OF all the gifts my husband and I received for our wedding more than eighteen years ago, a cookbook has endured longest. And of its 350 recipes, carrot cake I’ve made the most.
It was, in fact, the very cake I wanted for our wedding, but my husband refused. Had he tasted this cake, however, he would’ve approved. Flour. Sugar. Cinnamon. Walnuts. Coconut. Pureed carrots. Crushed pineapple. All beat in an eggy batter and baked to moist perfection before being slathered with cream cheese frosting.
I’ve made it for every one of our five children’s first birthdays—although our daughter Ruth, adopted from Uganda, had to wait until turning two.
I’ve made the recipe so often, dried batter stiffens the page. The cake is a family favorite. Yet, after what happened two years ago, I didn’t think I could ever bare to make it again.
I’d stayed up late the night before, sifting flour, folding walnuts, pouring batter in preparation for our youngest son’s birthday party the next day. Only the day dawned like a nightmare. My husband, Dana, awoke to find seven-year-old Ruth, who had cerebral palsy, had unexplainably died in her sleep.
Died. In. Her. Sleep.
As Dana attempted CPR and I called an ambulance and our children cried, two layers of carrot cake waited to be frosted on the kitchen counter. Instead of sharing our son’s celebration, those we’d invited arrived to help us mourn. At some point, I slipped away to the kitchen and dropped a block of cream cheese and a stick of butter into our mixing bowl and beat in a cloud of powdered sugar before frosting the cake.
What else could I do?
Never make that cake again, I swore. Never. My sweetest memories had been crushed by bitterest loss.
Ruth had been gone a year before I opened that cookbook and again turned to the cake crusted page. Once again it was for a birthday. A beloved neighbor was turning seventy-three, and I knew he loved carrot cake. For him I broke my vow.
I made the cake again last summer when this same neighbor was diagnosed with cancer. And again the following fall as he plodded through treatment. And when his wife called last week to say hospice had been called, I drove to the local market and bought a can of crushed pineapple, a bag of coconut, and cream cheese.
Two days later the carrots were simmering on my stove when our neighbors’ daughter called to say her father had died during the night. They were with him. He was at peace. He did not suffer.
Could I bring over some food? I asked.
They had plenty. So I finished the cake, unsure who it was for.
That afternoon a friend stopped by. Her mother had died just weeks before. And as my friend poured out her own tale of loss, I served the cake—each bite a promise that even when life is bitter, the sweetness endures.
“Out of the eater came something to eat, And out of the strong came something sweet,” Judges 14:14.