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Authors: Lynne Hinton

Christmas Cake

BOOK: Christmas Cake
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Christmas Cake
Lynne Hinton

Dedicated to the memory of
Glenda Belvin Andrews
and
Frances Holt

Contents

 

Chapter One
It's just the name of the cake,” Louise noted to…

Chapter Two
Louise sat staring at the phone for a few minutes…

Chapter Three
Beatrice hung up the phone after her conversation with Louise…

Chapter Four
Here it is,” Margaret announced to no one except herself.

Chapter Five
When the call came in from North Carolina, Charlotte was…

 

Chapter Six
I think you should just tell the hospital to keep…

Chapter Seven
Beatrice!” Louise was knocking on the bedroom window and shouting…

Chapter Eight
Jessie and Beatrice helped Louise up from the floor and…

Chapter Nine
Peaches and cream cake?” Margaret had taken her seat in…

Chapter Ten
Thank you, Frances, this is a lovely surprise and it's…

 

Chapter Eleven
I'll just put the cake on the table.” Louise walked…

Chapter Twelve
Near Amarillo?” Charlotte was on the phone with Jessie. She…

Chapter Thirteen
Tell her it's Beatrice Witherspoon from Hope Springs, North Carolina,”…

Chapter Fourteen
But why now?” Lana wanted to know. She was visiting…

Chapter Fifteen
Don't even say a word.” Louise was opening the passenger…

 

Chapter Sixteen
We're in Amarillo.” Charlotte couldn't hear Jessie very well. They…

Chapter Seventeen
Is this the place?” Charlotte was getting out of her…

Chapter Eighteen
The women decided to stay at the RV park and…

Chapter Nineteen
The funeral van had been reported stolen in North Carolina…

Chapter Twenty
By the time the sun rose on Christmas Eve in…

 

 

It's a Contest!

The Cookbook Committee of the Hope Springs Community Church is holding a Christmas Cake Recipe Contest. The winner will receive a very special prize and will be the honored selection in the Hope Springs Community Holiday Cookbook. For more details, contact Bea Witherspoon, Louise Fisher, Jessie Jenkins, or Margaret Peele.

 

 

Holiday Party Cake

2
/
3
cup butterscotch morsels

¼ cup water

2¼ cups sifted all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon baking powder

1¼ cups sugar

½ cup shortening (part butter may be used)

3 eggs

1 cup buttermilk or sour milk

 

Melt butterscotch morsels in water in saucepan. Let cool. Sift flour with salt, baking soda, and baking powder; set aside. Add sugar gradually to shortening, creaming well. Blend in eggs; beat after each. Add butterscotch; mix well. Add dry ingredients alternately with buttermilk. Blend well after each addition. Bake in greased and floured 9 x 13–inch pan at 375 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes. Cool. Frost with sea foam icing.

 

 

SEA FOAM ICING

1
/
3
cup sugar

1
/
3
cup firmly packed brown sugar

1
/
3
cup water

1 tablespoon corn syrup

1 egg white

¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

 

Combine in a saucepan the sugar, brown sugar, water, and corn syrup. Cook until a little syrup dropped in cold water forms a soft ball (236 degrees). Meanwhile, beat egg white with cream of tartar until stiff peaks form. Add syrup mixture to egg white in slow steady stream, beating constantly until thick enough to spread.

I
t's just the name of the cake,” Louise noted to Beatrice, who was complaining about the opening recipe in the new holiday cookbook the Women's Guild at Hope Springs Community Church was putting together.

At the last meeting, late in the month of October, the evening after Margaret kept her doctor's appointment, the committee had agreed to carry out Beatrice's plan for a cake recipe contest to find and name the new Hope Springs Community Christmas Cake as well as create a cake cookbook.

“It's called a party cake, Louise, a party cake,” she said with emphasis. “It just doesn't sound good. It shouldn't be the opening recipe for our holiday cookbook. It gives a bad first impression.”

“Holiday party cake,” Louise corrected her.

“What?” Beatrice asked.

“The correct name is holiday party cake. And I don't see what's
wrong with it. The recipe is harmless. The cake is harmless. You can belong to a church and still have a party.”

Beatrice blew out a breath. “That's not the point.”

Louise waited. When her friend didn't go on, she asked the obvious question.

“Okay, what is the point?”

Beatrice leaned against her counter in the kitchen. She was slowly cleaning up the breakfast dishes. Her husband, Dick, had left an hour earlier for the funeral home where he worked.

On the other end of the phone, Louise was sitting at the table finishing her coffee. She wished she hadn't taken the call. This conversation was not how she wanted to start her day.

“I just think it's bad business for a church to sell a cookbook that starts out with party cake.” Beatrice swished the dishrag around the skillet. She and Dick had eggs for breakfast. “You remember how much trouble we got into because of Lucy Seal's pears in port recipe in the first cookbook, don't you?”

“Verna Bean's holiday party cake doesn't have any alcohol in it, Bea. It has sour milk and butterscotch morsels.”

