Monday, October 25, 2021

Ode to an Entenmann’s Walnut Ring

The minute anyone entered my mother's Bronx apartment, she would put on the kettle, so everyone could enjoy a nice hot cup of tea. Nothing fancy: just a Lipton or Tetley tea bag in the mug. I never saw loose leaf tea as a child. I would not have known what it was. 

Tea was served with milk and sugar or Sweet'N Low. The odious pink packet was penance for what invariably was eaten with the tea: a sweet treat. Tea and dessert made people feel welcome in your home. Not offering it was just plain rude. Hopefully a seven layer cake from the local bakery, rich with chocolate frosting. But at least a slice of an Entenmann's walnut coffee ring or crumb bun. 

Entenmann's was always on hand. My female relatives did not see the point of home baking. Who had time for sifting and whisking? There was cooking and cleaning and gardening, needlework and crocheting, not to mention a job at Alexander's Department Store (my grandmother) and the Pelham Manor Village Hall (my mother).

Entenmann's cakes, bought at the A & P, had the whiff of fanciness. The script font seemed old fashioned and proper, the blue and white box classy. The company was founded by a German immigrant in Brooklyn in 1898, and, by midcentury, famous fans such as Frank Sinatra ordered the Crumb Coffee Cake weekly. Their products stayed fresh longer than bakery cakes, thanks to the magic of preservatives, not that anything hung around long enough to become stale in my family. My grandmother loved cake and bread, and we all inherited her tastes.

I must admit that I have hardly been loyal to Entenmann's. I don't stock their treats in my kitchen. My wonderful 18-year-old daughter, Violet, loves to bake, and especially during the pandemic, we've whipped up a steady stream of delicious cookies, cakes, and pastries that pair well with a nice cup of tea. Violet enjoys the challenge of the recipes in Claire Saffitz's book Dessert Person. Raised on Entenmann’s, I find the Saffitz approach unnecessarily grueling. But I like to spend time with Violet, and I like to see her happy. So I’m in for any crazily complicated baking project she wants. We spent an entire Sunday on Saffitz's sadistic instructions for an impossible tower of cream puffs called Crouquembouche, a truly insane endeavor, the directions for which include the disclaimer "Godspeed." Between making the cream puffs, the creme patisserie and the caramel, not to mention constructing the tower...let's just say the mood in the kitchen became tense.

A baking hiatus ensued. During this time, I noticed in the Acme flyer that Entenmann's products were on sale. I thought longingly of my mother, who died in April 2020. Maybe I'd get the walnut ring and brew some milky tea, sweetened with honey, and enjoy a slice like we used to. But sadly, the walnut ring proved elusive. It wasn't available at the supermarket or on the Entenmann's website.

My daughter knew of my sudden desire for Entenmann’s, so on Mother's Day, she presented me with two of their products. The limited edition Lemon Loaf was light and delish, although a more robust crust would improve it. My mother added strawberries and whipped cream to the plain Loaf Cake to make Strawberry Shortcake. She’d also top toasted slices of the cake with scoops of Neapolitan ice cream. That’s the kind of baking I’m most comfortable with. 

The Cheese Buns were fine, if a bit light on cheese. They do make me even more nostalgic for the walnut ring, a glazed cake with a cinnamony filling, studded with raisins and walnuts. It was always hard to resist picking off all the best parts. 

Searching for the walnut ring, I landed on the Entenmann’s Facebook page, where I found a 2014 post confirming the sad news that the Walnut Danish Ring had been discontinued. Customers made their displeasure known. “You people are seriously messing up,” posted Billy Dello Russo.  I wish they’d bring it back. 

I could really go for a slice, sitting with my mom at the table in our breakfast nook. 

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

May her memory be a blessing

 A year ago today, at about this time, the phone rang. It was a woman calling my house from the hospital. "I don't have any information," she said quickly. "I'm one of the chaplains."

I immediately began to cry. "Thank you," I said.  I sat down on my unmade bed.

"I'm glad I called," she said. "I saw that your mother was having comfort measures only, and I thought a ringing phone in the hospital room might be an annoyance." 

I told her I had finally, after more than a month, been allowed to see my mother the previous day. For 15 minutes.The chaplain assured me that my mother had received The Last Rites, over the phone, and that the pope had said that would count. Or was it the bishop? I don't remember. 

A man had called earlier from the hospital asking if she would like The Last Rites, and I had said she would, and I had told my mother over the phone that she would receive them. "Good," she said. "I don't want to be thrown our of heaven too."

On the phone now with this chaplain, I cried my eyes out. I barely said a word, and she prayed with me as I sobbed. The Hail Mary, maybe? The Lord's Prayer? It's all a blur. I didn't absorb her name, but I will always be so grateful to her.

Not long after, the doctor called me to tell me my mother had died. I thanked her for getting me in to see my mother, and then asked what would happen now. She said I should call the funeral home. My cousin, thankfully, is a funeral director. I called him and he took care of the small burial ceremony that was allowed in the midst of the pandemic.

A year today. Time doesn't make sense the way it used do, now that my mother had to die alone. A month, or a week, or ten years: all would seem just as accurate. 

When she first died, some friends wrote to me: "May her memory be a blessing." It's such a nice thought. Someday, I suppose, it could be true. I see that her life was a blessing.