Don’t you just love the delicious scent of blackberries this time of year? When the afternoon sun warms the juice in that little clump of beads, the sweet smell fills the air.
My family has a special cake, Circus Cake, for which a key ingredient is that delicious fruit. I don’t know when it became a family tradition, but I know my Dad talked about eating it as a boy in the late 1920s.
Several years ago, I smelled those wonderful berries and I really really really wanted to make it. I could not find the recipe. I contacted all my siblings and cousins, but no one seemed to have the recipe. I scoured the internet in old cookbooks and newspapers but could not find what I was looking for.
Fast forward to May 2019. I received a sheepish phone call from my Auntie Helen, “Mary Beth, you’re going to be sooo mad at me. I was just cleaning out a drawer, and I found the recipe for Circus Cake. Do you still want it?” Um… YESSSSS!
And finally, it’s blackberry season. Yesterday my husband and daughters foraged in a local park and came home with a quart or so for me. I thought about making the cake last night but the time sort of got away from me (as time is wont to do), so I made it this morning.
Auntie Helen had sent a couple of other recipes. All had come from my Aunt Bertha. As I whirled together the egg whites, blackberries and sugar into a frothy confection, my thoughts turned to Bertha. The second of my grandparent’s eight children, she devoted her life to a religious vocation, spending her life as a Dominican nun. I have many fond memories of visiting her on Sunday afternoons at the picturesque Dominican convent in San Rafael. She had a beautiful, light-filled office which she shared with Sr. Daniel, whose two Irish setters lazed in the sunlight pouring through the paned windows. I recall San Francisco Giants’ baseball games on the radio on many of those lazy Sundays.
One August Sunday in my early 20s we had a party at our house to celebrate a momentous occasion, Sr. Bertha’s Golden Jubilee, 50 years a nun! I couldn’t imagine anyone doing anything for that long. Sr. Bertha lived another 17 years, adding substantially to that tenure devoted to her calling.
And this morning, as I whipped that delicious frosting and thought of Bertha, recalling that party in August 1982 celebrating her jubilee, I wondered just exactly what day that was. I checked my family tree calendar, and discovered exactly 87 years ago, August 4, 1932, Sr. Bertha took her final vows. I guess there was a reason I waited til this morning to make that cake. Happy Anniversary, Bert!. Miss you.
Here’s the recipe for the cake. I took the easy way out, and used a box angel food cake, but with the Circus Cake frosting:
For Berry Whip frosting, beat together until very stiff and holds its shape:
Mary Kircher Roddy is a genealogist, writer and lecturer, always looking for the story. Her blog is a combination of the stories she has found and the tools she used to find them.