This story has apricot trees and chickens, so I think I can stretch a point, and include this in my blogs.
Yesterday I celebrated my 62nd birthday with a picnic in the park. Today the insane celebration continues as I take some pecans I bought at Farmer’s Market and use them in making my favorite cake- a golden sweet and crusty apricot-pecan upside down cake. It was Dad’s favorite too. I will explain why I think that was so:
Those who are descended from the Hursts of Rosemead may know that one of the features of the Hurst ancestral home and chicken ranch was a grove of fruit trees. which included apricots. I remember him praising those apricots as being amazingly sweet and flavorful. Now that I know more about varieties I think they must have been the Blenheim apricots which used to grow in this area, well-fertilized with the byproduct of their chicken business.
In the 1930s when Dad was a boy, treats were limited by what could be obtained without too much expense. After my grandfather Harold’s untimely death in a car accident when Dad was 13, the family supported themselves on the proceeds of their chicken ranch, and with the depression things must have been tight indeed. But having the ranch did have its compensations. The apricots must have been ripening when Dad’s birthday came around in September. I can imagine apricots fresh from the trees, perfectly ripe as only one who lives next to the tree can get them, sweet as candy, lining the pan where a cake was being assembled. There was no shortage of eggs to make the cake. Perhaps one such cake made by my grandmother Tillie ended up on the supper table on Dad’s birthday. I suspect that is one reason why Dad (Howard) liked his apricot upside down cake so much.
My apricots, canned in heavy syrup, are no doubt a poor substitute for those farmhouse fruits, and probably not even as sweet; but nonetheless my mouth is watering as I lay them out over the pecans, melted butter, and brown sugar that will make the topping of this cake in its ancient cast-iron Griswold skillet. I pour on the golden cake batter and slide the whole ensemble into the hot oven. Then I pour a cup of coffee and settle down to write the story.
It’s surprising that I never made the connection between Dad, his birthday, his ranch, and upside down cake until recently. But it is in this way that we grow into our future, unaware of the things that pushed us this way or that. Today that ranch lies under four inches of asphalt in a Toys-r-Us parking lot, after the land was taken up for a city development project. How sad that our past has been obliterated in this way. But somewhere in a townhouse on the edge of the ‘hood in East Hawthorne, the scent of apricot upside down cake wafts slowly up the kitchen vent, and out into the neighborhood, where the Latino family next door is still sleeping after a hard night making memories celebrating a birthday of their own.
I wonder if they recognize the scent of times past, and what their memories will be of this time we live in. They will have scents and stories of their own.
But now the oven timer goes off. Time to flip the cake, a critical process that risks second-degree burns for the careless or the clumsy. But it’s upside-down cake, and it’s worth it.
Life is good.
2. Toast pecans lightly
3. Arrange apricots in brown sugar-butter-pecan topping
4. Add cake batter
1. Hot and ready to eat.