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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.

mama on virginiawillis.com

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.

mama on virginiawillis.com

Faith

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.

mama on virginiawillis.com

Career

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.

mama on virginiawillis.com

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.

Faith

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, 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.  

Gratitude

I’ve always devoured books, and 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 a result of the faith, love, and support of my sweet 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

Ingredients

  • 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

Instructions

  • 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.

Virginia Willis

Georgia-born French-trained Chef Virginia Willis’ biography includes making chocolate chip cookies with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, foraging for berries in the Alaskan wilderness, harvesting capers in the shadow of a smoldering volcano in Sicily, and hunting for truffles in France. She is talent and chef-instructor for the digital streaming platform Food Network Kitchen. Her segments feature authentic and innovative Southern cooking. She was the celebrity chef at the Mansion at Churchill Downs for the 143rd running of the Kentucky Derby. Virginia has spoken at SXSW, cooked for the James Beard Foundation, and beguiled celebrities such as Bill Clinton, Morgan Freeman, and Jane Fonda with her cooking — but it all started in her grandmother’s country kitchen. Recently, her work has been inspired by her weight loss success story, Virginia has lost 65# and kept it off for over 1 1/2 years! “If a French-trained, Southern chef can do it, you can, too.” She is the author of Fresh Start; Secrets of the Southern Table; Lighten Up, Y’all; Bon Appétit, Y’all; Basic to Brilliant, Y’all; Okra; and Grits. Lighten Up, Y’all won a James Beard Foundation Award of Excellence in the Focus on Health Category. Lighten Up, Y’all as well as her first cookbook, Bon Appétit, Y’all, were finalists in the Best American Cookbook for the International Association of Cookbook Awards and were also named by the Georgia Center of the Book as “Books Georgians Should Read.” 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, People Magazine, Eater, and Food52 and has contributed to Eating Well, GRLSQUASH, Culture, 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, approachable spirit, and traveling exploits. Her culinary consulting company, Virginia Willis Culinary Enterprises, Inc specializes in content creation, recipe development, culinary editorial and production services, cookbook writing, media training, spokesperson and brand representation, and public speaking. Virginia is on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force, the Atlanta Community Food Bank Advisory Board, as well as the Community Farmers Market Advisory Board. She is a food and hunger advocate for No Kid Hungry and a premier member of the No Kid Hungry Atlanta Society. She a member of The James Beard Foundation, Chef’s Collaborative, Georgia Organics, and Southern Foodways Alliance.

This Post Has 10 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

      xoxo

  5. Anonymous

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

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