Bertha was my husband’s mother. Like me, she moved to Greenville with her husband. She was originally from up north, possibly New York City. She was half Cherokee and half descended from African slaves in America, but she never spoke much about her life before coming to Greenville and raising her eight children. According to her husband she was a kitchen mechanic. He would sometimes sell her pies in the neighborhood. According to my husband, she didn’t use measuring cups or spoons to make any of the many treats he so fondly remembers. But his favorite was her pound cake. I got the recipe for Bertha’s Lemon Pound Cake from my niece, and have made it many times now. In spite of it being winter, we are getting about a dozen eggs a day. One way to use up eggs is to make this cake that calls for no less than seven. So last week I made a pound cake.
Bertha’s Lemon Pound Cake Recipe
- 3 sticks unsalted butter (1 1/2 cups), room temp.
- 3 cups sugar
- 7 eggs, room temp.
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 3 tbsp. lemon extract
- 1 cup milk, room temp.
- Pre-heat oven to 350º
- In a mixing bowl blend together the butter and sugar into a smooth paste.
- Add the eggs one at a time and mix well.
- Sift the flour with the baking powder and salt and then add to mixture, blending well.
- Add the lemon extract one tbs. at a time, blending until smooth.
- Slowly pour in the milk, blending until smooth.
- Pour the batter into a round cake pan prepared with thin layer of butter and sprinkled with flour.
- Bake for 65 minutes or until golden on top and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
- Allow to cool completely before gently removing from pan.
Also last week, we had a couple guys around replacing the old planks of our deck. This, because my husband’s knees are officially retired. Usually when we need work done he will ask for a recommendation. His friend, who once poured some concrete for us, warned him that he knew some guys but they were white, to which my husband replied that he didn’t care as long as they could do the job. Apparently, when they arrived, they also had no qualms about working for a black man with a white wife. So, while discord and disagreement occur in other places, here it’s been all about getting the work done. My husband brought them each a slice of pound cake around lunch time and they asked him to “thank mama.” When he brought them another slice the next day, they offered to buy all the ingredients if I would bake a whole cake for them.
I keep all the ingredients in my pantry and get the eggs straight from the chicken coop. (They actually blend in to the batter better when they are warm.) And since I still had about four dozen eggs in my refrigerator I decided to bake a cake for them. I get the pure lemon extract and Happy Cow butter in two pound bricks from the Greenville State Farmer’s Market on Rutherford Road. I set out the butter for an hour before mixing the cake, so that it’s warm also. I get the organic raw sugar in ten pound bags from Costco. I use unbleached all-purpose flour, and aluminum-free baking powder. I replace the milk with un-chilled coconut milk. And since I rely on measuring cups and spoons, I think Bertha was the master among us. Her legacy lives on here in Greenville. Let there be Bertha’s Lemon Pound Cake for everyone! Maybe we could all get along.