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! I played with the recipe because I had a couple gallon sized bags of spent grain on my hands from Chris’s most recent home brew. He brewed a rye IPA, so rye was what we had on hand. It’s sweet, malty flavor complemented everything going on in this cake. I also cut down on the sugar and replaced most of the oil with unsweetened applesauce.
- For the Cake
- ½ cup white sugar
- ½ cup packed brown sugar
- 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
- 4 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 2 cups self rising flour
- ½ cup whole wheat flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 2 tsp cinnamon
- 3 cups grated carrots
- 1½ cups spent grain
- 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
- In a bowl, beat together sugars, oil, applesauce, eggs, and vanilla.
- Sift together the flours, baking soda, and cinnamon. Slowly add to the sugar and wet ingredients. Beat well.
- Fold in spent grains and grated carrots.
- Divide among 3 prepared (I used parchment paper) round baking pans or a rectangular cake pan.
- Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Once cake passes the toothpick test, remove from oven and cool on wire racks.
- For the filling, using an electric mixer, mix powdered sugar, butter, vanilla, pecans, and cream cheese on medium-high speed. Refrain from eating all of it with a spoon.
- Spread between layers and on the side and top of cake.
- This cake can be frozen. Simply wrap in foil.