Where’s the Cake?

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Seung Geel Hong

An elderly couple in a senior citizens apartment building finds something disgusting in a can of grape juice, and they try to find out what it is.

Where’s the Cake?

First Edition

By Hong, Seung Geel

© 2019 by Hong, Seung Geel

All rights reserved

ISBN:  978-1-79472-432-7

Disclaimer

The following story is based on facts, but the names of persons, businesses, and communities (along with their locations) were changed to protect their identities.  Therefore, any likeness of any of the names in this book to any known individuals, businesses, or communities is purely coincidental.

Hong, Seung Geel

1.  History of A&P

In 1859, George F. Gilman and George Huntington Hartford founded a mail-order tea business called “The Great American Tea Company.”  It operated from a storefront and warehouse on 31 Vesey Street in New York City, and it began to establish retail stores in the 1860’s.  Then, in 1870, “The Great American Tea Company” was re-named to “Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company,” or A&P for short.

The company would reach its zenith in 1930, with a total of 16,000 stores in the United States and Canada.  It would experience the beginning of its decline during the early 1950’s, and it would close its last stores in November of 2015.  The stores were auctioned off nine months later in August of 2016.

Below is a chart that displays the number of stores A&P operated during its 156 years of business:

 

Year -------------------------------------------- No. of Stores

1858 ----------------------------------------------------- 0

1863 ----------------------------------------------------- 5

1878 --------------------------------------------------- 70

1900 ------------------------------------------------- 400

1915 ----------------------------------------------- 1,600

1930 ---------------------------------------------- 16,000

1950 ----------------------------------------------- 4,500

1970 ----------------------------------------------- 4,000

1980 ----------------------------------------------- 2,000

1990 ----------------------------------------------- 1,000

2000 ------------------------------------------------- 600

2010 ------------------------------------------------- 395

2015 ------------------------------------------------- 296

 

All the stores were closed by November 25, 2015

2.  Lynda and April

During the latter part of A&P’s existence, a woman named Lynda Justin, along with her three children, witnessed the closing of the last 296 A&P stores.

Lynda was born in Port Huron, Michigan, which is located 63 miles north of Detroit.  She was born in a rented house on Military Street on November 22, 1926.  She married a railroad worker (Jack Hastings) in 1946, and she had three children by 1955: James, Judy, and April.

Jack died of lung cancer in 2001; and three years later, Lynda moved into “Desmond Village,” which is a 2-story senior citizens apartment building on 8th Street.

Meanwhile, Lynda’s elder children (James and Judy) had moved away to Florida and Colorado respectively.  And therefore, Lynda and the youngest child April had bonded extra close as they matured.

Every day, April would visit her mother and assist her with whatever help she needed: help her with the laundry, help with the house-cleaning, take her shopping, take her to the doctor, etc.

3.  The Discussion

On November 03, 2017 (Friday), April arrived to join her mother at the “circle,” which is the front parking lot that has a wide horseshoe driveway.  And between the two ends of the horseshoe driveway (touching the sidewalk), is a patch of grass with a flagpole at the center.

Lynda and three other residents were sitting on two benches when April arrived, and she (April) joined the conversation that was in progress.  A woman (sitting next to Lynda) explained:

 

“. . .  Languages change constantly.  That’s why we often have difficulty understanding the younger generation.

For example, when we were growing up, ‘spam’ was a particular canned meat-product.  But now, it also refers to unsolicited messages that are sent to large number of contacts via the Internet.”

 

As soon as the lady had finished speaking, Lynda added:

 

“Yes!  I remember buying Cuban Spice Cake in the early 1950’s.  It was s-o-o-o good.  And after the trouble between the United States and Cuba, the name of the cake was changed to Hawaiian Spice Cake. . . .

 

April looked at her mother and then asked:

 

“Mom, are you sure it was changed to Hawaiian Spice Cake?  I don’t remember that part.

I only remember that the Cuban Spice Cake became unavailable sometime after the Cuban Missile Crisis, but I don’t remember exactly when.”

 

Lynda thought for a moment and then replied:

 

“Well, you were only 7 or 8 years old at the time, so . . .”

 

Just then, a maroon minivan entered the parking lot and parked approximately 30 feet from the benches.  A woman (wearing knee-length skirt and black leggings) exited the minivan and approached the people who were having the discussion.

She said:

 

“Hi, my name is Sophia, and I’m from B* C* Home Health Services.

Would you be interested in joining me for my presentation?

Free snacks will be served. . . .”

 

Everyone at the benches entered the building and accepted Sophia’s snacks, which included coffee, cookies, and bagels.

One of the ladies immediately left the room after she had taken three chocolate-chip cookies, while the remaining four residents (including Lynda and April) waited for Sophia’s presentation to begin.  Eight more residents entered the room during the next ten minutes, and they each took snacks before sitting down.

