During No-oven Summers, Interest Shifted To Bakeries

August 01, 2009|By JACQUES KELLY

My grandmother enforced a no-oven policy during the hottest part of the summer. Her adamant don't-heat-up-the-kitchen stance caused some interesting detours when a family birthday fell during the cake-baking blackout period.

The simple answer was to phone Fiske's, the wonderful Park Avenue-Bolton Hill confectioner, and order a cake and ice cream, which was delivered in a snappy-looking dark blue truck with gold lettering. The ice cream came boxed and wrapped in dry ice that, when placed in a bucket of water, made great spooky clouds. This was the Rolls-Royce approach and reserved for celebrated family events.

There were other cakes in the summer, including peach cake, which older Baltimoreans revere. It's a food that's dropped off the radar screen except in those families who have a secret bakery (knowledge of these places was always a part of the peach cake cult) where they can still find it.

If it was a cool day, and worthy peaches were available, my grandmother would make her own peach cake using a variant of her cinnamon cake recipe. Hers was the best and beat every bakery in town because it was fresher and probably had more vanilla. She would top it off with whipped cream of the highest butterfat content. She also liked it with vanilla ice cream made by the old Horn and Horn on Baltimore Street. You couldn't beat this combination for taste.

But most times, the peach cake came from a neighborhood bakery. Baltimoreans were picky about their baked goods and harbored allegiances to one commercial establishment over another.

Despite the talk about which product was superior to another, we didn't know how good we had it, with wonderful bakeries on what seemed like every couple of blocks.

The trick was getting the peach cake fresh, just as it was coming out the oven. You wanted the peaches to be slightly soggy, not dry. Peach cake is not a layer cake, but is a sheet cake of slightly sweet raised dough topped with peach halves or quarters. Ripe peaches run through an oven over a bed of batter make for a mouth-watering marriage on an August evening.

Some of the bakeries in the classic Baltimore peach cake era would be Arthur, Burri, Doebereiner, Duane, Ebersberger, Fenwick, Gerstung, Hergenroeder, Herman's, Heying, Hoehn, Muhly, New System. Otterbein, Rice, Silber, Stone, Vilma and Woodlea.

My grandmother, her sister and my mother would sit around the kitchen table and rate the merits of these places as if they were discussing politics or baseball.

They were adamantly against a practice that crept in - bakers who applied an apricot preserve glaze over the peaches. This somewhat improved the look of the product, but added an overly sweet taste to what was already a sugary confection. You wanted to taste the tang of the peaches without any help from an apricot. But this variant seems to have won out.

At most, all you wanted was the baker to shake a little powdered sugar - not much - over those peaches. It was simple dish, inexpensive, made for an August evening.

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