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Mama, Faith, and her Classic Poundcake

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Mama, it’s a word that is veritably primal, one of the very first words tiny human baby mouths and brains can conjure. I am a Mama’s girl through and through. Anyone that speaks to me more than a couple of paragraphs essentially knows I love my Mama. She and I have always been very good friends. We’ve spent a lot of time together in the kitchen! She has a sweet tooth and is famous for her poundcake, French butter cookies, and peanut brittle. My love of food and cooking took root in the kitchen with Mama.

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Reading is Fundamental

I was always a bookish child, curled up in a corner with a book, reading a book in the car, or hiding under the weeping willow tree with a book in my hand. Once when I was in elementary school the principal called mama in for a meeting because I was cutting class — cutting class and sneaking into the library. Mama didn’t think that was such a problem.

A couple of years later just before the summer break, we were in the library choosing books for vacation. I was reading above my age and the librarian wanted me to read something more “age-appropriate.” I vividly remember her telling me to stick to a certain children’s section for my summer reading when what I really wanted to do was go over there to the hardback books. I wasn’t reading titillating teen material; I had started reading the classics. I was beginning to appreciate literature. Mama had faith in me and just let me choose what I wanted to read.

little va

Not Part of the In-Crowd

A bookish child turned into a bookish teenager. I was never part of the popular crowd. I didn’t kiss a boy until I was 16. Of course, that’s all more clear now, but the nut of it was, I wasn’t hanging out in the Dairy Queen parking lot with the other teens on Friday night. I was at home with Mama. My parents divorced when I was in high school, the summer between my junior and senior years. That same summer the private school I attended closed. I was 16. It was tumultuous. Mama and I leaned on each other and it was then that our “grown-up” friendship really started.

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Instead of going to another school for my senior year, I started college. I had to get my driver’s license so that I could live at home and drive to college. It just was the thing to do and I did it with Mama right there beside me. She never let on she was worried or that I couldn’t do it. She believed in me if she had any hesitation about her sheltered bookish daughter starting college at 16, she had faith in me and never let on.

A lot has happened in my life since those big steps many years ago. I transferred to UGA and boy howdy, did my world open up. I went to England one summer for a couple of weeks and called her to ask if I could stay the summer. She said yes. I am sure she was scared to death, but if she had any hesitation, she never let on. After a few years of floundering around, I wanted to go to culinary school. She supported my ambition and if she had any hesitation, she had faith in me and never let on.

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Later still, I wanted to move to France to learn and study. I was supposed to be there for 3 months and was there for almost three years. If she had any hesitation, she never let on. Moving to New York City to be the kitchen director for Bobby Flay? Leaving that to work for Martha Stewart? Leaving a fantastic job with Martha to travel the world with Epicurious shooting stories about mustard in Dijon or pasta in Italy? If she had any hesitation, she had faith in me and never let on.

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Traveling with Mama

We’ve traveled the world together, we’ve eaten freshly baked bagels in Montreal, gnawed on beef bones in Texas, hiked rain forests in Alaska, toured the Tower in London, hunted for truffles in Croatia, hiked mountain trails in Yosemite, and gone fishing pretty much anywhere we can wet a hook.  I’ve gotten her lost in winding back alleys in Turkey, taken wrong turns in Paris, and we’ve trooped up many a tower stairwell in Italy.  If she had any hesitation, she had faith in me and never let on.

Moving Home

When I returned home to the South — every time — it has been another story. She “let on” how happy she was and I am very glad I returned. Moving home from France, NYC and 9/11, and recently after predominately living for the past 4 years in New England, my life changed radically once again and I moved home to Georgia. Guess what? She “let on” how happy she is I am home. 

Life Support

Life is different now. I am so grateful that she is healthy, especially now. I am so incredibly thankful that I am now in Georgia and not a plane ride or days of driving away, much less halfway around the world.  The entire situation is terrifying. I tease that my sister has her wrapped up in cotton, but we all have to do what we can to keep out loved ones safe. 

Until the pandemic, Mama was still working part-time at Macy’s. This weekend we were supposed to be on vacation in Florida. I’ve been planning out my trips home, staying quarantined for 2 weeks before I come to see her. The images of people saying goodbye to their loved ones over FaceTime pierce my soul. I cannot conceptualize such pain. I hope and pray for my friends and family. We’ve had some hard conversations. We’re taking as many precautions as possible — and getting our wills in order. There’s blind faith and then there’s well, the facts. Sometimes we can make sense of what God or the universe has planned and sometimes we cannot.

Several years ago I wrote a piece called “Five Things Cooking has Taught me about Life.” One of the points was faith — Faith is as simple as believing that if you mix that flour, sugar, and butter together with a few other things you will have a delicious dessert. Faith is expecting that if proper technique is followed and good ingredients are used, that the result will be tasty. I used to wear a bracelet that reads “When You Have Faith Anything Is Possible.” A colleague saw it once and commented, “I didn’t know you were so religious.” It’s not just about that kind of faith. Faith is believing in many things, including yourself and your ability.  


My faith in my abilities stems from the never-ending support of my mama. My religious and spiritual faith continues to evolve and grow, but it started with her, as well. One of my favorite authors Brené Brown wrote, ” Faith is a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty.” This advice certainly seems timely. 

