The Big Occasion Cake

A respondent asked me about the recipe I reprinted on the Survey of Cook Book Habitry. The original recipe, dated April 1968, is long lost, I think. This version of the recipe has been around for decades, since the early 1990s. I’ve been carrying this copy around since I was Patty Blasko and living in Oakland California. It has traveled thousands of miles, crammed into my first edition Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book.

You can see evidence of my mom’s kitchen on this recipe. She cut it out, like other recipes that worked for her, then imparted her own notes on the original. Her perfect cursive 8″ rounds hangs over the teaspoon of vanilla. Mom stapled the original magazine copy to a sheet of letterhead from our family store “Mary Jo’s Grocery,” then 3-hole punched it for her blue binder. Mary Jo’s 1-inch binder is what I’d call an auxiliary cook book, unpublished, unique and variable. Boxes of index cards fall into this category of cook book, too. There are often wonderful handwritten recipes in auxiliary cook books. 

Mary Jo with two of her daughters Patty and Mary Grace, in front of our family grocery store. This photo was taken in 1969, less than year after The Big Occasion Cake recipe was published by Better Homes and Gardens.

Growing up, The Big Occasion cake was as regular as April. It was my father’s favorite birthday cake, he loved anything with pecans. When they were oven toasted in butter, like for this recipe, it was decadent to him, almost sinful. 

Mom would bake The Big Occasion Cake other times, too. I can remember chopping the dusty pecans and closely monitoring them in the oven. My job was to toss them three times, making sure to cover every nut in some melted butter. Then I’d gauge when to pull them out, judging by the smell of them toasting… to just the right doneness. 

I could never understand why dad would choose nuts over chocolate or banana. But I  would enjoy eating The Big Occasion Cake and making it for him when I lived within baking proximity. Baking proximity can be hundreds of miles, by the way. I recall once baking The Big Occasion cake in my Queens New York apartment and driving through the night to deliver it in Johnstown accompanied by a surprise song. 

Of course we’re looking at a digital scan of the photocopied recipe. The actual recipe is on my dining room table. I baked the Big Occasion cake last weekend, with walnuts. Dad would have tolerated but not approve of my substitution, as ever.