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Sunday, December 5, 2021
ArlingtonOpinionOld-School column: That takes the cake!

Old-School column: That takes the cake!

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by CAROL McEWEN, for the Sun Gazette

Remember what life was like BCM (Before Cake Mixes)?

I certainly do, because my skillful mother baked almost every day. We never sat down for an evening meal, called supper by us plain-spoken Midwesterners, without a homemade dessert.

Back in the day, cake-baking required quite a time commitment. My mother not only fed her family of five; she kept a spotless house and acted as bookkeeper/tax accountant for my dad’s business. So, to paraphrase Realtor-speak, time was of the essence.

She could knock out a pie in 15 minutes or so, as mentioned in my Jan. 22 column, but cake-baking was as slow as molasses in January.

Enter cake mixes in 1948, thanks to Pillsbury and Betty Crocker, with Duncan Hines following suit in 1951. This new product thrilled my mother. Suddenly she could make a cake as fast (or faster) than a pie!

The mixes were not only faster; they were more reliable. The box suggested baking times, but our oven “ran hot,” as Mom said, so her cakes finished sooner. No need to worry about cakes falling, even if she opened the oven door too soon. As one smart ad person put it, “We’re not selling flour. We’re selling convenience.” So true!

And cake-baking grew even easier as frosting tubs appeared on grocery shelves. I still miss the luscious Seven-Minute Frosting cooked over boiling water in a double boiler. Heck, I even miss the faster-made powdered sugar icing Mom favored: plenty of powdered sugar with enough milk to make it spreadable but not runny, a capful of vanilla and a little soft butter for richness. (Yes, I miss it, but not THAT much.)

No need to wash and use those beaters twice, or wipe down surrounding walls which looked like a crime scene with splattered frosting.

Recently, I saw “baking hacks” online. Since I couldn’t figure out what a taxi or its driver had to do with baking, I asked a more savvy friend.
“Why didn’t they just SAY ‘shortcut’?” I huffed to myself after getting the explanation.

Now, I’m the Hack Queen, dumping a few things in with the mix for a “homemade” product. Mom would have loved it.

It just goes to show: you CAN teach an Old School dog new tricks

A resident of Arlington for 40+ years, Carol McEwen sells real estate when she’s not imparting deep insights or sparkling wit in this column. You can reach her at carolwrites4fun@gmail.com.

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