Then, Sophia explained all the services that were available at B* C* Home Health Services:

 

  • Nursing Care
  • Physical Therapy
  • Occupational Therapy
  • Speech Therapy
  • Medical Social
  • Home Health Aid
  • Medicare

 

After the presentation, Sophia answered questions and visited with the residents for almost an hour.

During the last 20 minutes, only Sophia, Lynda, and April were still in the room.

April asked:

 

“Sophia, do you do any baking?”

 

Sophia quickly answered:

 

“Yes!  I enjoy baking.  I’m Greek, and my uncle owns a Greek restaurant in Youngstown, Ohio.  I used to help set the tables, clean the dishes, and operate the cash register when I was growing up.

After I grew up, I married and did nothing for the first two years except to cook for my husband and take care of the house, because he wanted a stay-at-home wife.  And during that time, I did a lot of cooking and baking.

Then, after I had three children, I entered the job-market to help pay for the growing family.  But I still experiment with new recipes, including baking.

Why do you ask?”

 

April answered:

 

“Well, . . . outside, . . . before you arrived, we were talking about the Cuban Spice Cake that my mother used to buy before the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

I think A&P used to sell it, but I’m not sure.

We really enjoyed it, but it became unavailable sometime after 1962.  That is, the name ‘Cuban Spice Cake’ became unavailable.

My mother believes that the cake was re-named to ‘Hawaiian Spice Cake’ sometime after the missile crisis.

I was only 7 or 8 years old at the time, so I was too young to know what happened to the Cuban Spice Cake.

I remember that we did eat cakes (after the missile crisis) that resembled the Cuban Spice Cake, but I don’t remember the name of it. . . .”

 

Sophia commented:

 

“That’s interesting.  I wasn’t even born until many years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, so I have no idea if the cake was re-named to ‘Hawaiian Spice Cake.’  And since A&P is no longer in business, there would be no way for us to find out.

H-m-m-m, I’m curious now.  So I’m going to do some research.

Give me your E-mail address, and I’ll contact you if I find anything. okay?”

 

April eagerly wrote down her E-mail address on the back of a B* C* Home Health Services brochure and handed it to Sophia.

4.  The Research

After her presentation at Desmond Village, Sophia held a presentation at Vicksburg Halls in Marysville, a 2-story senior citizens apartment building approximately six miles south of Port Huron.

She, then, stopped at Meijer (a mile south of Vicksburg Halls) and bought canned goods before going home.  (She lived in Richmond, 15-16 miles southwest of Marysville.)

At about 8:00 p.m., Sophia began her research on the Internet for the mysterious Cuban Spice Cake, but she had no luck.

Meanwhile, her 16-year-old daughter Heather had joined her mother’s research-project for half an hour, but she likewise could not find anything concerning the Cuban Spice Cake.

During the next three weeks, Sophia and Heather spent a total of approximately 40 hours searching the Internet for information concerning the Cuban Spice Cake that was sold by A&P during the 1950’s, but neither of them had any luck.

However, they did find several recipes for Hawaiian Spice Cake, but none of them seemed to have any connection with A&P.

Interestingly, both Sophia and Heather found many recipes for the “Spanish Bar Cake,” and several of them claimed to be the “Original” A&P recipe.  They all were similar, and they included as many as five spices.  But obviously, they all could not be the “original” A&P recipe!

Nonetheless, Heather found two recipes that were nearly identical.  The only difference was that one recipe calls for one cup of shortening, while the other recipe calls for one cup of butter.  Heather also found additional information concerning the A&P Spanish Bar Cake, and she showed her findings to her mother.  Hence, Sophia compiled all the information from their research and prepared an E-mail for April, along with an attachment-file.

5.  The First E-mail

By this time, Lynda and April had completely forgotten the conversation about the Cuban Spice Cake, and April gasped when she received the E-mail from Sophia:

 

*************************

 

“Hi, April!

 

Unfortunately, I could only spend about 15 hours searching the Internet for information on the Cuban Spice Cake; and I had no luck.  But my daughter Heather managed to spend about 25 hours on the Internet and learned that there was a famous A&P Spanish Bar Cake, which was sold under the brand-names ‘Ann Page’ and ‘Jane Parker.’

Even though we could not find anything on the Cuban Spice Cake, we did find many recipes for various spice cakes, including the Hawaiian Spice Cake and the Spanish Bar Cake.

All the cakes contain any (or all) of the following spices.  Some of the cakes contain even more:

 

Cinnamon

Cloves

Allspice

Ginger

Nutmeg

 

Depending on the ingredients in the recipes, the cakes can be light, medium, or dark.

