(slight NSFW warning for a coming-of-age story)
Let me take you back in time. When I was eleven, I was in the midst of being raised in a very religious, conservative and Southern home. My Daddy was a preacher, my Momma taught Sunday school and played piano for services, and we lived in the parsonage directly situated on church grounds. So I guess you could say that the church was my life. But despite all that, I didn’t think my childhood was too atypical. That is, until one fateful day in 5th grade…
I was in Sunday school, trying to focus on the very important lesson my Momma was teaching us at the time. Something about laws or commandments. Or covenants, maybe? Then, like a white hot streak somewhere between my mid-lesson malaise and wondering what was for dinner that night, I heard a word that I’d never heard before. Coming out of my momma’s mouth, no less. It was sheathed in biblical gravitas, but it hit home, nonetheless.
“This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised.” Genesis 17:10 (KJV, of course. Everything else was heresy.)
“Y’all know what that is, right?” my Momma asked, her cheery twang piercing the awkward silence that came over the room. It seemed to come out as casually as if she was wondering aloud if it was going to rain. And all the other, mostly male students responded in the affirmative, either nodding their heads or murmuring a brief “Yes ma’am” in bleary unison. But I was on an island. I’d never heard the term before, nor could I quite put together why it was such common knowledge among my classmates. I chalked it up to doing a lot of moving around with my Daddy’s church, and missing an important lesson here and there as a result. So when my Momma asked us point blank if we knew what circum-freaking-cision was, I thought very little of going against the grain of my classroom and saying “No.”
She shot her eyes my way, in disbelief of what she’d heard. Then she composed herself and simply said we’d “talk about it later”. But I couldn’t abide the fact that there was something that everyone else in the room knew except me. So, not knowing the fire that I was playing with, I pressed the issue. I wouldn’t let her continue with her lessons unless she let me in on this seemingly privileged information. And the more I insisted, the more frustrated she got. I couldn’t know it at the time, but she wasn’t about to drop everything and go into detail on this very intimate moment between a parent and her child while in both the eye- and earshot of a big batch of snickering pre-pubescent boys. I had no choice but to sit on my hands, and latch my mouth shut for fear of being punished for talking out of turn.
Fast forward to the following weekend. My Uncle, who was, and is one of my favorite people in the world, was moving to a new home in Nashville. It was a two-hour drive from where we lived in Kentucky, but my Daddy and brothers were going to head his way and help him move his stuff. Naturally, I wanted to come along and see him, but my Momma said no. I was immediately filled to the brim with righteous indignation. I assumed in the moment that I couldn’t go because I was a girl, and wouldn’t be able to pitch in and do men’s work. I kept asking for permission, and my momma kept denying. Eventually, my case was lost, and the boys drove off to thrill-a-minute Nashville while I was left at home with the womenfolk. I was livid, ready to crystallize into a modern-day feminist right then and there. But that’s when I turned the corner into the dining room, and found out exactly why I was staying home.
There was an old bookcase in the dining room that held all our family literature and bibles. My Momma had me take a seat at that dining room table, and she reached out her arm for one of the denser tomes on the shelf. It was the Encyclopedia Britannica. The “SE” volume. She cracked it open, thumbed purposefully past other entries like “sediment” and “September”. Then, we arrived. She stopped turning pages, looked me square in the eyes, almost afraid of what she might see across the table.
And for the next hour or so, my deep Southern, Christian, churchgoing, conservative, country-lovin’, God-fearin’, sweet-as-pie, pastor’s-wife Momma…taught me about sex.
She was extremely clinical, sticking like glue to the source material. We pored over the diagrams together, she explained the process very matter-of-factly (“This is a penis” was a direct quote), and even managed to throw in some insights about my “changing body” that I could look forward to in the years to come. It was surreal. The juxtaposition between my Momma’s boundless spirituality, and the increasingly liberal subject matter we were discussing made this rollercoaster a little tough to hold on through. But in retrospect, she did a pretty good job, and I learned a lot. At the very least, she caught me up with the other eleven year olds in Sunday school, which is all she wanted to do in the first place. Then, when the topic was exhausted, and we were changed women, sitting across from each other and dealing with the weight of the moment that had just come and gone, my Momma slapped her thighs, and said,
“Welp…come help me make a pound cake before everyone gets back.”
