My great-grandmother’s blueberry coffee cake is supposedly fantastic. This is according to my dad, whose words fell on overly traditional ears when he asked to make it for the family. My parents tend to use a core rotation of beloved recipes, unwilling to reinvent the wheel every time they pull out the mixer.
We were able to stall Dad’s pleas for a good year, distracting him with tried-and-true crumb cakes and muffins. Then one day, there it was, in all its glory. A tiny recipe card scavenged out of the many cookbooks and recipe boxes he had taken on his trek across the US, from Oregon to New Jersey. My dad uncovered the tiny type-printed set of instructions and placed it triumphantly on the kitchen counter, where he was determined not to let it go ignored. My mom took it from him and skimmed the ingredient list, her nose wrinkling with just a hint of indignation.
“It calls for Jiffy mix?” She asked. My dad brushed it off.
My sister and I jumped directly onto my mother’s bandwagon. Spoiled with the luxury of frequent homebaking, the superiority of scratch over store-bought had been impressed upon us from a young age.
“A box?” our childish voices chimed in, with absolutely no regard for Dad’s feelings. We had seemingly forgotten the value pack of Ghirardelli boxed brownie mix, which rested as a staple on our pantry floor. None of us had an issue with tossing oil and an egg into a bowl of factory-packed chocolate powder. Family recipes were held to a higher standard, though. How could he gush over one that relied on such an obvious crutch? we wondered.
As a college student, box mixes are a lifeline that save many a sleepy meal. Sacrificing the label of “homemade” in order to fill a skillet with circles of pancake batter in less than five minutes is a triumph. There is a time and place for laborious recipes, and it certainly isn’t everyday. Like most life lessons, this was one that I had to learn with age. Ten-year-old me was much less gracious.
My mom was skeptical, but she made the coffee cake with him. I wandered through the kitchen from time to time, eyeing the dried blueberries that tumbled from the mysterious Jiffy box. I even tried one, a bluish candy-sweet ball of gel-like consistency.
As the assembly came together, I learned that the cake had a thin layer of crumb topping, a pet peeve of mine. I typically like this layer to resemble small stones instead of sand. My favorite moment comes when slicing a square and launching an avalanche of crumbs, as the knife carelessly robs the next piece of its garnish. I like to greedily pile the extra clumps onto my own plate.
Perhaps my dad’s coffee cake had lost before we even tried it. Lifting forkfuls of the finished product to our mouths, my mom, little sister, and I weren’t willing to be awed. Chewing slowly, I could taste pieces of the blueberries that had melted into the batter unnaturally. It would have benefitted from a few boulders of butter and cinnamon topping.
Suddenly guilty, I swapped sides.
“It’s not bad,” I conceded, eyeing my dad. He was still excited, but a little sheepish.
“It’s not quite as good as I remembered,” He mused.
Cover Photo Courtesy of Freut Cake