Seven Cakes – Though Dirt Poor, They Had Cake For Christmas


Life during the depression in rural Alabama wasn’t too different from any other time of year for my people. You see, they were sharecroppers – dirt farmers who didn’t even own their own dirt. They wouldn’t have known if the world had been prosperous, their lives had always been a struggle of hard work and all too often relying on hope for the next meal.

This time of year, there wasn’t a whole lot to be thankful for, other than the fact that there wasn’t any cotton to pick. For them, winter was as bleak as the Alabama landscape. In Alabama, we are not often afforded the sight of glistening snow resting atop hills and trees in a winter wonderland. Here, the sky just gets gray and the landscape browns – bare trees, brown grass, and muddy earth where fields lay in wait for spring . . . as far as the eye can see.

My great grandmother had four children and they all lived in a small shack house. Wood was a precious thing and that meant only heating one room. My grandmamma says “it got so cold at night. Mama would heat rocks and wrap ‘em up in old towels and things to put in bed with us but we still got so cold. You didn’t dare get out of that bed unless you just had to”.

Families would work all year for the farmer in exchange for monthly rations of staples such as dried beans, flour, and the occasional bit of meat. At harvest’s end they’d get a percentage of profits on the cotton, but all of the staples which had been provided for them were then deducted from the final cost, leaving families in a continued state of dependence upon the farm owner for enough food to survive the winter.

But with winter, came Christmas, and my great grandmother always did manage to make it special despite their hardships. Lela’s life had always been a hard one. Growing up one of nine children in Jackson County, she had spent her childhood traveling from farm to farm with her parents and siblings, picking cotton and tending to whatever crops the farm owner decided to plant. Now she had four kids to provide a Christmas for and keeping them fed and clothed took about all she had and then some.

But she never failed them. She always came through, especially at Christmastime.

Lela squirreled away ingredients all year long. A little sugar here, some dried apples there, maybe some raisins and a bit of cinnamon. After the kids went to bed on Christmas Eve, she’d set to work. Using only what she had on hand and no recipes to speak of, Lela would stay awake all night baking cakes in her little wood stove. She’d make an apple stack cake, a raisin cake, yellow cake with chocolate icing, peanut butter cake, and so on. There was never a plan beyond that of needing to make seven of them – one for each day from Christmas until the New Year.

The next morning, four sets of eyes would open wide and four sets of feet would hurry out of their cold beds into the only heated room in the house where their faces would light up at seeing the bounty of seven cakes sitting on the worn kitchen table. I know how their faces looked because my grandmother’s still lights up the same way now, some seventy years later, when she talks about those cakes. The kids took turns being the one to choose the cake they ate that day and between the six of them and any company who happened by, they made short work of it and were ready to start with a new one the next morning.

Most kids today would consider having cakes baked for you as your only Christmas gift to be a disappointment. But amid all of the wrappings and bows, gift sets and feasts, I hope your Christmas somehow manages to be as magical as it was in that little sharecroppers house in Alabama during the depression, when four kids woke up with stars in their eyes at finding seven cakes.


For a little Christmas gift from Southern Plate, please click here.

Merry Christmas from Southern Plate!


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  1. Sandra says

    This touched my heart. My mother could have been in that picture. She was raised as a sharecropper’s daughter and I’m sure lived the same life as your grandmomma. Merry Christmas to you and yours. Thanks for sharing your talent and may God richly bless you in all you do.

  2. Cindy says

    Christy, I just loved your story. It reminded me of when my parent’s would take us to our Great Grandmothers farm in West Virginia. They worked the land and was able to live on it and enjoy all the good bounty they produced. It was hard work, but going there is some of my fondest memories. I think all children should have a chance to go to a farm. I think the children today get to many things for Christmas and they don’t appreciate them like we did. Even though times are hard, I still would like to go back to the olden days. I miss my childhood. I liked it when my Mother styed home and my Daddy worked. I had the best childhood a child could have. It’s nice to have those wonderful memories. Christy, I hope you and your family have a wonderful Christmas and the best to you all in the New Year. God Bless

  3. B says

    As usual your story leaves me feeling great and a bit guilty. I envy you your wonderful family and the wonderful stories and memories. My Mother provided wonderful Christmases again like your Grand Ma a little bit at a time. Doll clothes sewn all year and tucked away, Many things that as a child I did not notice must have taken lots of planning and sacrafice it was not till I was 12 or 13 that I noticed she never had a new winter coat. She made Christmas for us because when she was a child she and her sisters did not really have that my Grand Ma was one of those (thank heaven) people who did NOT like children. Thank you for awakening some nice memories.

