Regular readers of this blog – and people who know me IRL – will know that my family’s obsessed with food in general, and cake decoration in particular.
What I haven’t talked about is my mother’s devotion to sugar-art and cake-decorating for a couple of decades when we were younger. And she was younger, and her hands steadier.
Her toolkit of icing implements is still here, fully tricked out with all the nozzle sizes and shapes for piping that you could desire – all metal, and to be screwed into old-school icing bags. She’s still got the coloured twine and wires that were for the miniature icing flowers she’d make by hand. There are even beaded stalks that are meant be flower styles or stamens.
For most of the 1980s and part of the 1990s, my mother was the go-to person in our clan for engagement, 21st and special birthday cakes. I think she may have done a wedding cake here or there as well.
There were months of prep involved in shaping and colouring the petals on every flower that was made, drying them, assembling them, then she came to the nerve-wracking final touches (including the extremely difficult, fragile extension work that, to this day, makes me anxious to view – check out this Pinterest by Susie Que on Royal Icing; it got my heart racing).
I’ve always been in awe of my mother’s ease with icing and whipping up a cake or two.
Transporting the finished cake was also a fraught process, given the old-fashioned method of having someone hold it while our assertively orange late 1970s Holden Sunbird zoomed towards the venue.
Mum always took a mini-toolkit with her, in case there were repairs to be made on the other end. It’s dire to think of crushed extension work. While tracking down the hardcopy photographs of Mum’s efforts, I also rediscovered her ikebana work and table features (including a pair of Easter peacocks made of pineapples, carrots and small foil-covered chocolate eggs…).
For our wedding, a little after the hey-day of her cake-decorating, she made a layer-cake (aka spekkoek) that was painstakingly created in our cramped and ill-designed kitchen of the family home in Brisbane. It was typically steamy in late October, and she sat in front of the hot grill for hours as each thin layer of batter was cooked. The result was superb, as usual. I don’t think some of the wedding guests, who were scoffing down slab after slab of it, realised it contained more than 40 egg yolks.
Mum doesn’t make incredibly iced cakes anymore. She said that her eyesight and hand steadiness weren’t good enough anymore. She channelled her cake-making habits into legendarily fluffy pandan chiffon cakes and hazlenut and chocolate friands. We did not complain.
Now that she doesn’t use her icing equipment, though, we have taken over her ‘kit’.
She also only occasionally arranges a vase of flowers if she’s gifted some. I’ve been thinking that we should get her to revive her ikebana and other flower-craft skills for more family gigs. She was always good at what she turned her hand to, with the exception of an ill-fated vegetable carving course (to which she dragged me along) but the less said about that, the better.
Below is an example of her work with flowers. It was for one of our ridiculously big family dinners and stands out in my memory. As it should!