It’s only just struck me how very “traditional” my family are.
Every Christmas, and every family member birthday there’s always been a cake.
By cake I’m talking about a real cake of course. Not some sponge thing covered in goo masquerading as a cake; how’s something like that supposed to adequately support up to thirty candles, or survive the journey home wrapped in an expensive red party napkin, or still be edible several days, or even weeks, later ? That’s not a cake.
I’m talking about your industrial strength fruit cake, covered in a thick layer of rich yellow marzipan, and then sealed inside an inch of rock hard icing. Fantastic.
Cake’s like these were to “cake world” what Guinness is to the alcoholic beverage community. If coal is what happens to wood after millennia of being compressed under rock, then these cakes would be what happened to a dozen Christmas Puddings that had undergone the same process.
Of course, not everybody liked the cake. In fact, as kids, none of us did. It was too rich. It was a meal in itself, and why would you want to eat another meal when we’d only just finished being forced to eat one the first one !? Because with the cake came the icing.
It was hard, it was sweet, and it would probably rot your teeth in under thirty seconds if you didn’t swallow it down quick enough but boy we loved it. Especially my little sister.
Every Birthday and Christmas, after the initial meal, and the fruit salad, and maybe some sort of cheese cake (that’s not a cake either is it, but never mind), out would come THE Cake, and I’d sit there, pretending of course to be a polite young child waiting to be asked whether I’d like some (like they had to ask), but actually just counting the seconds before my sister, who was probably no more than four or five, would utter those words that drove me insane. Just icing.
“Just icing” she would whine to my mother. Somehow she even managed to lower herself at the table so that she had to look up at my mother at a steeper angle, how did she do that ? I have no idea but it amplified the effect. “Just icing” she would whine. And here’s the part that infuriated me the most, it wasn’t the whiney voice or the looking up at my mother in some magical way that made this five year old the most powerful influential person in the room, it was the fact that moments later my Mother would indulge her request.. no fight, no resistance, no discussion.. she’d just take a slab of icing that had come free during the first cut (I was going to say slice, but you can’t slice a cake like this), put it on a plate and hand it to my sister who would by now be beaming across the table at anyone else who happened to be watching.
Now even at the tender age of nine or ten I had realised that you can’t go through life asking for “just icing” ! Every now and then you have to have some cake too ! Boring though it may be ! What would the world come to if we all started asked for “just icing” !! There’d be a lot of cake left over that’s for sure !!
That big slab of icing that my sister got, and it’s associated yellow marzipan (which I used to enjoy moulding into small shapes on my plate, the little that I had compared to the huge amount of cake of course), meant that someone else was being deprived of their fair share. Me and my brother (I could include my Dad here but he doesn’t really count because I genuinely believed he would eat anything that was put in front of him without question) were eating my sister’s share of cake and It just wasn’t fair.
Worse still, there was no one to appeal to. The highest authority in the land, my mother, had decreed that my sister could have “just icing”.
It wasn’t much comfort, but I’d sit there and think to myself, at least I understand that you have to have some cake with your icing, and at some point that knowledge was bound to stand me in good stead.
Many, many years later have passed since those days. And we’re still having the traditional Birthday and Christmas cake. Although I can’t remember the last time I actually heard my sister ask for “just icing”. But here’s the thing; I’m more of the opinion if you don’t like cake, don’t have cake.
You know, it’s actually pretty stupid to put up with something you don’t like, particularly when you don’t have to.
No, if you want just icing, and it doesn’t hurt yourself, or anyone else, then go ahead. Have just icing !
The biggest irony is, all these years later, I actually prefer the cake.
29 February 2004