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Ms. Dira and The Help’s Caramel Icing

I have a friend named Dira and she is the cook at the day care center where I work.  She and I are about the same age and we have so many of the same ideas and values.  As she is a black woman, I asked her this week about Caramel Cake and Caramel Icing which was the cake Minny baked in the book, “The Help.”  She said she had an aunt that made a caramel cake with caramel icing all the time.  I asked her if she had a recipe for the cake and she said no because her aunt never used a recipe.  Then I thought about that for a minute and realized that her aunt probably never had the opportunity to go to school and probably could not read or write.  Dira told me that her aunts and grandmothers baked everything by estimates and were taught to cook at a very young age.  Dira starting cooking at the age of 10 and was so good at it that she was introduced to baking at the age of 14.  She said she was never given a recipe and was taught by estimate.  Dira is a very skilled cook and that just amazed me. I also told Dira that I collected cookbooks and especially local church and charitable organization cookbooks and asked if black churches published cookbooks.  She said she had never heard of or seen a cookbook published by a black church.  As it wasn’t a tradition to write down recipes there would be no need for a cookbook.

I found the caramel icing recipe from The Help on the website of the author of the book, Kathryn Stockett. I am sharing this with you below:

Never Fail Creamy Caramel Icing

2 1/2 c. sugar
1 slightly beaten egg
1 stick of butter
3/4 c. milk
1 t. vanilla

Melt 1/2 cup of sugar in iron skillet slowly, until brown and runny. Mix egg, butter, remaining sugar, and milk in a saucepan and cook over a low flame until butter melts. Turn the heat up to medium and add the browned sugar. Cook until it reaches the soft ball stage or until mixture leaves sides of pan. This takes about 10 minutes. Remove from fire, let cool slightly, and add vanilla. Beat until right consistency to spread. If it gets too thick add a little cream. This will ice a 2 layer cake.

Reprinted by permission from The Junior League of Memphis, Inc. from “The Memphis Cookbook” © 1952; recipe submitted by Mrs. Phil Thornton, Jr.

How insightful that conversation was for me and I was so glad that I had that moment in time to share with Dira and appreciated so much the information she shared with me.  As we ended our conversation, I thought of the quote of the author in the help in the back of the book.  She said In The Help there is one line that I truly prize:

‘Wasn’t that the point of the book?  For women to realize.  We are just two people..  Not that much separates us.  Not nearly as much as I’d thought.

Amen Sister!  Amen!  And I think my friend Dira would say Amen to that too.

4 responses »

  1. How Beautiful! Now I challenge you and Dira should take time to meet with the older women and document their recipies. My Mother never measured things and there were some recipes that I just loved so I would be with her as she prepared them and would stop her from putting ingredients in and measure them as she went along and wrote them so they would forever be available. I think it is time for the Ms. Dira’s and Folks Cookbook!!!

    Reply
    • I think you have the right idea and you were very insightful to have your family recipes documented. That is a good lesson for all of us to learn. My grandmother would use the term pinch and it was something that was hard for me to comprehend. Even with that, I am so thankful to have my Mother and Grandmother’s recipes. Thanks for your response. Dianne

      ________________________________

      Reply
  2. Women can always bond over the things we share as women no matter where we live or who we are. Motherhood, giving birth, marriage, cleaning, cooking, and family experiences. This was a terrific example of reaching out and finding connections. I also think the idea of writing down a mother’s recipes so you can carry on the tradition of her part in the family is very meaningful.

    My brothers and I love to talk about what Momma cooked and how we try one of the recipes I put in a collection for us to keep. We each had our traditional birthday cake that she would fix for us. My prune cake with black walnuts was not quick and easy to make, but Momma would make it for me every year.

    The way Dianne makes an effort to cook for her husband and make an extra dessert that he can enjoy with his diabetes is a gift of love.

    Thanks Dianne for touching on more than recipes for delicious foods, but recipes for living life open to learning about and appreciating others.

    Reply

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