Heaps of laughter filled the air as I licked the sugary buttercream frosting off my freshly-washed finger.
“I think we can fit a couple of more blueberries in the corner. What do you think, Aunt Pat?”
“We have forty-eight blueberries and need fifty. How about we put one more in the upper right hand corner and one more on the edge of the red strawberry stripe?”
“It looks perfect!”
My sister and I smiled at the perfected U.S.A.-themed cake. We were able to squeeze 50fifty frozen blueberries and seven rows of sugar-dusted strawberries to accurately represent the stars and stripes on the American flag. This was a tradition we mimicked every summer to commemorate the Fourth of July and the start of a wonderful summer at the Jersey Shore.
Annually, my extended family flocked to Avon by the Sea, a small beach town on the northern coast of the Jersey Shore, for the beginning of July. My Aunt Pat and Uncle Bernie lived in a three-story colonial house on Ocean Avenue with a beautiful view of the vibrant sea. The house was accompanied by a large wrap-around porch, which was the perfect location to band together in order to watch fireworks, and more importantly, eat the annual Fourth of July Cake.
The Fourth of July Cake was a big deal in my family, especially to my Aunt Pat, who was a perfectionist in the kitchen. She was a master baker who always whipped up the most delectable desserts without ever following a recipe. It was almost an innate ability. The famous sweet treat has a vanilla sponge base and was topped with light buttercream frosting that perfectly complemented the berries. It was moist yet airy — you could easily have more than one slice, in fact, it was recommended that you did.
My sister and I were fortunate enough to be the “chosen” cousins to help my aunt out with this seasonal task. We continued the tradition in unison until 2020: the year my Aunt Pat lost her battle to breast cancer. She had been fighting an aggressive form of the cancer for about four years, but never failed to fill the room with smiles and tasty concoctions. Her legacy lived on through her creations in the kitchen, especially the Fourth of July Cake.
The summer of 2022 was the first time my family came together again at the Jersey Shore. Although we were missing the glue of the Marotti Clan, we were able to come together and make the best of the situation. My sister and I thought it would be an excellent idea to try and recreate the iconic Fourth of July Cake in order to boost morale and remind everyone of the positive times associated with Aunt Pat. We had accompanied her through this baking process for about eight years, so we had a decent amount of experience between the two of us.
We stared at the cake.
“No, it doesn’t look right.”
“Move the fifth strawberry to the left.”
“The buttercream isn’t sweet enough. Add another teaspoon of sugar.”
“Is the frosting leveled? I see a divot.”
My sister and I did not want to disappoint our family, or even worse, taint the legacy of Aunt Pat. Eventually, we got the large sheet cake looking up to par and stuck it in the refrigerator to bring out when the fireworks commenced. Looking in the eyes of all our family members when the dessert was unveiled was all we needed to do. We knew then about the importance of food and family traditions: even though someone is not physically not present, the spirit of them still lingers in their creations.
Cover photo courtesy of Momspark