making the very cake I was making? Was it because I had watched her make it before? I don’t know if anyone has ever hypothesized or written about the correlation between nostalgia and a ‘haunting’ but I would wager a bet that the two are synonymous or at least closely connected. Haunting is uninvited. Maybe nostalgia is when we invite the ghost into ourselves. In any case, we’ll call this instance a happy haunting tied to memories and experiences with my grandmother that I didn’t know existed in my subconscious. I’d like to think my Mom Mom and I were sharing a moment together in my kitchen.
Neva’s carrot cake is flawless as-is. People literally lined up for one of these beauties. It even won a blue ribbon at the North Carolina State Fair!
- For the Cake
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 cup vegetable oil (such as Crisco)
- 4 eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla, divided
- 2 cups self-rising flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 3 cups grated carrots
- For the Filling
- 3½ cup powdered sugar
- 1 stick butter, room temperature
- 2 tsp. vanilla
- 1 cup chopped pecans
- 8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
- Line 3 round 8-inch cake pans with parchment paper and heat the oven to 350*F. Add sugar, oil, eggs, and 1 teaspoon vanilla to a bowl. Beat well.
- In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, and cinnamon. Add slowly to the sugar/oil mixture, stirring to incorporate. Fold in the carrots. Divide among 3 prepared pans.
- Bake for 30 minutes. Once cake passes the toothpick test, remove from oven and cool on wire racks.
- For the filling/frosting, use an electric mixer to mix the confectioners' sugar, butter, remaining 1 teaspoon vanilla, and cream cheese on medium-high speed until smooth. Turn off mixer. Add chopped pecans and mix on medium-low speed until nuts are incorporated. Refrain from eating all of it with a spoon.
- Spread between layers and on the side and top of cake once the cake has cooled completely.