A Taste of Heaven
By Sandra Fischer
My daughter, Sarah, stands on the kitchen stool, spatula in hand, ready to scrape the edge of the mixing bowl. The bowl turns on the stand, swirling the angel food cake mixture in a whirlpool of white. I join the rhythmic sound of the mixer as it spins, humming the melody of an old hymn, "In the sweet by and by, we shall meet on that beautiful shore. . ."
As I sing I am transported to a similar scene some thirty years before when my grandmother taught me about heaven and angel food cakes Ö
My bike fender rattles as I turn into Grandmaís lane. Pine needles crunch under the tires as I coast to a stop by the rusty pump. I am greeted by the faint tinkling of piano mixed with squeaky soprano. I hurry through the kitchen in time to join the chorus:
"In the sweet by and by, we shall meet on that beautiful shore. In the sweet by and by-y, we shall meet on that beautiful shore."
"Land sakes child, you surprised me!" Grandma stops to give me a squeeze.
"Donít stop," I plead. "Play another one."
We go through our favorites: "When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder, Iíll Be There", "In My Heart There Rings A Melody", "Tell Me the Story of Jesus". All are lively songs, filled with images of Jesus and heaven.
"Thatís enough for these old bones," Grandma sighs and closes the songbook. "I wonít have enough strength left to bake the cake."
"I can do it!" I chime. "You just tell me the directions."
"Well, I guess I learned to bake my first angel food cake before I was much more than ten," Grandma beams as she begins to move measuring bowls and utensils about.
"Is that why your angel food cakes are so famous?" I ask following her footsteps. Grandma laughs at my reference to her baking fame, but I know the reputation of Forgey angel food cakes. All my cousins and I relish those fluffy masterpieces each birthday. No cakewalk, food auction or carry-in dinner was considered successful unless a Forgey cake was there. Whenever Grandma attended a potluck, folks would greet her with, "Did you bring a cake, Luella?" instead of the usual "hello" or "how are you".
"Mary Ellen says one of your cakes sold for $50 at an auction. Doesnít that make you famous?"
Grandma chuckles as she ties an apron around me. "Well, you can tell your sister that Iím not Betty Crocker and if folks want to spend their money on a tower of sweet fluff, thatís all right with me. ĎSpecially when it goes for a good cause."
We begin the process of separating the eggs and somehow Grandma gets ahead of me. I spend most of my time picking pieces of eggshell out of the slippery bowl.
"Maybe youíd like to begin the sifting," Grandma suggests.
I gladly wipe my hands and move to the sifter. Back and forth I go from one side of the table to the other, taking first the sugar and then the flour out of the special bowls used for measuring, sifting them into small heaps on newspaper. Soon both my apron and hands are dusty-white.
"Ready for the muscle stretcher?" Grandma asks, as she brings the mixing bowl and places it in my lap.
"Ready," I answer, although I know this to be the most challenging part Ė beating the thirteen egg whites with the wooden-handled wire whisk. Around and around I whip my arm, quickly at first. The liquid becomes frothy then begins to whiten. When one-arm tires, I switch to the other hoping the desired stiff peaks will form before I wear out. Finally, Grandma comes to my rescue and soon the batter piles into cloud-topped mountains.
I ponder, then ask, "Why do they call this cake Ďangel foodí?"
"Well, now," Grandma replies, "thatís why this is such a special recipe." She strikes a match and lights the burner under the metal oven on the kerosene stove.
"You see, long ago, when the Hebrew people were lost in the wilderness, they asked God to send food. So, He made this special recipe. It was pure and white, light and fluffy and it tasted like honey. He would send it down from heaven to the people each day. It would fall on the earth and the people would gather it up. They called it "manna", but because the people knew it came from heaven, they figured the angels must have helped in Godís kitchen. So, many years later people began to call it "angel food".
"Howíd you get the recipe? Did an angel give it to you?"
"Not directly," Grandma smiles, "although every good and perfect gift does come from the Lord. Iíd allow that someone figured out the ingredients along the way and passed it on. My grandmother taught me the recipe and now Iím showing you."
"Iím glad God thought it up," I muse. We fold the last of the flour and sugar into the batter and pour it into the tunnel pan.
"Itís even made in a circle," Grandma adds. "Like Godís love, it has no end."
Using her apron to open the oven door, Grandma slides the cake onto the rack. I finish licking the spatula and rinse my sticky hands. We clean up the kitchen and then I ask, "Can we sing some more while it bakes?"
"Well," Grandma cocks her head and winks, "maybe thereís some life left in these old fingers for another tune or two."
Soon the fragrance of the baking angel food fills the air as our voices join in the sweetness of the moment Ö
"Why do they call this Ďangel foodí cake, Mommy?"
Sarahís voice breaks my reverie and I stop humming. I smile as I begin to reiterate the story of how God fed His children and how I learned to bake the special cake. I share how her great-grandmother gave me a taste of heaven by sharing her faith in her kitchen and at her piano. I think about how we are stirring up memories and, at the same time, making new ones.
"Is your grandma eating angel cake in heaven now, Mommy?" she asks as she licks the spatula.
"Iím sure of it." I answer. I can see her sitting on the shore of a glistening lake, munching on a spongy piece of white. She only stops occasionally to join the chorus of the celestial, white-winged creatures beside her. I can hear the familiar strains of a song that echoes Godís promise taught to me years before.
"Now," I say to Sarah. "I want to teach you a special song."
The old melodic refrain fills the kitchen. "In the sweet by and by, we shall meet on that beautiful shoreÖ"
Sandra Fischer taught high school English in Indiana before owning a bookstore for several years. Most of her writing are stories wrought from her experiences growing up in the Midwest. She has been published in Guideposts and several trade journals. Having retired in 2000, Sandra lives in South Carolina with her husband, Craig, where she continues to write. You can contact Sandra via the "Your Letters" page of this magazine.
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