Catholic Food: On Cake and Remembrance

by Kim Long

I love a good ghost story hands down, no questions asked. Fall decorations and autumnal menus court me with perseverance, those sneaky suitors. I find myself drawn to pumpkins of all shapes and sizes, glow-in-the-dark skeletons, and I have a Pandora channel called Spooky Symphonies. I am soothed by overcast skies, minor key music, and am seldom out of sorts when stirring a big pot of something on the stove.

Is it any wonder I love October and November? These are months we celebrate ghosts and goblins, begging door-to-door, saints invoked and souls prayed for.

Is it any surprise that I have my own real ghost story? Or at least a diligent search for the graves of two ancestors of whom I have only some stories from childhood, a fading, curling photograph and a sweater with more than a hole or two (gifts from the unwelcome combination of time, wool and moths).

Here is how it goes: Uncle Joe and Aunt Ruby Cumella lived in Shreveport. They were buried here. When I moved to Shreveport, I had a burning desire to find their graves if for no other reason (and there were many) than to pay my respects. I heard all my life about the gracious spirit Aunt Ruby had, how she was loved and respected. My paternal grandmother and she were sisters and “Mamaw” spoke in hushed tones about Aunt Ruby. At one point in my late teenage years I followed Mamaw around with a pencil and notebook desperate for family history. All I could get out of her about Aunt Ruby was she knitted, made a coconut cake each Christmas and was married to Joe who was “eye-talian.” Then after a strong cup of Maxwell House coffee, she could be persuaded to open the cedar chest (an experience not unlike a treasure chest) and pull out the photo of Aunt Ruby and the sweater she knitted. Now these artifacts rest in my care.

I recall examining the stitches and wondering what kind of needles she used, where the pattern originated and why in the world couldn’t she have lived a bit longer. Suffice to say I felt connected to her then and still do.

With the help of persistence I managed to write down Mamaw’s memory of the coconut cake recipe in longhand with a number 2 pencil in a wire composition book. With the help of ancestry.com, I found out about the pair of them. She was born in Grand Cane, he in Caccamo, Sicily. She married Joseph, born Giuseppe, at the age of 19 in Benton, LA. She died in 1963 and he lived for many years until they were reunited in Heaven in 1984. I called every Catholic church in Shreveport until I found out that Uncle Joe had been buried by Msgr. Clayton and finally I had a location.

When I stood before their double headstone it felt glorious to have found them. It was my Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail moment as this surely was a treasure! This November I will take fall flowers, write their names in the Book of Remembrance, and this year I shall, in their memory, make the 30 day prayer for the souls in purgatory, while believing in my heart they are smiling down on me and all of our scattered family.

May their souls and the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace. AMEN.

Coconut Cake

Cake Ingredients:
• 1 cup butter, softened
• 2 cups sugar
• 4 large eggs
• 3 1/4 cups all purpose flour
• 1 tablespoon baking powder
• 1 can Coco Lopez coconut cream (add a little more milk to achieve right consistency)
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 1 teaspoon coconut extract

Sour Cream Filling Ingredients:
• 2 cups powdered sugar
• 1 (16 ounce) carton sour cream
• 1 small carton whipping cream, whipped
• 2 six ounce packages frozen coconut, thawed
Directions for filling: Combine all ingredients EXCEPT coconut. Once ingredients are combined, add coconut.

Directions:
1) Beat butter at medium speed until fluffy.
2) Gradually add sugar beating well.
3) Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
4) Combine flour and baking powder; add to creamed mixture alternately with coconut cream ( 1/2 cup milk if needed).
5) Stir in extracts.
6) Pour into greased and floured pans (you may use two layer pans, I used the large Wilton round pan)
7) Bake until tester comes out clean at 350 degrees (about 30 minutes or so). Let cool completely.
8) Split cool layers and spread with sour cream filling.
9) Use your favorite frosting recipe to frost the cake. Sprinkle coconut on cake if desired.

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