Lady Baltimore Cake Provides Unexpected Reminder of My Own Heritage

I’ve been in Baltimore on business for the past couple of days and an unexpected experience yesterday has me thinking about our family stories and heritage that at times we lose track of in this busy world.

I was at Phillips Seafood at the Harbor for some dinner last night.  After a few crab cakes, crab legs, crab puffs, and crab in puff pastry, I found my way to the dessert table and noticed something I had not seen in quite a while… A Lady Baltimore Cake.

I, of course, had to have a piece and upon my first bite it was like traveling in a time machine back to my childhood.  Then yet another realization hit me.  My Great Aunt used to make what we simply called a “white cake” from scratch during the holidays of my childhood.  My Great Aunt passed away many years ago and, as a result, so did the delicious white cakes she made.

Over the years, having seen the passing of my parents as well, my siblings and I have done our best to preserve the family recipes so that we could carry important traditions forward.  One birthday, my sister surprised with copy of my Great Aunt’s famous “white cake” recipe which I had cherished so much as a child.  As it turns out, the “white cake” is actually a Lady Baltimore Cake.  The significance does not end in connecting my trip to Baltimore with this beloved cake.  The true significance came when I suddenly connected this traditional cake to the fact my grandfather’s side of the family, my mom’s dad, had entered the country many many years ago in Baltimore.  I found myself sitting before a harbor that represents my own family’s legacy and I finally saw the connection between this cake and my family’s story.  It reminds how we lose sight of the many generations which lived, dreamed, lost, sacrficed and succeeded before us and are the very reason we can count ourselves lucky to occupy our unique space in this world.  SM

Just a reminder about the upcoming June 28th “Portraits of Naperville” exhibit: 

“Portraits of Downtown” Naperville Photography Exhibit to be Featured at Art and Frame Naperville 

 

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3 responses to “Lady Baltimore Cake Provides Unexpected Reminder of My Own Heritage

  1. Daniel Thompson

    I was pleased to hear of the pleasant memories your meeting with “Lady Baltimore” produced. In the name of history, I think I should state that it originates from Charleston, SC, another charming southern city. It orginated in the Lady Baltimore Tea Room and was named for a character in a novel by Owen Wister
    1906 – Owen Wister (1860-1938), a popular novelist, picked Charleston, South Carolina, as the setting of his new romance novel. He modeled the central character, Lady Baltimore, after one of the city’s former belles, Alicia Rhett Mayberry. In the novel, Lady Baltimore created a cake also called “Lady Baltimore.” Wister’s description of the cake sent readers of his novel scrambling to find the recipe, which had not been created yet. In his novel, Wister wrote:

    “I should like a slice, if you please, of Lady Baltimore,” I said with extreme formality. I returned to the table and she brought me the cake, and I had my first felicitous meeting with Lady Baltimore. Oh, my goodness! Did you ever taste it? It’s all soft, and it’s in layers, and it has nuts – but I can’t write any more about it; my mouth waters too much. Delighted surprise caused me once more to speak aloud, and with my mouth full, “But, dear me, this is delicious!”

    According to historians, Florence and Nina Ottelengui, who managed Charleston’s Lady Baltimore Tea Room for a quarter of a century, developed the cake toward the end of the nineteenth century from a version of the common “Queen Cake” of that period; They are said to have annually baked and shipped a cake to Owen Wister.

  2. Thank you so much Daniel for your comment and wonderful history regarding the Lady Baltimore Cake. It only “thickens the plot” regarding my own understanding of how the cake became such a popular staple in previous generations on my mom’s side of the family.

  3. Hello Naperville! I was born and raised in Aurora/Batavia/Geneva but have lived in Charleston, SC now for 33 years (with a 3-year gig in London). I am researching the tea rooms of Charleston, SC and came across your blog. Lovely piece. I’ve just got to bake one of these some day! Regards, Denise

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