“Take the Cake” : Curtis & Cake & the Cake Box Tradition
Curtis & Cake bills itself as an independent small-batch cake and sweets studio inspired by the tastes of the American South and the women who created them. That influence runs along a spectrum. Sometimes it shows up as practices or ideas directly linked to specific figures (like cake recipes adapted from Edna Lewis and Cleora Butler) and sometimes the influence has more to do with a kind of cultural affinity. The influence behind my cake tasting boxes is more the latter.
Not only are they a beautiful and convenient way to offer cake tastings for engaged couples when wedding prep schedules are tight, the Curtis & Cake cake tasting box is also connected to a lovely history in some rural African American communities.
In her beautiful book Brown Sugar: Soul Food Desserts from Family and Friends, Joyce White writes: “The moment word went out about an upcoming box supper, the collective pulse of our community in rural Alabama quickened. The traveling Watkins salesman stocked up on cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and cloves, as well as vanilla, lemon, orange, and almond extract, for he knew that most of the women would prepare a cake box. The women also bought fresh eggs, butter and milk...and the baking was meticulous. Early in the afternoon of the appointed day, each woman packed a main box supper with fried chicken, a biscuit or two, and perhaps potato salad. Then she lined a shoebox with crepe paper, nestled in [several] generous slices of cake, capped on the lid, and tied the box with ribbon. She wrote her name on the bottom of the box out of plain sight...Later that evening the boxes were lined on the table at the church or school hosting the dinner and prospective buyers would circle the table, trying to decide which box belonged to whom. Some of the women would whisper to an admirer that their cake box was tied with a certain color of ribbon or tell him to look for a little x mark on the box. At the end of the evening we walked home remembering divine coconut cakes, rich chocolate cakes, succulent caramel cakes, tender pound cakes, all of which were made with love.”
I love the communal aspect of this practice and the potential for tender, budding romance is just so appropriate for engaged couples who are just embarking on a life together! I’m glad that at least on some level, the Curtis & Cake tasting box is carrying on this lovely tradition.