  4. Barbara Marona says

    Christy, I grew up about like that. My mother raised 7 kids by herself, and I don’t ever remember her complaint. She cleaned and cooked for other people. Every time I read your story it brings back memories. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Shirley Pressnell says

    Since I am your neighbor in Meridianville Al. , I feel like I can see ya’ll sitting at my table enjoying those cakes and making a memory. My mother has dementia and somehow managed to remember how to make her fresh coconut cake for our family gathering. Recipes, cooking, canning, freezing and holiday baking is ingrained into our very souls in this family. 38 of us went to Greenbrier for lunch, pretty close to your home, then back to MeMe’s for that cake and so much more. Please continue to charm us with your southern stories cause it’s like home to all of us. Merry Christmas, your Madison County friend, SHIRLEY

  6. judy gardner says

    thank you so much for sharing! my grandparents and great grandparents were farmers, with one of my great aunt’s family being sharecroppers. that life is a hard row to hoe (pun not intended). mama has told me about Christmases with little money but lots of joy, and on Easter they used onion skins and such to dye the Easter eggs. oh, and one of my great aunt’s name was Lela (we called her “Aint Lelar”) – i have never heard that name since. merry Christmas to you and your entire family!! you are blessed!

  7. Linda Ramos says

    That story brought tears to my eyes….my Mom was one of six children left fatherless when her Daddy was hurt in a coal mine in W. Virginia. She remembers Christmases when all she got was maybe an orange and candy stick. The last Christmas she remembered with her Daddy she got a doll! She could tell me all about it years and years later. Grandpa was buried the day after Christmas so this time of year was always very special to her. I miss her so much and know she’s finally getting to spend another Christmas with her Daddy.

  8. Cindy says

    You always have such great stories. They remind me of the stories from both sides of my family. Both of my grandmothers grew up during the depression. I remember my Ma-Ma always saved everything-she would wash and reuse the bread bags, tin foil, etc. I never met her husband-he died when my mom was only 6 years old. She was left to raise 6 children on her own. She was a hard working woman-worked all of her life in a cotton mill. She was an amazing woman. My grandmother was also a hard worker-she and Papa raised 5 kids as well. All my grandparents are gone, but not forgotten. I love to retell their stories to my son. Merry Christmas to you and your family!

  9. Karen Ely says

    My grandparents and great grandparents grew up in DeKalb and Jackson counties also, and my 85 yr old mom talks about the apple stack cake that her granny used to make. I have searched high and low to find a cake like the one my Mom describes to me but absolutely cannot. Do YOU have the original recipe for Lila’s stack cake? Because if you do and will share it, I may finally have solved the mystery.

  10. Mary G says

    I absolutely loved your story and love you too. You bring such joy to my life with your stories and your recipes. Merry Christmas to you and your family and this comes with as much love as can come from South Alabama.

  11. Penny says


    This was so thoughtful of you to not only share the story of Seven cakes but also the recipes. In honor of your Gramma I will try and be sure to bake at least one cake before New Years and think of your Family .

    Thank-you and best wishes for a blessed, Merry Christmas….


