Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Book Review: Cake Ladies: Celebrating a Southern Tradition by Jodi Rhoden

The Book Cover of Cake Ladies by Jodi Rhoden

The Cupcake Fairies
AKA My Cousins from New Orleans, LA

I want to first thank Jodi Rhoden for taking the time to research, locate and tell the stories of these extraordinary women, not only in the world of "cake", but in the South! I am a native of New Orleans, and food is very important to us; it is what people love about New Orleans, the food. But the South has a reputation for cooking some of the best food and baking some of the best sweets in the United States. There is an honesty about the food, just as the women featured in this book; their stories are true and honest; they express their struggles and their joys. I believe what really made this book special to me was the common threads that held all these women together;  the love of cooking (the secret ingredient), the love of family and community. We southern women love to see a smile on some one's face when they sink their teeth into our food; it feeds our spirit, and the spirits and stomachs of those feast on our food.

As I began reading this book, I began to cry. Hurricane Katrina has impacted the people of New Orleans in a way that really can't be explained. Many New Orleanians whether they returned to New Orleans or not, are still in the process of rebuilding their lives and yes, reinventing themselves. Southern women are strong and resilient, so this book really spoke to that aspect of "dusting yourself off and starting all over again", in this case my cousins dusted off with flour! Sometimes something bad has to happen for us to open our eyes to see our true purpose in life. I have realized that if you don't experience true pain, you can't experience true happiness.

I am so sentimental, and I can remember my uncle Frank cooking away in the kitchen. My uncle Frank is Melissa Woods and Michele Burton-Oatis's father. He loved to experiment in the kitchen. He would use liquors, spices or whatever he thought would make a dish have his "signature touch." He and his wife, my Auntie Lynn would cook together, dance together and before you know it, the holiday meal would be done. I also read all the stories of each cake lady; all of them rich in spirit, honesty and great southern recipes that they have decided to "give up" as we say from New Orleans (some recipes go to the grave). Well, Southern women don't like to give away their recipes, so feel privileged readers, because our "touch" is our trademark, and who wants to give that away! I guess we were taught how to share, and I think that is a good thing.

The quote on page eleven in the book really touched my soul; " As I listened to the cake ladies tell their struggles and  their joys, I found over and over that it is love, the first and foremost, that motivates them, and that love is the one essential ingredient to baking beautiful and delicious cakes." Jodi Rhoden said a "mouth full" when she wrote this quote! The stories from all the women, from her own personal story to Betty Compton of Cedar Grove, North Carolina to Pearl Teeter of Williamston, North Carolina, and all the other cake ladies in the delta noted in between, all warm your heart and provide you with recipes that are a part of their culture. The recipes for pound cakes, cupcakes, Red Velvet Cake, Mississippi Mud Cake, and the list goes on and on, are recipes that will be the star of any event. These cakes help celebrate life's special occasions, whether it be the birth of a baby, a birthday cake for your best friend, a holiday, a repast ( a tradition of providing food for funeral attendees after a funeral in New Orleans and other parts of the South), a party, a wedding or a church fundraiser, they will feed the spirit, soul and bellies of all in attendance.

I like to have a fresh baked cake or cupcakes in my kitchen, especially during Fall and Winter; it is a symbol of southern hospitality and sharing some of yourself with other people who enter your home, and please remember don't forget the coffee, tea or ice cream.

This is not just a cookbook; it is a combination of the chronicling of wonderful women who were willing to share their lives and recipes to all that read this book. I say thank you to the author and all of the wonderful cake ladies; Let there be cake !

PS There are lots of basic cake making information to assist you in making the best cakes, and hints from the cake ladies that are well, just special! This cookbook can be purchased at Amazon http://www.amazon.com and http://shortstreetcakes.com/ I think this book would be a great Christmas gift or a "just because" gift for anyone who loves baking and peeking into the lives of courageous women.  Note:  This book was a sample provided for review by Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.

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