Beloved Lane cake rises to ‘official cake’ status
“Oh, my, it’s fruitcake weather!”
The action of Truman Capote’s short story, “A Christmas Memory,” is set into motion with those words of an aging woman who looks out her kitchen window on a frosty December morning.
She and her seven-year-old cousin, Buddy, began gathering the ingredients for her fruitcake baking frenzy that includes nuts from the pecan tree and more than enough bootleg whiskey.
“A Christmas Memory” is a good read here at Christmastime but if Capote had been in Clayton, Alabama when he wrote that Christmas classic, the nameless woman would have exclaimed as she looked out the window, “Oh, my, it’s Lane cake weather!”
In “To Kill a Mocking Bird,” Harper Lee mentioned that Scout had devoured Miss Maudie’s Lane cake that “was so loaded with shinny that it made me tight.”
To give even more prestige to the cake, the Alabama Legislature has declared the Lane Cake as the official cake of Alabama.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Billy Beasley of Clayton, easily passed both the Senate and the House and got the nod from Gov. Robert Bentley in May 2016.
And Beasley had good reason for sponsoring the bill to have the Lane cake so honored. The Southern cake that, more often than not, contains enough “shinny” to make a leatherneck tight, dates back to the late 1800s and originated by Emma Rylander Lane.
According to Rebecca Beasley, editor of the Clayton Record, Lane often cooked with her friend, Lucy Walker Parish, at the Parish home on Eufaula Avenue in Clayton.
“Mrs. Lane entered her cake in the state fair in Columbus, Georgia and won the first prize ribbon,” Beasley said.
“She also received a range from Buck Range Company for her prize cake.”
In 1898, Lane published a cookbook titled, “Some Good Things to Eat. The cookbook was reprinted in the 1970s by combining portions of the original book belonging to the Parish and Lane families, Beasley said.
The cookbook is currently out of print.
The Lane Cake is an egg white variation of the 1-2-3-4 cake giving it a sponge cake-like texture. Lane’s instruction was to bake in four layers using medium-sized pie tins, with one layer of ungreased brown paper in the bottom of each tin.
The original version contained only raisins in the custard filling but many cooks add pecans, coconut and candied fruit to enhance the “flavor” of the cake.
The originator of the Lane cake suggested one wineglass of good whiskey for the filling to moisten and preserve the cake.
Lane insisted that the cake is much better made a day or two before using.