RECIPE: All the Forgivenesses

Bertie Winslow, the narrator of All the Forgivenesses, was originally based on my maternal grandmother, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Frans. Like Grandma, Bertie was born in 1900 in Kentucky and ended up in southeast Kansas. Like Grandma, Bertie married a fiddler who worked in the oil fields. But Bertie’s story took a sharp left turn after the first draft, when I realized there wasn’t much of a story if, like Grandma, the character had no flaws. So Bertie developed a temper, became jealous, impatient, and violent, and learned to express her deepest fears and sorrows, occasionally in salty language. Tribulation followed.

Lizzie and John Frans on their wedding day, c. 1917

Grandma’s wacky cake is the perfect project to make with a grandchild, involving as it does the digging of holes in the dry ingredients, along with gentle stirring instead of an electric mixer. It has no eggs, but it’s moist and delicious. Here’s the recipe, along with my emendations.

Grandma’s Wacky Cake
A Recipe from Elizabeth Hardinger
  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • ½ cup cocoa
  • 2 teaspoons soda [baking soda]
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • ⅔ cup oil
  • 2 cups cold water
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 6 tablespoons butter (softened) [melted]
  • 1 cup coconut [shredded, unsweetened]
  1. Sift dry ingredients into an ungreased 9x13-inch cake pan.
  2. Dig three holes.
  3. In first hole, put vinegar. In second hole, put vanilla. In third hole, put oil.
  4. Over the entire mixture, pour water.
  5. Stir lightly [with a fork].
  6. Bake at 350 degrees, about one hour.
  7. While cake is baking, make the frosting: mix together brown sugar, butter, and coconut. Frost cake [as soon as it is out of the oven].
  8. Put under broiler until done [the frosting bubbles] (2 or 3 minutes). Let cool before serving.