Years ago when my parents had a resort, I worked for them on Saturdays. One of the neighbor ladies also worked for them. Her name was Olivia, she was a tiny little old lady, she didn’t carry even one extra pound on her small frame. She had the usual mop of grey hair, tightly curled in one of those home perms. She had a very distinctive voice, all her own, kind of like a screechy little warbler. Olivia loved to talk, she would fill me in on all the news and her children’s latest accomplishments. Olivia did kitchens, I did bathrooms, my Mom scrubbed all the floors on her hands and knees. When the cottage was spotless we would make the beds and put down clean rugs.
My favorite part of the morning was the coffee break, Olivia was a fantastic baker and she always had baked something positively wonderful for coffee time. Now.. I have a sweet tooth, and I greatly appreciate anyone that can bake..but you have not lived until you have tasted Olivia’s Chocolate Cake with it’s special white frosting. It was perhaps just one of her "signature" desserts…but my very favorite by far. When ever she brought that cake I would ask her to leave me an extra piece, and she always did.
Years later when we moved to the lake. Olivia made that cake every year for me on my birthday. In between times, the phone would ring…she never ever said hello..just "Come have coffee .. I just baked your favorite cake." Driven by my love for that cake and a good visit around the table with both Olivia and her husband Walter..a bad day could instantly be transformed into one of fun and laughter. Walter always had a good story or two to tell, and Olivia usually would show me something she was sewing, she made lots of homemade gifts for her family. She made Teddy Bears and Rabbits, and sewed clothing for them..her latest creations would be all lined up on the back of the couch in the living room. A visit during late summer was one of my favorite times, Olivia had a Dahlia garden the likes I have never seen before. Dahlias the size of dinner plates in every color you can imagine. She knew all their names and who and where she had gotten that particular bulb from. All these Dahlias…and there were probably a hundred different kinds were perfectly staked in a weedless garden..it was feast for your eyes.
Olivia irritated my girls, of course they were teenagers and they were easily irritated. Olivia would call, remember she never ever said "hello" she would just ask "Do you know where your Grandmother is?" Then she would ask to talk to me, I would sometimes know where my Mom was and relay her exact whereabouts, sometimes I had know idea where she was..but I would always ask Olivia if she was going to be in a baking mood soon…and not to forget about me when she baked her famous chocolate cake. She would laugh and I would know that someday soon I would be invited over for coffee and cake. Olivia died a number of years ago, I miss her..I miss her friendship..and of course her famous chocolate cake.
I have never actually baked this cake myself, I was too afraid that I would never be able to duplicate it. My sister, who is a very good baker successfully duplicated it for my forty-fifth birthday eons ago. The two recipes that follow go hand in hand, if you bake this cake it must be covered with the frosting. The cake should be heavy but moist, and the frosting sweet but light with just a hint of sugary grains when you bite into it:)
Olivia’s Devil’s Food Chocolate Cake
2 cups of sugar
3/4 Cup Shortening
2 unbeaten eggs
1/2 cup Cocoa
1 Cup Buttermilk
2 teaspoons Baking Soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 Cups Flour
1 Cup boiling water
Cream shortening and sugar, add eggs one at a time, mix well. Sift dry ingredients and add with buttermilk, beat after each addition, add water last. Place in 9 x 13 pan Bake 350 degrees for 35 minutes.
Olivia’s Quick White Frosting
1 1/2 cups sugar (scant)
2 egg whites
4 Tablespoons water
1/8 teaspoon Cream of Tartar
Pinch of salt
Mix with spoon in a double boiler. Stir for ten minutes after the water boils, then add 1/4 teaspoon vanilla.