This special edition for May features my great grandma’s recipe.
Welcome back to The Sunday Roast. I’ve got some great news: I made a website — thesundayroastnews.com! I have some experience with CSS, HTML and general site builders, so I figured I’d give creating a home for all my past newsletters a shot so that readers and future readers can peruse my content whenever they want. I’ve even created a page dedicated solely to all the recipes I’ve made so far, including my top tips for success, so anyone can pull up a favorite featured recipe to try out during quarantine. I hope everyone enjoys the website, and please feel free to leave comments, like and share any of the blog posts to let me know what your thoughts are!
This month: I debuted my site after weeks of hard work! Please give it a visit to see old newsletters and each recipe I’ve made so far. I also did a little photoshoot in my kitchen of the beautiful baby blue backsplash and decided I loved the photos enough to make it my new signature background! You’ll find the top of the newsletter now looks different to match the site’s design. Also, my subscriber count is at 78, and I want to hear from every one of you about more diverse subjects I can cover.
Some background: In a monthly newsletter, I combine a DC local’s story behind their favorite recipe(s), or ones that whip up some nostalgia, with photos and prose of my attempt at replication. These recipes vary in difficulty, but they are always ones close to the heart. This newsletter is sent on the third Sunday of each month as the name suggests.
A fun note: Make sure to mark this email as NOT spam to avoid the newsletter regularly ending up in the abyss. Sometimes Mailchimp email campaigns go straight to spam.
Meet Mary Ellen.
This is my great grandmother, Mary Ellen Egan — born in 1887. I never met her sadly since she passed away after my twin aunts were born in 1967, but I talked to my grandmother, Ann Egan, about her mother-in-law to learn about a family matriarch and where an important family recipe came from.
My grandfather, Phil, who unfortunately passed away last year in August, was one of Mary Ellen’s eight children. She was a stay-at-home mother, and while Egan is a very Irish name, her maiden name was Robinson and she was German. And just like my grandpa, Mary Ellen was born and raised in Albany, NY. She eventually married my great grandfather — also Philip — who moved from Connecticut, and stayed in Albany to raise my aunts, Winnie, Phyllis, Peggy, Betty and Aggie, and my uncles and grandpa, Skippy, Phil (or Buddy) and Vince. My grandma tells me that Mary Ellen was hard of hearing and usually sat around to listen, rarely speaking up until she had to give her two-cents worth. She did laugh a lot, however. Mary Ellen either lost her hearing at a young age or through childbirth, my grandma says.
Mary Ellen was known as a baker to her friends, family and neighbors, and she showed her love and kindness through baking homemade treats.
The story behind her recipes.
When I told my roommate I was making mace cake, she looked at me confused and I knew what was coming. No, this recipe does not involve mace spray, as you can see from the photo above. Mace, which I will describe more later, is a lovely, nutmeg-like spice that pairs well with curries and cakes. My grandma tells me it’s likely that Mary Ellen kept this spice around for whenever she needed it.
One day, Mary Ellen — ever the baker — decided to spice up (literally) the typical white cake she made for her family to change things up. She baked and cooked staples for her Irish family of 10 who lived in a small home and made do with what they had. Perhaps she was sick of just alternating between chocolate cake and white cake, my grandma says, so she reached for the mace in her spice cabinet and shook a teaspoon of it into the cake batter. Then, she reached for some shredded coconut and patted a bit onto the frosting. The end result: a perfectly moist, unique and flavorful cake that the entire family loved — a cake that wasn’t just coconut.
According to my grandma, some of the kids decided they hated coconut, so she adjusted the recipe to only put coconut around the sides of the cake — which she continue to this day. Then, she tried putting it on half the cake, but she noticed we started only eating the coconut half, so she returned to putting it on the sides. She also adjusted the white cake recipe to one that is more buttery and moist. But since then, my mother, my aunts, my cousins and I have been baking my grandma’s revised mace cake recipe and enjoying it each year with a scoop of ice cream alongside it at family birthday celebrations.
The mace stays in the cake for my family, and it’s a recipe I hope to keep passing down to my children. Try this wonderful cake in honor of Mother’s Day and let me know all your thoughts!