I have made it so many times that I could surely do it without consulting the recipe, but I don’t dare. Reading the words, repeating them out loud, following them with my finger and leaving smudges of egg yolk and butter along the edge of the page – each is as essential as the instructions to “cream butter and sugar” and “add eggs one at a time.”
Skillet Almond Coffee Cake is dense and buttery and, when cooked just right, has, like your grandmother’s pound cake, a crack or two in the top. The scent of almond extract is thick and sweet and hovers in the kitchen like expensive perfume. And the taste, especially when still warm from the oven, is, well, rapturous.
I first tasted Skillet Almond Coffee Cake probably 30 years ago in a mountain cabin in North Carolina. My friend Mary Catherine generously shared the recipe and in the years since, I (along with Mary Catherine’s many other friends) have made, eaten, and shared its deliciousness more times than I can count. The parents of new babies, bereaved families, new home owners, and regular folks deserving of a thank you have all been the recipients of Skillet Almond Coffee Cake from the oven at Sandhill.
The recipe reached a new level of notoriety when our friend Gena, having been tasked with providing breakfast for a professional chef who was speaking to her women’s club, made Skillet Almond Coffee Cake and found herself being asked by the chef for the recipe.
“It’s not mine. It’s my friend Mary Catherine’s,” Gena attempted to deflect before, as Southern women are wont to do, relenting and sharing.
To the email in which Gena made her confession, Mary Catherine replied, “I actually found that recipe in the Richmond Junior League cookbook abut forty years ago! So even though it is now considered ‘mine’, it belonged to someone else first!”
I smiled as I read. Respect and generosity. The very essence of our friendships reflected in that brief exchange.
And then I read it again, the last part: “It belonged to someone else first.”
Maybe it’s the fact that the tree is up and lit with tasteful tiny white lights and the wreaths are hung on both doors, front and back. Maybe it’s because the gifts have all been purchased and wrapped in paper that coordinates with the living room furniture. Maybe it’s because I just can’t help getting soft and sentimental and reflective when the little garden flag that harkens “Merry Christmas” waves to me every time I walk outside.
Whatever the reason, I got a little weepy as I considered what it means that everything, everyone I call mine belonged to someone else first. This small patch of land that was home to people long before the age of deeds and plats, long before studs and beams came together to make a house. The soft gold puppy who showed up on the stoop one afternoon and who has stayed long enough for his nose to go gray. The people who crossed the threshold and sat at the table over and over or just once.
They all belonged to someone else first. And they will belong to someone else when I am gone.
Using the first person possessive in referring to anything – objects, money, people – is ignorant at best and selfish at worst. Somewhere in between the two is, I think, the fulcrum upon which one can live a good life. A spot where gratitude and stewardship meet and Skillet Almond Coffee Cake belongs to us all.