I'M OFTEN asked about the recipes my grandmother Lily Rose and her sister, my great-Aunt Cora, used in their daily routine at the old Oriole range in the sunny Guilford Avenue kitchen. I wish I had something to offer. They rarely consulted a written formula. Only at Christmas, for their complicated fruitcake, a once-a-year-treat that is not so popular today, and their butter and nutmeg cookies, did they look at a piece of paper.
The rest followed by sheer monthly repetition. I can see why. They were fast in their kitchen and baking chores. They also led real lives. Each had her own children and grandchildren. They were not about to waste time diddling with recipes and kitchen gadgets. Kitchen agony was for amateurs.
They also had the weight of years behind them. They knew what was good and what was punk and didn't ever bother with the mediocre. They also felt no need to innovate because they were so confident in what they did. This may sound somewhat suffocating, but it was not.
The Baltimore they so loved was much like that, in a time when things were done the same, year in and year out. Life was generally good. They had learned, and accepted, their ways from their mother. Talk about routine, we had established dinners on set nights of the week. There could be some seasonal variance, but Saturdays, for example, alternated between rib roast of beef and spaghetti and meat sauce.
So, if there was a cake to be made, its layers were baked and icing applied by 10:30 in the morning. The rest of the day lay ahead and beckoning. Part of their success was the way they paced the day.
Each was up before dawn. They routinely slept with their windows open, so the rooms were cold, but as I've discovered when I've tried this practice, you sleep more soundly. Both took fairly long afternoon naps. They then bathed and completely redressed for dinner, Aunt Cora attired in more jewelry than her sister. If Cora had a church meeting, Lily waited in her chair at the living room window in a show of sisterly love I'll never forget. So too the news and information report immediately issued, better than the society notes in the morning Sun.
My mother, whom both adored, had absolute free reign of the place, and could be off to the racetrack, the department stores, Marconi's for lunch, the school mothers' club or duckpin bowling as long as she wished.
Her key was in the front door at the stroke of 5, even on the busiest of her days.
All this worked so well, they never needed a recipe for a birthday cake or much else for that matter. They knew the right ingredients.