On a Friday night not long ago, we’d been looking forward to watching the PBS broadcast of a theatre production that featured some people we know. Unfortunately, she fell asleep on the couch before the show started. I puttered around on the internet for a while, surprised at how many programs PBS made available as streaming video. A series of short cooking videos called Kitchen Vignettes caught my attention. Beautifully shot and set to lovely music, they were educational, though there was no voice explaining the recipes being demonstrated.
I was especially intrigued by one called “Groaning Cake.” I wasn’t sure what sort of cake might groan, but the soundtrack–a recording by the folk singer Heather Kelday–held me. I learned from the text displayed in the video, that Groaning Cake is a traditional postpartum food. It’s a very rich, calorie-dense spice cake made with whole wheat flour, carrots, zucchini, and apples. It might even be considered healthy, save for the great deal of butter, the many eggs, and the gobs of honey and molasses.
In the video, a woman is shown baking the cake. She’s very pregnant, a fact which the filmmaker apparently wants us not to forget for a second. Every shot that isn’t a closeup of ingredients going into a bowl is of her swollen belly or breasts. In the last moments of the video, we see the beautiful child, and a fellow who is likely the father; then the new mother feeds her partner the first slice of cake.
That’s where they lost me.
The idea seems to be that a new mother will have neither the time nor energy to cook after giving birth, so this cake would keep her fed while she regains her strength. If I followed the timeline, the woman baked the cake, gave birth, and then fed the cake to the guy. Was he not capable of turning on the oven, grating some zucchini, and measuring the cinnamon and cloves? Was he, at the very least, not up to the task of cutting a slice of cake for the mother of his child?
Maybe it’s all the breakfasts I’ve made and lunches I’ve packed, but it just seems fair that she would get the first bite. Of course, what do I know? I’m not a father. Maybe standing around while someone else does all the really hard work is harder than it seems. A guy can probably burn a lot of calories by pacing.
Friends of ours recently had a baby–a beautiful son. Of course we had a bear to give to the new baby; every child should have a good, sturdy bear to keep him company. But we thought we should do something more.
We baked them a Groaning Cake.
The cake takes its name from a woman’s cries during labor–which, some say, is induced by the preparation of the cake. Somewhere around the third stick of butter (or maybe the fourth egg, or the half-a-jar of honey) I began to think the name had another meaning: when I felt how heavy the pan of batter was, I may have let out an involuntary grunt. At least I didn’t spill it on the way to the oven.
On Sunday afternoon, we wrapped up the cake and went to visit the proud parents and meet the baby. It tasted as swooningly good as it had smelled while baking (a fact I learned after the new mama got the first bite). It was also, it turned out, slightly underdone. It wasn’t hazardously soggy, but it is likely that I added too much of the apple-carrot-zucchini trifecta, and the batter was simply too moist to ever fully set.
The new mom and dad were too sleep-deprived to notice any baking issues. The baby was happy, calm, and snuggly–and he wasn’t going to get any cake, anyway. At least not today.
There aren’t any babies at the Country House. It would be a nice place to raise a child, but it’s too far away from her office, and from where much of my theatrical work is, to be practical. We’d spend all of our time commuting and either never see the little one, or never see each other. That might change one day, but for now, we try to be good and loving examples to the children in our friends’ lives.
And if it does change, you can bet that she won’t have to bake her own cake.