  12. Judy Conaway Dent says

    Thanks for your Story Ms Christy – Our Family has never had a Lot and we still don’t – But we are very Thankful for what the Lord has allowed us to have. And Im a Poor – Poor Rich Girl. We don’t have much – But in Heaven we will have it all – and I will get to see our Daddy – Our mama and our Three Brothers and my only sister. I hope you and your Family has a Very Blessed Christmas. God Bless Judy Conaway Dent ~

    • Judy Conaway Dent says

      This story reminds me of our family – Mama and Daddy had seven children ~ but We have had to say – ” See you later – this aint a Goodbye to – Three of our Brother – my only Sister and to both Parents ~ God Bless Judy Conaway Dent

  13. Marsha M. - SOCAL says

    My mother in-law was born into a family in Arkansas that were sharecroppers. They lived in a falling down house with no electricity and no running water. She and her sister had to work along side their parents to keep the family going, and she only got about a 5th grade education. She always worked hard all her life. She’s 86 now, and tells me stories of how she grew up. I don’t know if this generation could ever live like they had to. She is a good cook, and her cornbread dressing is my favorite. She is so dear to me. I guess a lot of people grew up like that.

  14. Susan the farm quilter says

    You got a bit choked up there at the end of the video…I just sat here with tears rolling down my cheeks! The love you share with your family is evident in everything you do. Thank you for sharing that love with us. May you and yours have the most blessed Christmas and that the New Year holds more blessing then your heart can hold!

  15. Jim Appleton says

    I’m now 71 years old. My parents we also Alabama Sharecroppers so this story touches my soul !! It also reminds me of two books I’ve read: The ” Painted House” by John Grisham and ” All Over But the Shoutin ‘ by Rick Bragg. Thank you for this post Christy…it brought back vivid memories of a different time in our lives when our parents and grandparents did unbelievable things to survive !

  16. Elizabeth (Liz) says

    Christy, my face is wet I too know what it means to have a little but have a lot. My uncle was a good man. He would gather the men to help with the butchering and my dear aunt would fill dishpans full so their family could have meat and they would salt it down.Some of sharecroppers was not treated fairly by the owners of these farms. my grand-daddy would tells about hard times was glad to be able to help others. Yes it was cold and a pot-belly stove in the parlor.Thanks for sharing your story/God bless you and your family as celebrate the birth of our LORD. Love Liz

  17. Carol says

    It is my great pleasure to read what you write. Life can be hard but a joyful and lite heart can make it wonderful. God’s blessings on you and yours. Merry Christmas and a healthy, Happy New Year. From a Southern transplant, to Oregon.

  18. Ruth Belton says

    I too grew up on a farm and my dad was a share cropper. We were poor. There were 8 of us children and mom and dad. We didn’t have much as far as toys for Christmas but we didn’t miss it because we were not use to getting all those things. We always had plenty of food with chickens, cows to milk, gardens, and my brothers were hunters. So with deer, rabbit, squirrels, chicken and fishing, we had meat. Dad and the boys would kill a hog but we usually didn’t have beef. We were blessed. We didn’t have the best of everything for sure. I remember my mom making our underware out of flour sacks. When she made us a dress she never used a pattern..we were so proud of our home made clothes… I love your recipes and love to read all your little sayings and hearing about your family and your little girl…Merry Christmas!

  19. Claudia says

    What a wonderful story of love, sacrifice, hardship and joy. Thank you for sharing it. A very Merry Christmas and a Blessed and Happy New Year to you. May we all be thrilled with the simple joys of Christmas.

  20. Jodie Sellars says

    Thank you so much for the touching story. I wish that children now knew of the hardships our great grandparents, and grandparents went thru, especially during a holiday like Christmas. You mostly got what you needed, not what you wanted, shoes, shirts, pants, socks, and dresses, or underware. If you got anything that you wanted it was home made….most times. And 9 out of 10 times it was a piece of candy, or cookies or even cakes. Those are great memories to have, in such a drab time of life.
    Again, I wish children now, knew just how grand they have life, at holidays.

