Aunt Jo was my father-in-law's younger sister. She was also the most wonderful cake baker and decorator. Back in May of 1979 (my then boyfriend, now husband) Tim and I had just made the decision to get married. Our first purchase was the cake topper for our wedding cake. We returned to the "ol' brick" home of his parents on Saturday night, where we knew we'd find them playing Canasta with Aunt Jo and Uncle Jim in the back room at the old oak table. Walking in, I handed the cake topper in its brown bag to Aunt Jo and told her we had a little something for her to help us with in October. She gave a gasp as she opened it, hugged me and whispered, "Welcome to the family!" in her sweet, soft voice. I can still remember how special it made me feel, as if it were yesterday.
Knowing my interest in cake decorating, Aunt Jo told me about classes scheduled in the nearby village of West Liberty. Signing up, I spent one night a week during the months of June, July and August learning the basics of cake decorating to cut costs by creating our cake for the wedding. As our guest list grew larger than we had first anticipated, I realized this would be no small task. Aunt Jo assured me that we could do it together and sketched out the design that we would need to serve such a large crowd. As a bridal shower gift, she presented me with a large set of cake pans that would be needed to prepare our beautiful cake. Elated, my excitement grew.
For three days before our big day, Aunt Joanne traveled the miles from her home in Catawba to my home in Urbana on East Court Street to create the three-tiered white and blue confection and four additional side cakes. It was there, in my mother's tiny kitchen, that Aunt Jo patiently guided me, giving more instruction in cake decorating than I'd received in a summer of classes. As an added bonus, she shared her recipe for no-fail buttercream icing, which I still use for the cakes I make today.
Over the years, I've made and decorated a variety of cakes--mostly for family and friends. In the past year of my retirement, it's become my main hobby to create or closely duplicate cakes when asked to, including a few wedding cakes. And as I decorate the cakes (at the same old oak table where Canasta was played, by the way), using many of the skills Aunt Jo taught me, I'm remembering our time spent together.
Aunt Joanne passed away a couple of years ago after a long battle with illness. Uncle Jim still mourns his loss. It could not have been an easy task for him to sort through and part with that collection of her sweet existence. But I am so grateful to him for thinking of me and giving me that precious gift.
Now in my own tiny kitchen, utilizing many of the tools of Aunt Jo's skilled hands, I hope to continue her tradition of creating decorated cakes, cookies and cupcakes. As I'm working, I like to imagine seeing her sweet smile, nodding her head in approval. Aunt Jo, you've given me some very special memories and they are always in my heart.
My first cake made using a few of the many tools from Aunt Jo's collection.