December 17, 2010 § 13 Comments

The traditional Christmas pound cake in my family is called “Mildred’s.”

This simple, bullet-proof recipe came from Mildred Oakes, one of my grandmother’s best friends in Congers, New York.

I have a faint memory of Mrs. Oakes. I am peering through a screen door into a kitchen at a heavy woman with thick ankles and permed brown hair. I can tell the woman seated in a wooden chair has never been young and has always found getting out of a chair to answer the door an effort.

I also know she has been put on earth for a purpose. And that purpose was to create The Recipe.

My mother later told me Mildred probably copied the recipe off a can of Crisco. She still deserves credit for saving something ephemeral–a Christmas recipe featured on the Crisco can in perhaps 1935. Great works of art (such as Mildred’s) are often saved from disappearance by just that small an act.

I wonder how many of you are still with me, and how many, stunned by my flagrant use of the word “Crisco” have clicked away. I realized how far Crisco has fallen when I bought a can at the grocery store this morning. Crisco is given shelf space the width of two small cans—how small the cans have become, and how apologetic the manufacturer is, now offering “butter flavored” Crisco.  Butter-flavored? If butter flavor were what I wanted I’d buy butter.

No. Crisco, that all vegetable shortening (which, by the way has 0 grams of trans fats and 50% less  saturated fat than butter) is the magic ingredient.

As I write this five eggs sit on the kitchen counter. When the eggs reach equilibrium with the temperature in the rest of the house I will cream the Crisco and sugar then add the eggs one at a time. Sifted flour will be folded in but barely stirred.

Mildred’s requires the alchemy of doing very little before spooning the batter into a greased and floured bundt pan.

When the cake comes out of the oven one hour later out it will be heavy as a brick and just as dense, a pound cake worthy of the name. Ship it anywhere by the slowest possible form of transportation and it will arrive the better for wear.

For longevity I’d pit my Mildred’s against your fruitcake any day. And people will want to eat this cake, not re-gift it.

Note: I wrote the earlier portion of this post with the smug certainty this recipe I’ve made dozens of times would come out as it has year after year–perfect. I’ve now baked four in a row and each has failed in some conspicuous way: didn’t rise, wouldn’t come out of the pan, the crisp top layer cracked and fell off.

I wish I could consult Mildred, or my grandmother, or my mother, all of whom are now dead–the tradition is faltering under my watch.

Here’s the recipe, copied exactly from the index card on which my mother wrote it when I got married.  Please try it. Tell me it still works.

Mildred’s Pound Cake


 1 ½  C sugar

1 C Shortening

5 eggs (room temperature)

1 ½ T lemon juice

½ tsp. salt

2 C flour

Cream shortening and sugar for eight to ten minutes to make it fluffy.

Add one egg at a time, then lemon juice.

Sift flour and salt and fold into mixture.

Bake at 325 in a greased and floured bundt pan for one hour.

Drizzle thick icing (powdered sugar with lemon juice, or milk and a flavoring like vanilla). 

Age as long as you like.  Ship anywhere.


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§ 13 Responses to Mildred’s

  • Judy Ransom says:

    Perhaps the planets are out of alignment, or maybe it’s this crazy weather. I’m tempted to hunt down some Crisco and try it!


  • Sheila Merlau says:

    Only you could “cheery-me-up” with a recipe and send me scurrying for my Aunt Sarah’s beloved pound cake recipe so I could compare!

    For decades she mailed her cakes all over the world. Her children were missionaries in China, Thailand and Mexico, but she also sent her legendary pound cakes to a multitude of offspring like myself. She’ll be 90 in Feb. and the only reason she’s stopped her mailing brigade is the lack of boxes for shipping. The shoe factory down the hill in her small mill town closed and her supply of cardboard dried up.

    Aunt Sarah’s recipe used oleo instead of Crisco (can you even find “oleo” in stores today?), vanilla instead of lemon and there was no icing. But the most common ingredient was the amount of love poured in and the the generosity that flowed out the door of both homes.

    I’ve never baked Aunt Sarah’s cake because when my mother did it didn’t seem as tasty as the ones from the red gingham kitchen in Tennessee, but I just might have to try this year. I definitely need to call her tomorrow to thank her again for all of those cakes of years past.