Some classify a “bar cake” as half-way between a cookie and a regular cake.

Thus far, we have not found any connection between the Cuban Spice Cake to either the Hawaiian Spice Cake or the Spanish Bar Cake. 

The attachment-file, along with the list of ingredients for the frosting, is a recipe for the famous A&P Spanish Bar Cake.  I blended two ‘Original’ recipes into one. 

Many believe that the recipe produces a somewhat ‘watery’ cake, but the taste supposedly is very close to the taste of the cake that was sold by A&P.  As for the texture, I think that it could be corrected without too much trouble:  Maybe we could try using less water, or not simmer the raisins.

I’m going to experiment and try to improve the texture.

I’ll let you know if I have any luck.

 

Sophia

 

P.S.  Please ask your mother if she remembers the texture of the Hawaiian Spice Cake:  Was it like a regular cake?  Or, was it more like a pound cake, or a brownie cake?

Also, ask her if the cake had pineapple in it.”

 

*************************

6.  The E-mail Attachments

(a) A&P Spanish Bar Cake

4 cups water
2 cups raisins
1 cup shortening (or butter)

2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, beaten

White or Buttercream Frosting

 

 

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour two 13” x 9” baking pans (or loaf pans).Set aside.

 

Combine the water and raisins in a saucepan.  Heat to boiling and simmer for 10 minutes.  Add the shortening or butter and allow the mixture to cool.

 

Meanwhile, into a bowl, sift the sugar, soda, flour, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and salt.  Add the cooled raisins-and-water and blend well.  Add the eggs and stir well.

 

Pour into the prepared pans and bake for 35 minutes.  Let cool completely on wire racks.  Apply frosting.

 

(b) White Frosting

(Add the butter to make Buttercream Frosting.)

 

1 pound of confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup soft butter (Optional)
1 tsp. pure vanilla
3 tbsp. milk, more if needed


In a large bowl, beat together the above ingredients until the frosting is smooth and soft enough to spread.

 

*************************

 

April printed the E-mail (plus the attachment recipe-file) and showed them to her mother the next day, and they both became excited at the thought of Sophia attempting to produce the cake that might taste like the cake they had enjoyed so many years ago.

April, then, asked her mother about the texture of the Hawaiian Spice Cake, and she (Lynda) answered:

 

“I don’t really remember.  I just know that it was a delicious cake, and I didn’t pay any attention to the texture of it.”

 

April asked:

 

“What about pineapple?  Was there any pineapple in the cake?”

 

Lynda replied without hesitation:

 

“Nope!  There were no pineapples in the cakes:  None in the Cuban Spice Cake nor in the Hawaiian Spice Cake. . . .”

 

That evening, April replied to Sophia’s E-mail.  She (April) relayed her mother’s answers to Sophia, and April hoped that the answers would be useful to Sophia’s research.

7.  The Second E-mail

Three days later, April received another E-mail from Sophia, and she (April) showed it to her mother the next day:

 

*****************************

 

“Hi, April!

 

Thanks for the answers from your mother.  They were very helpful.

I found more information on one of our cakes.  According to a retired A&P bakery-worker, the Spanish Bar Cakes were very cheap to produce.

A ‘boil’ would be prepared the night before.  It would include 25 pounds of cake-crumbs from broken cakes of all description, plus raisins, shortening, and water.  And it would be brought to a boil; the heat would be turned off; and it would be left alone until morning for further processing.

The icing included icing-sugar, shortening, and vanilla.

The information from the retired A&P bakery-worker could explain why there are so many (sometimes contradictory) descriptions of the Spanish Bar Cake:  Since they were made from cake-crumbs of various other cakes, the color, texture, and taste would naturally be somewhat inconsistent, even though the taste could be excellent.

I still have not had the time to experiment with the Spanish Bar Cake recipe.  I hope to get to it soon.

 

I’ll contact you as soon as I can.

 

Sophia”

 

*************************

8.  April Gives Up

April was pleased to receive the E-mail from Sophia, but she (April) would have been even more pleased if Sophia had had the time to experiment with the Spanish Bar Cake recipe.

April visited her mother Lynda the next morning around 10:00 a.m.  And Lynda, likewise, was disappointed that Sophia had not had the time to experiment with the Spanish Bar Cake recipe.  But they went shopping and soon forgot about their disappointment.

That evening, April decided to contribute to Sophia’s research-project, and she spent approximately 45 minutes on the Internet.  She came across many articles that concerned the Hawaiian Spice Cake and the Spanish Bar Cake, but they contained information that Sophia already had gathered.  Therefore, April was very disappointed, and she felt that she had wasted too much of her time for nothing.  And she decided to let Sophia continue her research alone.