“Butterscotch,” Bea noted, rinsing out the skillet and placing it in the dish drain. “You think that doesn't draw up images for some people.”

“You are being crazy, Beatrice. I don't understand why this bothers you.”

“Someone will want to give us an eggnog cake recipe. You just wait.”

“Is there an eggnog cake?” Louise asked. She poured herself another cup of coffee and then realized she had put the milk back in the
fridge. She hated drinking her coffee black. She noticed the leftover milk in her cereal bowl. She shrugged her shoulders, set the phone down, poured the milk in her cup, and picked the receiver back up and placed it next to her ear. Beatrice was still ranting. “What's wrong with eggnog?” she asked.

“What's wrong with eggnog?” Beatrice repeated, sounding shocked that Louise would ask such a ridiculous question. “Do you remember the time Darlene brought eggnog to the church Christmas party?”

Louise snorted. “I certainly do,” she replied, taking a sip of the coffee. She put down her mug and picked a cornflake from her tongue. “I also remember it being the most interesting Christmas pageant we've ever had.”

She smiled recalling the event. Charlotte Stewart had been the pastor then and she had finished off a couple of refills of the drink before she knew what it was.

It was the first time Louise had ever seen the young woman actually slap her legs laughing. It was a lovely memory. Charlotte was usually a little uptight. All the cookbook committee members talked about it later. Even Margaret and Jessie, the two committee members who always challenged Beatrice and Louise when they gossiped about others, had noticed and enjoyed the pastor's behavior.

“The shepherds singing ‘Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer' was not interesting. It was embarrassing,” Beatrice said, recalling the pageant.

“Ah, it wasn't that bad. It was better than the wise men trying to break-dance for the Baby Jesus.” Louise grinned. “Besides,” she added as she took another sip from her coffee cup, “I think there may
have been a little something else passed around the manger that year. It was really cold outside for the actors. I'm not sure that Joseph didn't have something extra stashed in the haystack.”

“Who was Joseph that year?” Beatrice asked.

“I think it was Grady Marks,” Louise noted. “He did it for a lot of years before he and Twila started going to Florida for the holidays.”

“Uh-huh,” Beatrice responded. “That's exactly what I'm talking about.”

“What?” Louise said. “What are you talking about?”

“Grady told Darlene to bring the eggnog. He was the one who didn't see anything wrong with a spiked drink at a church gathering.”

“Okay. But what does that have to do with having a recipe for a party cake in the cookbook?” Louise asked. She often had a difficult time following Beatrice in a conversation.

“Once Grady knew that Darlene's eggnog was being served for refreshments, he brought hard liquor into the nativity scene.”

“Huh?” Louise asked, sounding very confused.

“I'm just saying one thing leads to another. First it's a party cake served at the women's fellowship. Then it's bourbon balls at Easter. And then it's hard liquor being served to wise men and shepherds.”

“Okay, so we won't put an eggnog cake recipe in the book. There's nothing wrong with Verna's cake, is there?” Louise wanted to know.

“Starting with the party cake just feels too liberal to me. Before you know it we'll be as loose as the Episcopalians. And we all know how much they like to drink.”

“What kind of trouble did you get into because of the pears in port recipe?” Louise suddenly recalled something Beatrice had said
earlier in the conversation. She hadn't remembered there being any problems stemming from the first cookbook.

“There was trouble is all I'm saying,” Beatrice said.

“I don't recall any trouble.”

“Well there was some,” Beatrice responded. “There were calls and letters.”

“Calls?” Louise was surprised at this new bit of information. She had not heard anything about this. “Who got calls?”

Beatrice cleared her throat. “I got a call,” she said, sounding indignant.

Louise paused. She was trying to remember if she had ever heard this story before. Then suddenly she recalled the event. She sighed into the receiver.

“Bea, one phone call from Lettie Heck's mother from the psychiatric center does not constitute trouble about a recipe.”

“She made a valid point in the message she left on my answering machine,” Bea replied. “And she wasn't in that place for very long. She had issues and she got help. I would think you of all people would appreciate her wisdom in seeking professional assistance.”

“She doesn't have issues, she's crazy,” Louise snapped. “And she didn't even buy a cookbook. She stole Lettie's during choir rehearsal.”

“It doesn't matter how she got a cookbook,” Bea said.

“I think if you steal something, you don't really have grounds to complain about the product.”

Beatrice made a huffing noise.

“Besides, if I recall correctly, she was also upset that your prune cake recipe called for condensed milk and she said it was supposed to be evaporated.”

“My mother only used condensed milk. Evaporated milk is too runny for that recipe; and just because we didn't hear all of the complaints about Lucy's fruit smothered in wine doesn't mean they weren't out there.”

“What about letters?” Louise asked.

“What?”

“You said that there were calls and letters,” Louise reminded Beatrice. “What letters did we get?”

“I got letters,” Beatrice replied, sounding smug.

“Letters from somebody mad about the port recipe?”

