By Lea Efird
Almost all of my earliest memories take place in Albemarle, North Carolina in my grandparents’ old house, one they sold when I was four or so. I remember constantly playing with my cousin Hunter, only 10 weeks older than me, as if he were my twin brother (we did look just alike, after all). I remember getting hit in the face with a metal toy bulldozer, losing my favorite Barbie, and camping out during a power outage. I remember being forced to eat pickled beets and finding out I liked them and helping catch a mouse with my father and uncle (I was guarding the door). Something that sticks with me even more is the smell and taste of my grandma’s chess cake, which she still makes for us on special occasions.
Chess cake is fought over by all the members of my family – with three more grandchildren added now – as we vie for the most pieces of everyone’s favorite dessert. It’s not that hard to make oneself, but of course my grandma always makes it better when she does it. It tastes like vanilla, a little like cheese cake, with a flaky top layer and a cake-like bottom crust. But I honestly have never had anything else that tastes similar.
My grandma’s recipe looks like this:
o 1 Box yellow cake mix
o 1 stick butter (soft)
o 1 egg
o Mix with spoon and press into 9x13x2 pan
o 1 box 10x powdered sugar
o 2 eggs
o 8 oz. cream cheese (soft)
o Mix with mixer and pour over cake mixture
o Bake at 250 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour
Simple, right? Pretty easy to do with an oven and some basic supplies. At risk of sounding overly sentimental, there’s more to it, though, that means that my mother and aunt don’t make it, that my cousins and I don’t pop some in the oven for ourselves. A secret ingredient? Maybe. But it’s not the same if eleven people aren’t standing around your kitchen waiting for the pan to cool enough to cut, talking about hunting and farming and the latest church gossip. I’m positive that it doesn’t taste the same as when you’re eating it out of a tin after your first semester of college, feeling homesick, or when it’s your birthday cake when you turn ten because a real cake flopped in the oven.
To all those who have tasted this masterpiece, kudos. To those who haven’t, run to the Aldi, Walmart, or Piggly Wiggly and get cooking. There are memories to make.
Lea Efird, our 2015 APPLES summer intern and a student at UNC Chapel Hill, Class of 2017, is a double major in Spanish and History, minoring in English. She currently resides in Chapel Hill, but is from Albemarle, NC. Her future plans include earning a Master’s of Social Work and a PhD in History to work in the nonprofit sector.