Our aunt had a chronic limp. No one knew why. There was plenty of speculation. Rusty nail. War wound. Equestrian accident. She never said. She just limped. And limp she did until her last day upon this earth.
There was much we didn’t know about my aunt. Her name, for one. We called her Aunty Flo. Was it short for Florence? Flower? Flowina? We never knew. And she never said. Her birth certificate was reportedly destroyed during a locust infestation when she lived somewhere on the American plains. So, even after her death, when her extended family went through her meagre possessions, no birth certificate was found. Nor was the truth about her real name.
After her death at the ripe old age of 90 plus or minus five years, my sister and I volunteered for the task of pouring through her belongings. We were in search of one thing in particular. We could live with the mystery of her given legal name. We could live with the real reason behind her chronic limp. But we couldn’t live without her ginger cake recipe.
Aunt Flo was not a woman of wealth. She lived frugally within the familiar walls of the family house she was born and raised in. Other than her legendary brief stint living in some non-specific town upon the American plains allegedly married to some unspecified mail order groom, she’d live her life in this old house.
Whether it was her meagre finances or family tradition, every Christmas, Aunt Flo would give the same gift to all of us, year in year out– a ginger cake made from the secret family recipe that had reportedly been passed down through five generations, always entrusted to the eldest daughter.
Unlike other tedious family traditions, the ginger cakes were something we actually looked forward to. That’s putting it mildly. They were actually the single most important aspect of our Christmas, treasured beyond any other gifts showered upon family members. Diamond jewelry, that Mercedes Benz, all-expenses paid trips to Italy. They all seemed trivial when held up against the wondrous ginger cakes– the taste and texture going beyond the capacity of language to fully capture.
And so, when our spinster Aunt Flo passed on without a daughter or son for that matter, we worried that the recipe may be lost forever. Then again, we held out a faint hope that it might be found somewhere in her belongings.
Alas. To no avail. After combing through her scrapbooks, bank statements, and letters, no recipe was found.
“It had to have been written somewhere,” my sister said. “Her memory was terrible in those last few years. But the ginger cakes were still wonderful.”
The recipe and its fate may have remained a mystery for good, had it not been for a receipt found in a corner of one of her old purses. It was from Bart’s Tattoo Emporium in Council Grove, Kansas. The scrawled handwriting on the receipt was difficult to decipher, but we all concluded, the smudged ink across the flimsy paper read, “Foot Tattoo, Paid in Full.”
“At least that explains the limp. Why would someone want to get a tattoo on the bottom of their foot?” I asked. Aunt Flo had an enigmatic side to her I never suspected.
“Isn’t it obvious?” my sister replied. “She had the ginger cake recipe tattooed onto the bottom of her foot. That way, she’d never lose it, even if she did lose her mind.”
In a bizarre sort of way, this made sense, and prompted me to ask my sister, “So, how desperate are you to get that ginger cake recipe?”
With a look of determination that unsettled me, my sister took a deep breath, and said, “I’ve got a shovel and a headlamp.”
The Ginger Cake Recipe (Don’t ask how I got it.)
4 cups of all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 Tablespoon of ginger powder
2 cups of Thompson Seedless raisins
3 Tablespoons of finely chopped preserved ginger (Dalton’s brand is good)
1 1/2 cups of butter
1 cup molasses
1 1/2 cups white sugar
11” circular coffee cake pan
What to do:
1. Heat in a saucepan to a boil the butter, molasses and sugar.
2. Combine dry ingredients in separate bowl.
3. Add heated stuff to the dry ingredients, then stir in the eggs one at a time, stirring rapidly and making sure each egg is fully mixed in before adding the next one.
4. Pour into a greased, floured coffee cake pan. (You may also want to cut out a piece of parchment paper to line the bottom.)
5. Bake for approximately 1 hour at 325 F. It’s done when a chopstick comes out clean.
6. Let it cool for about half an hour. Then, run a knife around the edge of the pan to make sure it’s not sticking. Invert onto a cooling rack.
7. Go to a tattoo parlour and have this timeless recipe tattooed on the bottom of your foot. It may cause you to limp somewhat, but knowing that it’ll be always with you (barring the loss of your foot) should be comforting.