When I was growing up, my grandmother would always make something for us called carrot bread (I’ve talked about it here before). It was like your typical banana bread, but featured carrots instead of bananas. It seems odd to have a baked good with carrots in it, but carrots have long been used as a sugar substitute in baking and in cooking (try some in your sauce) as they were a less expensive way to sweeten up whatever you were cooking. That’s a tradition that goes back to medieval times. My grandmother’s carrot bread was my favorite. She’d serve it to me for breakfast, as an afternoon snack or even sometimes along with dinner. You would slab on some butter and it would be this heavenly sweet taste of spices and nuts. I craved it. However, in those early days, if I was ever given the option of carrot cake, I would turn up my nose. That sounded gross. I don’t want carrots in my cake. Why don’t you just throw some turnips in there for a real party? Yuck.
I’m not exactly sure when it clicked in my head that a carrot cake would be similar to a carrot bread, but I must admit, it wasn’t the most earth-shattering conclusion I’ve ever come to. Obviously it’s going to taste like carrot bread; it’s the same ingredients. They even have the same hue and smell, and you are topping it all with frosting just to make it sweeter. Why have I been avoiding it? Wherever I was on that fateful day, I took the leap and gave carrot cake a taste. I’ve been hooked ever since.
I think part of what makes carrot cake so good is it is not something you have all that often. Chocolate, yellow and vanilla cakes come down the pike all the time, but a carrot cake only pops out every once and a while. It’s special. It’s a big deal and a welcome reprieve from the sweetness of chocolate. If you have ever seen a little kid excited about the arrival of any cake, usually any adult is just excited at the arrival of a good carrot cake. At least an adult in the know. I assume there are people who don’t like carrot cake – it may be too spicy for them. But for those of us who love it, we are doing the happy cake dance whenever we see it.
In recent years, we have been lucky enough to have an expert carrot cake maker in our extended family. That would be Jeanie who is the sister-in-law to my brother-in-law. That sounds like a made up connection, but Jeanie and her husband Dave (and daughter Mae) have been coming to our holidays for the last few years and are a great addition to any party. Beyond their general niceness and fun spirit, Jeanie also makes her carrot cake during the holidays and will sometimes bring one along. Apparently she makes a bunch of them during the holiday season per request because they are that good. When she brought one to our caroling party this year, both Lola and I were excited and even had a moment together where we were tittering like school girls, “did you see Jeanie brought a carrot cake? OMG! OMG!” She just has the recipe right. It’s moist, flavorful, covered in sweet frosting and the perfect size. We snacked on it for a week and enjoyed every last morsel. Heading into Carrot Cake Day, that was going to be a tough taste to top.
There’s no exact history to carrot cake other than it’s been around for years because carrots have been used for sweeteners for years. For history buffs, there is record that George Washington was served a carrot cake in the Fraunces Tavern in lower Manhattan on British Evacuation Day (March 25, 1783) on the day the British left New York City following the end of the Revolutionary War.* If the General felt it appropriate to mark such an occasion with the delight of a carrot cake, then certainly this cake deserves a day of recognition and celebration all it’s own. It will teach us how to say goodbye.
Ok, so I phoned this one in today. I decided to just buy some carrot cake to celebrate. I do want to make carrot cake at some point, because I am such a fan, but not today. Sometimes you just don’t have it in you. I instead went to Clement’s Market to buy one. I will say I was rolling the dice because I didn’t go there until after 5 PM, and you never know what they will have left in stock. But fortunately, they had plenty. They had four sizes: a large, medium and small and a single piece. The single piece looked like it could have been there all day because it was at the very back of the cooler and there was only one piece of carrot cake, so I opted for the small cake instead. That was perfect for just Lola and me. I brought it home and we had a piece after dinner watching a show called Goliath on Amazon Prime.
Like all carrot cake, it was good. No matter what, if you get a cake from a supermarket, it’s not going to be as tasty and fresh as it would be if it were homemade, so it was definitely not close to being as good as Jeanie’s. But it wasn’t bad at all. It was moist with just the right amount of seasoning with plenty of walnuts to give it that crunch. Plus, the cream cheese frosting was thick and liberally applied. Whoever made the rules for carrot cake must have made rule number one say that the frosting must be applied generously. That’s always the key to a good one. I’d say this was a good cake and a delight to enjoy on a quiet Friday night in the company of Lola and Billy Bob Thornton.
President Washington knew how to mark a joyous occasion with the perfect cake. His cake must have tasted extra delicious on that night in 1783 as he saw the British ships leaving the harbor. It would have tasted like victory. Maybe that’s how we should describe what carrot cake tastes like too. It does, sort of. A victory over the blandness of yellow cake. A win over the dullness of white cake. A coup over the tyranny of chocolate cake. Maybe that’s saying too much, but it still a pretty darn good cake that deserves our celebration. So forks up and mouths open – this party is about to begin! This is what democracy tastes like.
*Info from the Carrot Museum
Next Up: National Homemade Soup Day