9.  The Third E-mail

Two days later, Sophia sent another E-mail to April, along with an attachment-file:

 

*************************

 

“Hi again, April!

 

Good News!  My daughter Heather may have solved the cake-mystery!

She came across a comment, on the Internet, that partially supports what your mother said a month ago.  The website was discussing the A&P Spanish Bar Cake.

Anyway, a man in his late 70’s wrote that, when his father brought home the A&P cake in the early 1950’s, it was called the Cuban Spice Cake.  And the name faded away sometime after the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

So, even though the comment from the man does not support your mother’s belief that the name of the Cuban Spice Cake was changed to the ‘Hawaiian Spice Cake,’ it does confirm that A&P at least did sell a cake called the ‘Cuban Spice Cake’ in the 1950’s and the early 1960’s.

Therefore, it is possible (if not probable) that all three cakes (the Cuban Spice Cake, the Hawaiian Spice Cake, and the Spanish Bar Cake) were available before the Cuban Missile Crisis.  And the Cuban Spice Cake could simply have been removed from A&P’s inventory sometime after 1962.

Then, some of the customers could have turned to one of the Hawaiian Spice Cakes or the A&P Spanish Bar Cake as a replacement for the Cuban Spice Cake.

The man’s comment suggests that he and his father turned to the Spanish Bar Cake after 1962, whereas you and your mother turned to the Hawaiian Spice Cake.

Anyway, the attachment-file is a recipe for a Hawaiian Spice Cake.  It’s the only one that I could find which does not call for Pineapple.  It appears to be neither too sweet nor too spicy.

Oh, I experimented with the Spanish Bar Cake recipe over the weekend, and the cake turned out well:  I solved the ‘watery-cake’ problem.

So, when I hold another presentation at your place in two days, I will bring two cakes for the residents:  a Hawaiian Spice Cake and a Spanish Bar Cake. 

After you’ve tasted the cakes, you and your mother can judge if either of them tastes like the Cuban Spice Cake that your mother used to buy at A&P.  I sure hope so!

See you soon!

 

Sophia

 

P.S. If neither cake tastes like the A&P Cuban Spice Cake, there are many other recipes on the Internet that may be more accurate.”

 

*************************

10.  The Attachment to the Third E-mail

Hawaiian Spice Cake

6 ounces butter

2 cups flour

1 egg, well beaten

1?4 teaspoon cinnamon

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon ginger

1?2 teaspoon baking soda

2 tablespoons vinegar

1 cup milk, warm

__________________________

Preheat oven to 350F.

Grease and flour a 9” pan.

(Some prefer smaller pan.)

 

Sour the milk by adding the vinegar.

Sift the dry ingredients together.

 

“Cream” the butter and sugar; add the well-beaten egg and mix well.

 

Add the dry ingredients alternatively to the batter with the soured milk.

 

Pour into the prepared pan and bake in oven approximately 35 minutes or until the cake tests done.

11.  The Winner!

At Sophia’s presentation, Lynda and April tasted the cakes.  And they both agreed that the Hawaiian Spice Cake did not have enough spice.  Besides, it did not have any frosting, which disappointed Lynda.

On the other hand, the Spanish Bar Cake was excellent, and it tasted good enough to pass for the Cuban Spice Cake that Lynda used to buy at A&P.

 

Lynda commented:

 

“The Spanish Bar Cake is the one that tastes like the Cuban Spice Cake that I used to buy, but I don’t know why I associate the Cuban Spice Cake to the Hawaiian Spice Cake.”

 

April thought for a moment and then said:

 

“H-m-m-m, . . . maybe it’s because you used to watch a lot of Hawaii-based TV detective shows, such as the Magnum P.I. series.”

 

Lynda quickly responded:

 

“That’s right!  And before that, there was the Hawaiian Eye series that started sometime in 1958 or ‘59.  Then, Hawaii Five-O began sometime in the late 1960’s until Magnum P.I. came along around 1980.  And that series ran for seven or eight years. . . .

That must be why I keep thinking that the Cuban Spice Cake was re-named to the Hawaiian Spice Cake:  It’s because of all those darned TV detective shows!”

 

April looked at Sophia and remarked:

 

“Well, I guess that solves the cake-mystery.

The man on the Internet seems to be correct:  The Cuban Spice Cake connects to the Spanish Bar Cake, not to the Hawaiian Spice Cake.”

 

Sophia added:

 

“Of course, someone could come along tomorrow with evidence that could disprove what we believe today.

For now, unless we come across a Hawaiian Spice Cake recipe that is superior than our current Spanish Bar Cake recipe, we can assume that most of the Cuban-Spice-Cake buyers turned to the Spanish Bar Cake sometime after the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. . . .”


Submitted: May 10, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Seung Geel Hong. All rights reserved.

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