I’ve always devoured books, still do. Words are magic to me. The fact that occasionally I can string together a couple and make a beautiful sentence or a moving phrase or an evocative thought thrills me. I love to bake and cook, and  I love writing almost as much. The fact that I can marry these two loves is a wonderful and wondrous thing.  

And, that, like most of the wonderful and wondrous things in my life is as a result of the faith, love, and support of my wonderful and wondrous Mama. I hope you enjoy this recipe for Mama’s Poundcake. As you can see in the photo above, this cake has been in my life my entire life. I hope you enjoy it if you have it at your table. 

I love you, Mama. Happy Mother’s Day. 

Bon Appétit Y’all

Virginia Willis 

Mama's Poundcake

This cake will stay moist in an airtight container for up to one week. I've had lots of questions over the years about the use of shortening. I have tried it with all butter, and it's just not the same cake. What Is shortening? Shortening, by definition, is any fat that is solid at room temperature and used in baking. Shortening is 100% fat whereas butter is fat and water; it impedes the formation of gluten and makes for a delicate and delicious crumb -- and an incredible cake. If it's not broken, don't fix it.
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time1 hr
cooling time20 mins
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American, Southern
Keyword: cake, mother's day, poundcake
Servings: 1 10-inch cake
Author: Virginia Willis


  • 3 cups all-purpose flour preferably White Lily
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup Crisco vegetable shortening room temperature
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter room temperature, more for the bundt pan
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 1 cup whole milk room temperature
  • 5 large eggs room temperature
  • 1 vanilla bean split and scraped or 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract


  • Heat the oven to 300 °. Grease a large bundt pan with butter. Set aside. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment cream together the Crisco, butter, and sugar until light and fluffy.
  • In a large liquid measuring cup combine the milk, eggs, and vanilla. Stir to combine.
  • Add the flour mixture to the butter sugar mixture, alternating between the dry and wet ingredients in 3 parts, starting and ending with dry. Fill the prepared bunt pan with batter, no more than 2/3 full.
  • Transfer to the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Increase oven temperature to 325 ° and bake and additional 45 minutes until the cake is warm golden brown and pulls away from the sides of the pan. Remove to a rack to cool for 10 minutes. Invert cake onto a rack to cool completely.

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Please note that this post may contain affiliate links. (That means I make a commission if you use my affiliate link to buy the product.)

Virginia Willis

Georgia-born French-trained Chef Virginia Willis has made chocolate chip cookies with Dwanye “The Rock” Johnson, foraged for berries in the Alaskan wilderness, harvested capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, and beguiled celebrities such as Jane Fonda, Bill Clinton, and Julie Chrisley with her cooking -- but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. Virginia is a chef instructor for the digital streaming platform Food Network Kitchen and author of Secrets of the Southern Table: A Food Lover’s Tour of the Global South, Lighten Up, Y’all, Bon Appétit, Y’all, Basic to Brilliant, Y’all, Okra, and Grits. Lighten Up, Y’all: Classic Southern Recipes Made Healthy and Wholesome received a 2016 James Beard Foundation Award of Excellence. She is the former TV kitchen director for Martha Stewart Living, Bobby Flay, and Nathalie Dupree; has worked in Michelin-starred restaurants; and traveled the world producing food stories – from making cheese in California to escargot farming in France. She has appeared on Food Network's Chopped, CBS This Morning, Fox Family and Friends, Martha Stewart Living, and as a judge on Throwdown with Bobby Flay. She’s been featured in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Eater, and Food52 and has contributed to Eating Well, Garden & Gun, and Bon Appétit, and more. The Chicago Tribune praised her as one of "Seven Food Writers You Need to Know." Her legion of fans loves her down-to-earth attitude and approachable spirit. Learn more about Virginia and follow her traveling exploits at

This Post Has 9 Comments

  1. Virginia Christman

    What a touching tribute to your precious mother. She raised a wonderful daughter, too.

    1. Virginia Willis

      Thank you so much, fellow Virginia!! xoxo VA

  2. Scott Stroud

    Very nice story Virginia. We moved regularly when I was growing up and found books to be my only constant friends. I learned to read when my brother, older by 3 years, did so I was always reading ‘above’ my age. I had a similar experience with the school library until my mom told them that I was allowed to read whatever I could handle at home. After showing that I could read a book picked at random the library was mine.
    Having someone with faith in you on your side is an amazing thing.

    1. Virginia Willis

      It makes all the difference in the world! Thanks for reading!

  3. Judith Jurgensen

    Such an encouraging piece. My mother taught me to read when I was four and in the second grade I was sent upstairs in the school building to read with the third graders. I became a librarian and reading has meant the world to me. I’m glad your mother didn’t let that principle and that misguided librarian hold you back.

    1. Virginia Willis

      Well, I sympathize with her trying to keep order, but I am happy, too! Thanks for reading!

  4. Karla Patenaude

    You brought back memories of my mom, so of course you made me cry. Miss her everyday

    1. Virginia Willis


  5. Anonymous

    What a gift to Mamma and hers to you! Just beautifully told!

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