“I bake, therefore I am (who God made me).” The search for our true identity starts with discovering what gives us joy and also can be gifted to others. I enjoy baking.
This month, I’m baking for two charity events. I’m providing a cake to a prom for special needs adults who weren’t invited to attend their own. Then, I’m baking all kinds of goodies from my family’s organic wild Maine blueberry farm for a fundraiser that supports the local land trust, which could eventually hold our land as a Forever Farm.
The cake recipe I use is one my mother made time and time again. The recipe originates with Margaret Chase Smith, the Maine Republican senator who challenged Joe McCarthy’s demagoguery with her own Declaration of Conscience in 1950. Mom would have found it in Marjory Standish’s column in the Portland Press-Herald, which was later compiled in two volumes of “Cooking Down East.”
What I learned from this recipe is that nutmeg is the perfect spice for blueberries and that it is almost impossible to put too many blueberries in any baked good. What I learn from the life of Sen. Smith is that there can be hope even during very polarized times.
During Smith’s long term in DC, Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist witch hunt targeted legislative foes, government officials, popular film stars and musicians, among many others. More than 2,000 government employees lost their jobs as a result of his slander and innuendo. Celebrities who ended up on industry “blacklists” as suspected communists included singer Lena Horne, filmmaker Orson Welles, aging silent film star Charlie Chaplin, and populist songwriter Woody Guthrie.
Sen. Smith’s denunciation of McCarthy, her Declaration of Conscience, called for the nation to rediscover its strength and unity. The backlash against McCarthyism and a prior generation’s nativism would ultimately help fuel the election of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, our first Catholic president.
We find it hard to imagine today a country where we so feared the Pope’s guidance of his flock that we considered Catholics potentially disloyal to our own civil government and therefore improbable candidates for office. We had to stop and remember our own American selves for JFK’s election to be possible.
Perhaps we will similarly stop and reflect, in light of our current divisive atmosphere, on our core values as Americans. We have been a nation of diligence, community, and service. We have been a country that is formed from “the other” and therefore chooses to be fearless of difference. We have been a country that sees those in need among us and finds ways to serve them, just as God urged Israel to provide from the edges of the field to those without fields of their own (Lev. 9:9-10) and to lend with generous spirit, at no interest, whatever the poor might need to move forward in their lives (Dt. 15:4-11).
Today’s divisions are not the same as those of the 1940s and 1950s. But perhaps Smith’s cake can be a weapon in our women’s warfare against division and hatred. One editor’s commentary on the recipe suggested that the senator could “serve this cake to the Democratic side of the Senate and accomplish in a trice what Dale Carnegie’s book imparts: the winning of friends and influencing of people.” At the very least, this cake is a great excuse to “Go, eat your food with gladness … for it is now that God favors what you do” (Ecclesiastes 9:7).
Who could you win with a cake that fights hate? Try this recipe and find out.
Sen. Margaret Chase Smith’s Blueberry Cake
1/2 c. shortening
1 c. sugar
1 c. milk
2 c. sifted flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. nutmeg
2 c. blueberries
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease two 9-inch round or square baking tins.
- Cream shortening; add sugar and beat until creamy. Add eggs and beat until light and foamy.
- Mix together and sift all dry ingredients.
- Add alternately to creamed mixture with milk.
- Fold in blueberries. (Hint: If using thawed or drained berries, toss berries in a bit of flour so they won’t sink to the bottom of the pans.)
- Pour into pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes until toothpick or skewer inserted at center comes out dry (no batter; may have berry juice).
- Cool in tins.
- Put layers together with frosting. Sprinkle top with confectioner’s sugar.