There are very few topics on which I consider myself something of an authority. I will humbly admit I’m an expert in at least a few areas of the law and I think I’m pretty good at listening and talking people through their problems.
Even when I don’t have any especially useful wisdom to offer, I’m usually at least good for offering up an insightful quote from “Joe Dirt” or possibly “The Big Lebowski.” Beyond that, I suppose my only real talents are cooking and eating.
Of course I’m not as qualified an authority on food as Mr. Andy MacDonald, Lagniappe’s esteemed cuisine editor and recent Nappie Award Winner for best columnist, but I do tend to have pretty strong opinions when it comes to all things edible.
By the way, since people have been asking me about this for years and as recently as last week, I’d like to go ahead and take a moment to publicly set the record straight. Despite the similarity found in our surnames, Andy MacDonald and I are not and have never been married to each other.
We are actually distant cousins who at one time were pretty close, but things went sour at a family event many years ago when we found ourselves fighting over the last slice of Lane Cake. The cake was very tasty and neither of us were willing to relent, so we ended up engaging in pretty spirited duel involving dangerous swordplay and stunning athleticism.
In the end I walked away with the cake, but not before Andy dealt a devastating blow with his sword and sliced an “a” from my last name, right between the “m” and the “c.” I was absolutely furious and filled with spite, and I ate the cake right in front of him, making a point to enjoy it as loudly as possible. Not to be outdone, Andy emitted a sinister laugh and before I could finish chewing my cake long enough to protest, he popped my “a” in his mouth and ate it like a sour grape.
We didn’t speak for years, and I was forced to carry on with life as a McDonald instead of a MacDonald. That was a long time ago and all grudges have long dissolved. These days we have come to share a mutual fondness and respect, but we no longer consider ourselves related. Hopefully that settles the matter once and for all.
But I digress. I’m pretty sure we were talking about food in general, and Lane Cake in particular. If you didn’t read it for yourself, you might have heard about the recent Slate Magazine article designating the Lane Cake as our state’s signature dessert. If so, you may have thought exactly the same thing I thought when I read the article. What the hell is a Lane Cake and what’s it got to do with Alabama?
Maybe there’s just something wrong with my family, but I come from a long line of fine Southern cooks and I can say with certainty my grandmother never taught me that one. As it turns out, Lane Cake is a white layer sponge cake made with a bourbon, butter and raisin filling and slathered in whipped egg-white icing. It was named after Emma Rylander Lane, the Clayton, Ala. woman who included it in her 1898 cookbook.
Apparently it was mentioned in Monroeville native Harper Lee’s wildly famous masterpiece, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” I’ve read the book several times and would even consider it a significant inspiration for my decision to go to law school, but I have only the vaguest recollection of any mention of the cake and probably just assumed it was some obscure family recipe. Apparently it’s a real “thing.”
According to the rules laid out in the Slate article, no two states could have the same signature dessert, specific brand names were excluded, and no state could claim chocolate chip cookies or apple pie. Some of the choices were pretty obvious, with peach cobbler going to Georgia, key lime pie to Florida, and pot candy to Colorado (ha!), but ours seemed pretty lame.
Our state fruit is the blackberry, our state nut is the pecan, and our state fruit tree is the peach. I can easily understand why they gave the peach cobbler to Georgia, but we should at least gotten the blackberry cobbler, my own personal favorite which I make regularly in the spring and early summer. Instead, they gave that one to Oregon, whose state fruit is actually the pear. Seems to me those guys would probably prefer some sort of fruit and fish fusion dessert off the hip new food truck over the simple homey classic.
It would also make sense to give us pecan pie, but instead they assigned it to Texas. I suppose they felt sorry for them because their state fruit is the grapefruit, which is pretty much the least exciting fruit in existence. Their state nut is also the pecan, which was probably the basis of the decision, but I’d imagine those folks in Texas have probably got some sort of chili tart or cinnamon chimichanga they’d rather be eating. Their claim to pecan pie is unjust at best.
There were plenty of popular Southern desserts left unclaimed, including buttermilk pie, pound cake, and the widely beloved Hummingbird cake. Hardly anyone I know seems to have heard of this mysterious Lane Cake, and I’m almost convinced it’s a figment of someone’s imagination and only exists in fictional stories about virtuous lawyers or goofy columnists.
I’m not sure if I’m annoyed my state was misrepresented or if it’s just because there’s a potentially delicious cake I haven’t been eating all these years. I suspect the latter. Lucky for me, I’ve got a long-standing policy when it comes to cake: Don’t knock it till you try it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some baking to do.