The surest way to detect an old-time Baltimorean is to seek definition of chocolate layer cake.
Contrary to what some may believe, one Baltimorean believes that a chocolate cake is made with layers of white (actually pale yellow) cake dough, spread with chocolate icing.
Betty Crocker and other pretenders have been arguing to the contrary for years, but this noise doesn't cut much in the Patapsco region.
An old-fashioned Baltimore chocolate cake must have white insides covered with a fine chocolate icing.
Just ask no less an authority than Mary Kemp Hoos, who was born near the B. & O. Railroad tracks in Hanover (the part in Howard County) and who now lives in Randallstown.
"An important part of my life was my longtime friendship with Anna Christine Winters, who for many years ran the Box Tree Inn at 10 E. Franklin St." she says. "It's the basement that is now Tio Pepe's Restaurant, but for many, many years it was Miss Winters' place where she served lunches and made cakes.
"She was famous for her chocolate cake, which -- during the 1930s when I was a student at Seton High -- she made and delivered for $2. The price seemed astronomical in those days, but people often called their orders in and we'd drop them off at their homes. She had an old blue Buick that I'll never forget."
She goes on to describe the Box Tree Inn, an institution that flourished in the 1920s through the World War II years. In later years, it was known as the Dutch Door Restaurant, finally expiring in the 1960s before Tio Pepe opened.
Mrs. Winters ran her Box Tree Inn (it was named for the boxwood in planters that flanked the front door) with Dorothy Love.
They served only hot, home-cooked meals from about 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily. Their main customers were business people who worked on Charles Street and in the old Standard Oil Building.
It was a genteel restaurant locally renowned for its Maryland cooking. Each afternoon, after the daily luncheon had been served, the two women returned to their homes. Miss Love lived in the 900 block of N. Charles St.
Miss Winters returned to her ancestral home on Winters Lane in Hanover. She and Mrs. Hoos were lifelong friends and neighbors.
"Her chocolate cake was well known," Mrs. Hoos says. "But she also made others, I think, a coconut, one with a light brown sugar icing and another white cake topped with almonds. I always had the chance to lick the chocolate pans."
Mrs. Hoos attended Seton High School in the 2800 block of N. Charles St. until her 1939 graduation.
Many afternoons she'd walk south to the Box Tree Inn, where she helped the women, including a cook named Edna, with their duties.
Miss Winters eventually retired from running her restaurant and died on Nov. 27, 1963.
But the chocolate cake recipe was not lost.
BOX TREE INN'S CHOCOLATE CAKE
White layer cake
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup milk
3 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
3 tsp. baking powder
Cream butter. Add sugar and beat thoroughly, then add vanilla and eggs (well beaten). Add flour, salt and baking powder (sifted together), alternately with milk. The old recipe gives no set time for baking or size of cake pan. Mrs. Hoos suggests a 350-degree oven. Use tester to see when the cake is ready.
butter (size of a small egg)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 lb. chocolate
3/4 cup milk
1/2 tsp. vanilla
Cook milk and sugar until mixture boils. Add chocolate and butter. Continue boiling until small amount forms a soft ball in cold water. Remove from heat and cool. Add vanilla and beat until creamy. Sit chocolate bowl in a larger mixing bowl filled with ice water. Use a large spoon to beat chocolate until its shine dulls.