The little notepaper was lined with piano keys on the bottom. At the top it read, "Take Note..."
I had married and moved away from home only a short while ago when I wanted to bake a Pineapple Upside-Down Cake. I had no recipe and not enough confidence to toss in a few handfuls of ingredients like Mum often did, so I wrote to mother for the recipe. This was the piece of paper I got back.
It's difficult to understand how a little piece of notepaper with a recipe on it can say so much about a person. Mum hadn't just picked some piece lying around; she hadn't just torn a scrap out of an old notebook. No. She was particular about the way she did things. Her slim five-foot petite frame was always neatly and tastefully dressed. The notepaper was filled with recipe instructions in her tidy handwriting.
I read it as I prepared to bake one Friday afternoon.
1. Cook pineapple rings with sugar and cool. Why didn't she just say, "Open a can of pineapple rings." That would be quick and easy. But that was mother all right. She made most things from scratch—noodles for lasagna, gluten for roasts. She believed in good wholesome cooking. My mind filled with pictures—pictures of mother standing over a pot of bubbling guava cheese, sweat on her brow; mother peeling and slicing baskets of mango to be bottled; mother picking gooseberries from her always-lush garden for her famous gooseberry jam. We never lacked a table filled with good food.
2. Sprinkle greased pan with brown sugar and cover with pineapple rings.
3. Pour over one recipe of sponge cake batter.
When I read this part, I could hardly believe my eyes! This was the part I needed the most. What was she thinking when she wrote out this recipe? Anyone who's eaten Pineapple Upside-Down Cake can guess that you sprinkle sugar and throw in a few pineapple rings. That's the easy part! I was frantic. I was living in India, and I could not run down to the store and get a cake mix and I certainly did not have time to wait for Mum to send me the sponge cake recipe!
Of course, this recipe was vintage Mum. She was so helpful when it came to giving instruction, counsel, and advice, but she always left room for creativity and thought. She had always given me plenty of practice for working things out on my own. She wanted me to experiment and make new discoveries.
I accepted this recipe as a challenge. I had watched Mum mix batter for cakes on numerous occasions. I had done many myself, without a recipe. Only she had always been there to turn to, to ask advice from. Now I was on my own. I got out my mixing bowl, the measuring cups and spoons, and tried to recall Mum's "one" recipe—one cup sugar, one egg, one cup milk, one teaspoon vanilla, one teaspoon baking powder, etc.
4. Bake until done at 350 degrees. Turn over while hot.
Of course, I would bake the cake until it was done! Who would want to eat a cake that had not been sufficiently cooked? I put the cake in the oven and watched and waited in suspense to see how it would turn out. As I watched the cake, I wondered how many long, lonely hours and years Mum had spent watching me grow up, puzzling over how I would turn out. Soon the cake was done, and I had a perfect golden brown Pineapple Upside-Down Cake. The once crisp, clean notepaper with the recipe on it has gathered some food stains over the years. It has moved from one house to another. Now 13 years later and in another country, I still take it out when I bake a Pineapple Upside-Down Cake. I think of Mum and smile as I smell the aroma of the Pineapple Upside-Down Cake that always seems to turn out fine.