Memories are a tricky thing. I have always had a sense that my first food memory was of shredded coconut on top of an Easter Bunny cake that my mom used to make. But the food memory was such an early one, when I was four or five. And the cake memory was an older memory, from when I was in elementary school.
Recently, though, I found a photo that proved the timing was right on the food memory. Here I am, probably around four or five years old, holding the Easter Bunny cake that I remember from elementary school. (I’m not really 100% sure why I’m holding the cake in the family room as opposed to the kitchen, but it was the ‘70s – anything goes.)
I have such fond memories of this cake, but to this day, I don’t really like the taste of coconut. Or maybe it’s the texture. It’s kind of a flat taste to me (I also don’t like cilantro – the ole’ “it tastes like soap” rationale).
Coconut milk is a trendy ingredient in Whole30 and low-carb circles. I’ve most often seen it added to soups in place of heavy cream. Shredded coconut shows up in energy bites. And coconut oil … it seems to be everywhere. Yet even in candy, coconut isn’t a flavor I crave.
But back to the cake: My mom used shredded coconut for the bunny’s “fur” and I distinctly remember sneaking a taste while the cake sat in the chocolate-brown refrigerator in our wallpapered kitchen. There’s a sense memory there of getting reprimanded for sneaking that taste, although my mom wasn’t really one to scold us, so maybe that’s my own internal guilt talking.
I do know I’ve always loved cake. And that must come from my mom, because she always made or bought unique cakes for our birthdays. One year, for a pool party, she even had a half-sheet cake with a small swimming pool perched on one corner, surrounded, oddly enough, by pine trees (we lived in San Francisco’s East Bay, so I’m not sure how the pine trees came into play). If she made a cake, she always decorated it with our names spelled out in icing or small candies. Very old school. Which makes for very sweet memories.
Today I’m more likely to bake a Bundt cake. I have a small collection of Bundt pans. Before the pandemic, I used to bake Bundt cakes for our teacher appreciation lunches. (If you’re ever in need of a chocolate Bundt cake recipe, this one is deceptively easy and always garners a ton of compliments and “how did you make this?” queries.)
I also make the Nabisco chocolate wafer icebox cake a few times a year, but now that those cookies have been discontinued (why, God?!), I’ll have to tinker around with alternate cookie choices (and my family is down for that).
There are more modern variations of the Easter Bunny cake (this one is identical in shape to my mom’s, complete with step-by-step instructions), but my mom’s version is the one I love best. Do you have a vintage cake memory?
This essay was originally published on Substack.