Cooking Catastrophe Stories: Husband’s Birthday Cake Was Salvaged

A personal account of a cooking catastrophe.

HOH-Birthday Cake

Husband’s Birthday Cake Was Salvaged


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During World War II, I met a handsome, young soldier from Indiana. Before he was shipped overseas, we became engaged. Months turned into a year, and he still wasn’t home. Finally, I received a phone call. He was back!

We exchanged wedding vows March 8, 1946, and then moved in with his parents for a year.

While my new husband farmed with his father, I helped his mother cook, clean, garden and tend the chickens. When I say I helped cook, what I really mean is that I peeled potatoes, set the table and washed the dishes.

As a bride of 17, I knew very little about cooking, so when my mother-in-law and I went to Lafayette, Indiana, to shop, I bought a cookbook. Every page was full of mouthwatering recipes I wanted to try.

Opportunity arises

My husband celebrated his 21st birthday six weeks after we were married. That weekend, his sister and her family planned to visit, since they hadn’t seen him since he returned from the war.

Although I was nervous about meeting the rest of his family, I really wanted to make a good impression. So, I decided to make my groom a birthday cake.

Finally, it was my chance to shine as a cook. While my mother-in-law could bake beautiful, tasty pies, she seldom baked a cake. So, this young bride with a cookbook full of delicious cake recipes was going to take a chance.

However, I didn’t know which cake to make. Did I choose an easy recipe with only a few ingredients? No. I decided that since there was a crate filled with eggs in the basement, I would make an angel food cake, complete with homemade (and complicated, I might add), boiled frosting.

Recipe for disaster

My mother-in-law stoked the coal range to heat the oven, and then she turned the kitchen over to me.

I followed the recipe carefully, and everything seemed too easy to be true. With arms that ached, I continued to whip the egg whites to a white froth. I shook the flour mixture in slowly, a little at a time, folding it into the egg whites. When it was thoroughly mixed, I spread it into a lightly greased large, round cake pan and put it in the oven.

There was one problem, though. The kitchen oven had no temperature gauge, and I had no idea how hot it was. My mother-in-law was used to baking in her oven. She could guess how long to leave a pie in, or how hot to get the oven before putting one in. Not me, though. I kept peeking through a crack at the top of the oven now and then to see if the cake was done.

Finally, as a wonderful smell filled the kitchen, I decided my prize-winning birthday cake was ready to remove from the oven, so I took it out and place it on a rack to cool.

Help wanted … and needed

An hour later, the cake was cool, so, as my mother-in-law watched, I slid a spatula around the edge of the pan, then inverted the cake onto a pretty glass cake plate. We both gasped! What had been a beautiful golden cake in the pan now had a top the color of tar. My angel food cake was burnt completely black on the bottom.

Thanks to a wonderful mother-in-law who more than likely remembered her own youthful experiences as a new bride learning to cook, no one ever knew what had happened. She trimmed off the black bottom and helped me frost it. Although it was slightly shorter than angel food cake normally is, nobody noticed.

Best of all, my husband bragged to everyone about the delicious birthday cake I made just for him.

Sidell, Illinois