Caribbean Beat Magazine

Have her cake and eat it | Classic

Attillah Springer on the world’s best black cake — her granny’s. Originally published in 2005, this Beat classic was reproduced in the November/December 2019 issue

  • illustration by James Hackett

Everybody thinks their grandmother makes the best black cake. They are wrong, since I can say with all surety that my grandmother made the best black cake.

I guess it’s an easy mistake to make, but I can assure you, my grandmother would have won any best black cake competition, hands down. Those people who think I am biased are just jealous because they’ve had neither the space nor the eloquence to extol the virtues of their own grandmother’s black cake.

Sadly, I no longer have proof of this. Silly me, I never thought to get Granny to make forty or fifty in the unfortunate event that she shouldn’t be available for more cake-making duties, since I was sure she was going to live forever.

But now that she is baking black cakes in the great kitchen of beyond, it’s struck me that I can’t replicate the smell of her house on the evenings when she baked the season’s first cake. This would be devoured by her grandchildren quicker than you could say “Danish butter cookies tin.”

Following the rapid demise of that first cake, we would start up a chorus of “please, Granny, please, come and make plenty black cake for us.” She would ask in her typically cantankerous manner why the France we didn’t learn to make black cake ourselves, then make a date to turn up at our house.

Now, given that the fruits had been soaking for a while, and she had in fact instructed my mother about when to put said fruits to soak, I think she just enjoyed the annual begging ritual.

I would pretend to assist in the cake-making, but mostly I just hung around waiting for the moment when I could safely lick the remnants of the batter without the threat of wooden spoon on the knuckles for sticking my fingers in the mixing bowl. Granny would frequently issue patois curses in the direction of my mother, who was not helping at all, but overseeing the process while doing the joropo around the living room to the Lara Brothers.

In later years, after I became a hardline vegan, I didn’t take part in the cake-making. I could not, however, refuse a slice of my grandmother’s black cake. Between her selective deafness and my love for her cake, I couldn’t be bothered to explain my dietary restrictions to her. Besides, I didn’t want to put her off her life’s challenge of trying to fatten me up.

Indeed, in my early 20s I always justified these anti-vegan misdeeds as my effort to onset the rapid development of a posterior more in keeping with Caribbean standards of protrusion. I have to say that these attempts failed, but at least the cake was good, and I didn’t have to endure a boof from my grandmother.

Granny was as good at making black cake as she was at boofing, which is an endearingly Caribbean way of reprimanding wayward children like yours truly. These days, although I frequently issue loud and poetic boofs to children who may not have grown up with a grandmother as versed in the boofing arts as mine, I have to confess that I cannot make a black cake.

But I only ever honestly liked my granny’s black cake, and if I can’t get that, well, what’s the point of having any at all?

Dry ones, wet ones, overly fruity ones. Cakes that could make you drunk just from a whiff. Being vegan was an excellent excuse. Some felt sorry for me, and I would nod piously. And then I would take my hypocritical self home and indulge in my granny’s superior fare.

The last Christmas my grandmother was alive I was in London, and some kind soul allowed my mother to weigh him down with various delights from home. I didn’t stick around exchanging pleasantries too long, as I could feel the outline of a tin in the bag, out of which the faint smell of fruits and rum was wafting.

On the Underground I hugged the tin tight, as if some cake thief was lurking in the carriage waiting to pounce on me and take away my black gold.

The cake never left my room. I didn’t put it in the kitchen with all the other goodies, because, quite frankly, I didn’t think the other people in my house were worthy.

They knew nothing of wooden spoons and the diminutive Granny who, sick though she was, still found the strength to send me a little piece of paradise. I ate every last piece of that cake without a hint of remorse. Sometimes sharing is way overrated. I was glad to have the world’s best black cake all to myself.