May 01, 2019

Blast from the Past

Blast from the Past

As I have mentioned, my mother was (and remains to this day) an avid cook and baker, and much of my childhood was spent in the kitchen, watching her leaf through her notebooks to refresh her memory of some recipe. This spring, when she came to help me with my newborn, I asked her to bring along her recipe notebooks and together we took a trip down memory lane.

Among the notes were the recipes for Paul Robeson layer cake and Angela Davis cake. The Angela Davis cake I remembered, although it wasn’t made often (as my mom commented, “It required a whole cup of blackcurrant jam, and I was too stingy to use it in baking”). The Paul Robeson concoction didn’t ring a bell, so I did some online searching, and here’s the story.

Paul Robeson, born in April of 1898, was an American singer and actor and a political activist, whose sympathies for the Soviet Union and communism caused him to be blacklisted during the McCarthy era. He first visited the Soviet Union in 1934, and toured the country giving concerts. In 1952 he received the International Stalin Prize for Strengthening Peace Among Peoples. Even though the last time he visited Soviet Union was in 1961, he was lionized by Soviet propaganda for his pro-Soviet views and his criticism of the way the blacks were treated in the United States. The Soviet Ministry of Culture released his records, and he had a tanker, a breed of tomatoes, and even lilacs named in his honor, along with a huge stone near Abkhazia’s Lake Ritsa, where he supposedly performed. Another sign of his popularity was a chocolate layer cake beloved by Soviet amateur bakers.

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