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A little story about my great grandmother
My great grandmother was a sharecropper all her life. She, her husband, and four kids would live in little shack houses provided by land owners and plant and raise cotton for them in exchange for lodging and a few monthly staples such as a 25lb sack of flour and dried beans.
Every now and then, the would get a roll of bologna, and that was a RARE treat. As harvest season came near, the entire family would set to work in the fields picking cotton, even the youngest children. Lela (my great grandmother), would come up to the house at lunchtime after having picked cotton since before the sun came up, and dig up some root vegetables from the garden in order to cook a little lunch for the kids before they all headed out into the fields again.
At night, the kids would be so tired that they would come into the house and fall asleep the first place the sat down. Lela would get a bowl of cool water and a cloth and go around to wash their feet while they slept before covering them up and falling asleep herself. When they turned in the cotton crop, the land owner would let them have a percentage of the profits – minus any money he felt they “owed” him for the meager food rations he had provided.
Throughout the year she would skimp away little ingredients here and there. A little sugar, some honey, raisins….whatever she could find. Each year on Christmas eve Lela would send her kids to bed early. She would then stay up all night long baking cakes with the ingredients she had put back. She never had a single recipe. There would be a cake with dried apples she had reconstituted and fried as both filling and topping. A raisin cake, a coconut cake, cinnamon, etc.
When the kids woke up Christmas morning, seven cakes were sitting on the table. The kids took turns until the new year choosing a cake to eat each day – and they did eat an entire cake each day- for seven days. My grandmother still gets twinkles of excitement in her eyes when she talks about those cakes.
I just love to think about that as I’m baking at Christmas each year. They had such a hard life, but Christmas was perhaps even more magical because of those cakes than it is for most of us these days who have more than they could have ever imagined having.