a bunny cake
March 12, 2007

My grandmother was known for her cakes—so much so that Bunny Cakes became a thing known to all newcomers to Kosciusko, Miss. Today would have been her 81st birthday.

It's probably falsely sentimental to bake a posthumous birthday cake. I rarely remembered her birthday without parental prodding, and, what's more, for most of my life she couldn't eat sugar (not that that stopped her from baking with it). But I've collected her variations on pound cake and I'm envisioning something delicate and sugar-dusted, perched on glass cake stand, maybe adored with pink roses—something feminine, classic, Southern.

I'm only seconds into cake preparation when, typically, I'm taking my grandmother's edicts and blithely adapting them to my own life. Buttermilk pound cake (the best, although I am partial to chocolate pound cake icing and have been known to scrape it off cakes in the pantry) calls for lemon flavoring, and I don't want to go bodega-hopping to find it. Since I'm already mixing my own buttermilk (3/4 cup skim milk, 1/8 cup half and half and 1/8 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice heated for 20 seconds in the microwave to sour), I add about half a teaspoon of grated lemon peel.

I'm thinking about an alternative icing plan as well. My grandmother coated her cakes with thick, candly-like icing. But I want a dusting of powdered sugar or a drizzling of butter and lemon juice.

I pour the batter into my rose bundt pan. I've had some trouble with this pan, but I'm feeling way too optimistic to consider this. But sure enough, when the cake comes out of the oven it stubbornly refuses to unstick. I prod and bang before, finally, the cake thumps onto a plate—or half of it does. My delicate Southern dessert has ripped through the center. No worries, I think, and flip it bottom-side-up onto a cake stand. The bottom has a rounded, smooth surface, and for an instant I see what I've imagined. Then three triangular faultlines appear, and the cake crumbles into thirds. I try to prop up each side with crumbs, but it's more or less futile. I contemplate tears, but as there are no grandmothers (or even mothers within 1500 miles) to fix it, I just eat a handful of crumbs.

It certainly tastes like pound cake, even if it doesn't measure up as a Platonic ideal. The lemon peel makes the cake more tart than I remember, and without icing I can deem it suitable breakfast food.

When she died, Grandma Bunny left half a dozen or so cakes in the outdoor freezer. We took some to the hospital and some to the minister. She probably could have fed her own funeral luncheon. I can only imagine that one of her great frustrations must have been that she couldn't find a cost-effective way to mail a frozen pound cake. Her cakes weren't particularly elegant or delicate. But they did travel well.

BUNNY EWELL HART, March 12, 1926 - November 21, 2006
WADE SUTHERLAND HART, May 13, 1925 - February 5, 2007