  21. Billie says

    What a wonderful story! My great grandparents too were sharecroppers. To imagine the hardships they indured brings tears to my eyes, MerryChristmas to you. I enjoy all your prayers and stories, and of course the recipes.
    Thank you for the recipes I down loaded today. I will give them all my best efforts.
    Billie from Illinois

  22. Joan Abbott says

    What a lovely story about your family. We are so blessed today to have all the things that we have. I hope you and your family have the Merriest of Christmases and a wonderful New Year.
    Merry Christmas,
    Joan Abbott

  23. Donna says

    You have me overflowing with tears this morning. My folks divorced when I was 5 years old and my Mamaw and Papaw (maternal grandparents) raised me and my sister. I cannot imagine what my life would have been without them. My Mamaw had scars on her hands and fingers from picking cotton as soon as she was old enough to drag a sack behind her. My Papaw got up at the crack of dawn every morning and worked until dusk every evening. Some of my happiest memories are sitting on the front porch in the evenings counting the stars, cuddled up with them when I was a little girl. I know they “went without” a lot of things to raise up two little girls. Thanksgiving and Christmas were special because it was a time for families to be together. It’s been 40 years now since Jesus took Mamaw home, and Papaw joined her 28 years ago. There’s not a day goes by that I don’t miss them, but never more than at Christmas. Lots of tears, but smiles too at the memories of how very blessed I was to have them. God Bless you and your family here at Christmas and in the coming year. <3

  24. Susan says

    I read this morning, with my morning coffee, and it has helped put the holiday in perspective for me. It has been a difficult year and I’m struggling to find that “Christmas spirit,” but the story of your great-grandmother’s love for her family has helped. Thank you, and Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  25. Skuter says

    There are many types of games perfect for eanegemngt parties. Popular options include: Engaged Couple Trivia Contests: Guests could ask the couple questions about one another to see how well they really know each other, or the couple could ask guests questions to share information about their relationship. Questions such as how the couple met, where they took their first date, when their respective birthdays are, and what their favorite movies, music, or foods are can keep everyone involved and help introduce the couple to all the guests. The About to be Newlyweds Game: This variation on the popular Newlywed Game can be played by just the couple or by all couples at the party. Each couple is asked questions – rating one another’s attributes, remembering parts of their relationship, or questioning how well they know each other – and couples whose answers match score extra points. Diamond Ice Carving: Every guest is provided with an ice cube for this chilly game and must carve, melt, or sculpt it into a diamond shape. Another variation is to try to replicate the diamond shape of the bride-to-be’s eanegemngt ring. Karaoke ContestKaraoke Contests: Karaoke is a popular party game, and choosing duets or love songs will add romantic eanegemngt flair to the competition. Wedding Practice: Fast-paced games designed to replicate upcoming wedding events are always popular games to play at an eanegemngt party. A cake cutting contest is one fun option, or couples could race to get dressed in a tuxedo or used wedding gown. For even more laughs, require the bride-to-be to dress in the tuxedo while the groom-to-be must model the wedding dress. Three Legged Race: This may seem like more of a picnic game than a party game, but strapping couples’ legs together with wedding garters can help them practice the cooperation they’ll need to make it down the aisle. Movie Quotes: Use video clips, recordings, or quotes from romantic scenes that players must correctly identify in order to score. The winner’s prize could then be to choose which romantic comedy to watch at the party. Board Games: Couples can pair up to demonstrate if their relationship can last a brutal round of popular board games. More unique twists could be restricting communication to see if the couple understands one another’s body language, or to add romantic or matrimonial touches to each game’s rules. Themed Games: If the eanegemngt party has a theme, any related games would be fun and appropriate. A limbo contest for a beach or pool party or gaming tables for a casino themed party are great examples of the variety of games available.[edit]Additional ActivitiesIn addition to structured games, there are other less competitive activities that are perfect for eanegemngt parties. Guests could write their best marital or wedding planning advice in a keepsake journal, or two journals could be written – one for women and one for men. Guests could also share their hilarious horror stories about planning a wedding or being newlyweds along with what those incidents taught them about their significant other and how to have a happy relationship.


  1. […] 6. A post with title you’re most proud of. I’m not very good at post titles. I wish I was at times but its not something I’m gonna beat myself up over. Still, when I wrote the story of Seven Cakes (which is one I had been longing to write about for years) and it ran in a local nwespaper, the editor chose such a wonderful title that I went back and changed my post title to that as well. So thanks to Jennifer Hill, who came up with a title that says it all. The post also features a little gift for you to print. Read Seven Cakes – Though Dirt Poor, They Had Cake For Christmas […]

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