She stuffed the encyclopedia back on the shelf, withdrew the black three-ring binder she used to keep her recipes together, and we retreated into the kitchen. And then, we made pound cake! Like the discussion we’d just had, this was something I’d never done before. We went over the recipe together, and went step by step through the butter, sugar and eggs with the same level of precision. It was strange, but I’d never felt like more of an equal in my Momma’s kitchen before that moment. Almost as if having “the talk” had grown me up a little in her eyes. I couldn’t appreciate what she’d done for me back then (frankly, I was still a little miffed that I didn’t get to go to Nashville), but as a woman now, I appreciate everything my Momma did to make the world I came up in a little smaller and easier to find my way in, regardless of the difficulty or discomfort she might have faced doing so. Even the pound cake, which was hardly a monumental undertaking, became a bit more possible because of her. And when the rest of my family came home, we brought that pound cake out and went to town on it after dinner. It was the last shred of evidence of our afternoon together, and after the last slice was devoured, neither of us would ever say a word to anyone else about what went down. And from that day to this one, I can’t even look at a pound cake without remembering my fateful brush with the birds and the bees.
Gotta tell you though, learning how to make a pound cake was INFINITELY more entertaining to me than learning about sex. Guess I was a girl with priorities, even way back then!
Strawberry Pound Cake
Makes 1 9x5 Loaf
2 cups plus 2 Tablespoons of all purpose flour
2 teaspoons of baking powder
½ teaspoon of salt
¾ cup of granulated sugar
½ cup of buttermilk (see notes for substitution)
½ cup vegetable oil
1 Tablespoon of vanilla extract
1 egg, room temperature
½ cup fresh strawberries, diced
2 Tablespoons of freeze dried strawberry powder (see notes for substitution)
1 cup of powdered sugar
1-2 Tablespoons of whole milk
For the Pound Cake:
Preheat the oven to 350°. Using pan spray, spray a 9x5 inch loaf pan
In a medium bowl, whisk to combine 2 cups of the flour, 2 teaspoons of baking powder, and ½ teaspoon of salt. Whisk to combine and remove any lumps. Set aside.
In a small bowl, toss to combine 2 Tablespoons of the flour and the fresh strawberries.
In a larger mixing bowl, add sugar, buttermilk, oil, and vanilla extract. Whisk until smooth. Add ⅓ of the flour mixture and fold in until just mixed. Continue to fold in flour mixture ⅓ at a time until combined. Add the strawberry and flour mixture and fold in with a spatula.
Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 50-60 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean
Allow the cake to cool for 10 minutes then remove and cool to room temperature on a cooling rack. Prepare the glaze.
For the Glaze:
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the freeze dried strawberry powder and powdered sugar. Slowly add the whole milk until you get to the consistency you like. If it’s too watery, add more powdered sugar 1 Tablespoon at a time. If it’s too stiff add more milk 1-2 teaspoon at a time.
Pour over your cooled pound cake and enjoy! You can also let the glaze set before transporting. This can take 30 minutes-1 hour
If you don’t have buttermilk, put 1 Tablespoon of white vinegar in a liquid measuring cup and fill to the 1 cup mark with milk. Stir and set aside for 5-10 minutes before proceeding with the recipe.
Freeze dried strawberry powder can be found online or in some specialty food stores. If you don’t have any, use 2 Tablespoons of strawberry jam and add a little more milk. You can also well crushed strawberries and use a little less milk.
This can be made using any berry you have on hand, just substitute the fresh strawberries for what you have! See the note on the freeze dried strawberry powder for ideas on how to make the glaze taste of the berry you use.