To be honest, I could have quoted about 5 consecutive pages from this chapter, but instead here are some selected quotes touching on the themes of food, memories and emotions. To set the scene, Sadie and Jack are German Jews who emigrated to the UK in 1937, leaving behind their family who disappeared during World War II. One of Sadie's prized possessions is the well loved and well used recipe book from her mother, and this is the first time that Sadie has taken it out of the box she keeps it in to cook from it;
Sadie stroked the battered volume. The spine was coming away and the cloth loose, and she glanced through the index, neatly inscribed in her mother's curling hand and smudged with mixtures from a hundred meal times, until she found the one she wanted: 'Baumtorte'- part of a category called 'cakes to help you remember'. Unlike Jack Sadie preferred German to English because she like the literal meanings of the words; they were put together like tiny building blocks and felt good in her mouth as she said them. 'Baumtorte' was a good word, meaning tree (Baum) cake (Torte), since it is made of layers like the rings of a tree, Sadie, like her mother and grandmother before her, had baked a Baumtorte whenever she needed to remember. She'd baked a cake after Jack kissed her for the first time that December night, another when he proposed (in a noisy train carriage on the way back from Frankfurt, so she couldn't hear him and he had to repeat himself), another when they were stripped of German citizenship and one more after Elizabeth was born. She made the last one with Mutti on the day they received their exit visas. They'd asked for six (Jack, Sadie, Elizabeth, Mutti, Papa and Emil) but there were only three. They hadn't cried - they'd baked a Baumtorte. (page 140)Sadie bakes her cake, with "each cake was placed on top of another and then another until, when dawn came, there was a cake towering many feet high with a thousand layers of rings: every layer holding a memory." (page 141). The ladies from the town smell Sadie's cake and invite her to their village meeting, and Sadie takes the Baumtorte with her.
It was time for tea and Sadie went to her Baumtorte, which rested on a makeshift table, bowing under its weight. She cut slices for each of them with a huge knife - the thinnest that she could manage. The women ate, and it was the most remarkable cake that they had ever tasted. It was sweet and perfectly moist with a hint of lemon but, as her mouth filled with deliciousness, each woman was overwhelmed with sadness. Each tasted Sadie's memories, her loss and unhappiness and whilst they ate Sadie was, for once, not alone in her sorrow. (page 144)
There are several places to find the recipe online. I found this one at The Times Online. Natasha Solomons has provided the recipe, and you can see what it looks like at the author's website.
225g caster sugar (or vanilla sugar — caster sugar stored with a vanilla pod)
225g unsalted butter;
225g plain flour;
Zest of 1 lemon
For the icing:
1 tbsp lemon juice;
175g icing sugar, sieved;
Candied orange and lemon segments for decoration
Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, one by one. Stir in the lemon zest to taste — it should have a hint of lemon, not too zingy. When the mixture is creamy, slowly mix in the flour. Spread a thin layer of mixture in a cake tin and lightly brown under the grill. Continue to spread and grill, layer upon layer, until all the mixture is used. Allow to cool. Meanwhile, whisk the lemon juice into the icing sugar, then gradually add water until you have a lovely, thick icing. Ice the cake, then decorate with candied orange and lemon segments.
Please note this book is published under the title Mr Rosenblum Dreams in English in the US.
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