    • Boxes are a problem for me too. I ship the cakes in taped-shut metal tins acquired at Goodwill. This year we waited too long to search them out and had to go to WalMart and buy the tins new. Broke my heart.

      I think Oleo is an old fashioned generic name for margerine. My mother used the two terms interchangeably.


  • Well, if we’re trading holiday recipes, here’s the only cake I make – I learned how to make it while living in Brazil but I’ve translated it below for all you English speaking cooks! Watch out though. This cake should not be mailed! Too light! Happy Holidays!!

    Baby Food Bundt Cake

    Preheat oven to 350°
    Prepare deep Bundt pan: Spray with PAM and dust with flour

    1 C Vegetable Oil (I like Crisco!)
    4 eggs
    2 small jars of Apricot Baby Food (the strained variety)
    1 tsp vanilla extract

    2 Cs Flour
    2 Cs Sugar
    4 Ts Baking POWDER (or 2 if you have fresh Baking Powder!)
    2 tsp cinnamon
    2 tsp ground cloves
    ½ tsp salt

    Prepare batter:
    1. In large mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients and mix well (don’t breathe in too deeply during this!)
    2. In separate bowl, mix together oil, eggs, vanilla and baby food
    3. Mix all together well (use an electric mixer for best results) – you want to beat a lot of air into this!!
    4. Pour into Bundt pan

    Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour (depends on your oven) until pulling away from pan sides. (Or do the old “knife” test – if it comes out clean it’s done!)

    Cool for 15 minutes and then turn out of pan. Set it right side up on a cake plate or “cake taker” bottom.

    Serve: This cake stays moist in a “cake taker” for several days. May be refrigerated and still taste fresh when eaten (but you may want to zap it a bit in the microwave – 10 seconds only). Goes well with ANY ice cream or you may wish to add a Drizzle after it cools a bit.

    Drizzle: mix ½ C powdered sugar, with cream and almond extract or lemon extract (this is a “taste” issue as to which you prefer) until it will “drizzle” on the top of the cake and run down the sides.


  • Cynthia says:

    Another wonderful post Adrian! I think your flawed results came from an absent ingredient. Your recipe is missing the baking powder. On the web there are a lot of variations, some using lemon, some using vanilla in them. I think this is the correct one. I may try this one myself.


    • The family recipe has no leavening agent, it relies on the eggs for that, but I went to the Crisco site as Cynthia suggested and the recipe she found is very similar–I may have to try this one too. Here it is:
      Golden Pound Cake

      1 1/4 cups Crisco
      2 cups granulated sugar
      5 eggs
      2 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
      1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
      1/2 teaspoon salt
      2/3 cup milk
      1 teaspoon vanilla
      1 teaspoon lemon extract
      Confectioners Sugar
      Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In mixing bowl, blend the Crisco and granulated sugar thoroughly. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine the cake flour, baking powder, and salt. Add alternately with milk, vanilla, and lemon extract to shortening-sugar mixture. Beat until mixture is smooth. Turn batter into a well-greased and floured 10-inch fluted tube pan. Bake at 325 degrees for 1 hour or till cake tests done. Cool 1 hour; remove cake from pan and cool completely on rack. To serve, sprinkle cake with confectioners sugar.

      I hope this works well for you!



  • Sue Cronkite says:

    I use the 3/34 stick of butter-flavored Crisco, change the flavoring to suit me, one with 2 tbls. lemon juice, one with 2 tbls. chocolate syrup, one with 2 heaping tbls. cocoanut. My favorite is the lemon. I put a glaze on each, with a little milk, a little flavoring, and a little confectioner’s sugar.
    I always get raves over my pound cakes.
    Don’t believe all that guff about Crisco. It was started by a rival company. I’m very healthy and I have been making and giving the Crisco pound cake since I discovered it in the 1970s.


    • I’ve gotten plenty of compliments on my Crisco pound cake as well–and lots of turned-up noses when I’ve shared the recipe. But it is one heck of a good pound cake. And yes, lemon is the best flavor.


  • Thus speaks the layer cake guru of St. George retreat. Thanks, Sue.
    BTW, how do you make that 7-layer yellow cake with the chocolate fudge icing? That’s my fave!


  • […] Note: To make our family’s pound cake with lots of side comments, click here.  […]


  • […] Note: To make my grandmother’s cake see my earlier post, Mildred’s.  […]


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