Louise noticed the hesitation from the other end of the phone. She thought she heard her friend washing dishes. She imagined her standing at the window at her sink, holding the phone with her shoulder. She knew Beatrice often called her friends while she washed her dishes. Louise had told her that was why her neck hurt all the time but Beatrice hadn't seemed to make the connection.

“Well, no, not exactly,” Beatrice finally said. She dried her hands.

“Well, what then?”

“I heard from a number of men whom I think were bothered by that recipe.”

Louise considered what Beatrice was saying. “You mean the inmates from the jail?” Louise asked. She knew that Beatrice had added some unsold cookbooks in the gift bags the churchwomen made for prison inmates.

The list of acceptable items sent from the prison chaplain had been very specific. There was supposed to be only toothpaste, toothbrushes, shampoo, deodorant, and white athletic socks.

Beatrice had added the cookbooks because she decided the men
might want something to read. As a result, the older woman had gotten quite a lot of attention from the inmates who sent her letters to the church hoping she would visit them. Louise recalled that the chaplain and the new pastor at the church were not pleased at the correspondences that took place.

“Those men deserve a cookbook that doesn't cause them to stumble,” Bea noted. “A party cake just sounds like trouble.”

“It wasn't the recipes that caused them to stumble,” Louise responded. “Your perfume-scented letters were what caused stumbling. I'd even call it an out-and-out fall.”

“I just thought they needed some uplifting.”

“Yeah, but I don't think the uplifting they got was what you had in mind writing them back all those times.”

“I was just trying to be a good Christian,” Bea said.

“By dipping your letters in Chanel No. 5?” Louise asked.

“Every man deserves a fantasy, even prison inmates,” she replied.

“Right,” Louise said. “But just because they found out you were seventy years old and then started a protest and asked you to quit writing doesn't mean they were mad about a recipe with wine in it.”

“Fine,” Beatrice said sharply. “Put the stupid party cake recipe in there first. Put Darlene's eggnog in there. Why not put a bartending guide in there too? Add a few tips on making martinis and how to smoke crack in a pipe.” Her voice was raised.

“Beatrice, is something wrong with you?” Louise asked. “You haven't seemed right about this holiday cake idea since we voted to do it. That's not like you.”

There was a pause in the conversation, and Louise wondered if her friend had hung up on her. “Bea?”

“I'm still here.” She waited. She didn't know what to say. She had been feeling this way for some time and had just never talked about it to anyone. Finally she said what she had thought for months. “My heart just isn't in this project.”

“What! It was your idea!” Louise responded, sounding flustered. “If you didn't want to do it, why did you even suggest it?”

Louise had been very clear about her ideas regarding another cookbook project. She had not wanted to do the first one. She definitely did not want to be involved in the second one. Beatrice had convinced her and the other women in the church that this one would be less complicated than the first. She had promised them that since they would just have cake recipes it would be easier. And she guaranteed that it would bring in a lot of money by having a contest for the grand prize–winning cake, the Hope Springs Community Christmas Cake. Just like everything Bea suggested and wanted the churchwomen to do, she had done a great job selling the idea.

“I thought it would distract us,” Beatrice replied.

“From what?” Louise asked.

There wasn't a reply right away. Beatrice seemed to be thinking about what she was saying. She hadn't really considered what this cookbook had been about. She never usually considered her reasons for anything she did. She saw every idea as an inspiration, and Beatrice loved the idea of being a source of inspiration. She had a history of pushing inspiration on others.

Beatrice had been the one who had the idea for the first cookbook. She shaved her head and made Charlotte and Louise and Jessie do the same when she thought Margaret was going to have to have chemotherapy after the first diagnosis. She organized the going-away party
for Charlotte when the pastor left to run the women's shelter out west. Beatrice organized events and planned activities all with the intention of inspiring others to be friends or become a community or just be engaged in something.

Beatrice had often wished she could be more like Margaret, the no-nonsense member of the community, the one who didn't need anybody to do anything, the one everybody else relied on for wisdom or direction. Beatrice had also wished she could be like Jessie, similar to Margaret in the clarity of her decision making and always concerned about the right things. Neither Margaret nor Jessie ever troubled herself with things of no consequence. And Beatrice could never seem to sort through what was really important and what was not.

She was a busybody and she knew it as well as everyone else, and even though she sometimes wanted to be more like her friends, up until this holiday cookbook she hadn't really minded that role. But now she knew that she was losing ground. She was not as dedicated to her causes. She knew the inspiration was no longer there.

Beatrice shut her eyes. She hadn't planned on having this conversation, especially with Louise. She pulled the phone over to the counter and sat down on one of the barstools.

“What would this project distract us from?” Louise asked again.

“From things,” Bea replied. She knew she wasn't being completely honest.

“What things?” Louise asked. Then it dawned on her. The truth became crystal clear. She put down her coffee cup and sat back in her chair.

“Margaret's cancer,” Louise said, sounding surprised and disappointed.

“Yes,” Bea answered, glad that Louise had said it. “Yes, it's true. At the time I thought it would brighten our spirits. Margaret loves Christmas and she loves cakes and I thought…”

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