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Wacky Cake

(by Melissa L. Weber)

“My teacher didn’t believe it was a real recipe.”

My introduction to my grandmother’s favorite cake recipe was the story of my mom’s kindergarten class cookbook.

“We each had to bring a recipe from home for the class,” Mom remembered. “Your Nana went through her recipe box, looking for something unique.”

Back then, the early 1950s, the ladies they knew had quite a cooking competition.

“She tried out new recipes on Daddy’s poker nights,” said Mom. “All the wives did. The men thought the card playing was competitive, but that was only for money. And they didn’t play for high stakes; it was more for bragging rights. And that’s exactly what the ladies played for.

Nana prided herself on hearing the words, "This is delicious! This is my new favorite.”

Nana hated gardening, but she loved cooking.

The local newspaper featured recipes every Wednesday. Nana made it a project to read the recipes and pick out special dishes to try. She particularly loved casseroles, desserts and anything the men might like. Her Wacky Cake was a favorite, and no one had any idea how easy it was.

“I loved watching her make that cake,” Mom mentioned recently. “It was like watching her perform magic. The dry ingredients first, then those three depressions. She used to let me make the divots with a spoon. When I got older, I was allowed to add the vanilla, the oil, and the vinegar, and then pour on the water. Watching the vinegar react with the baking soda was fascinating. It was probably the closest we ever got to a science experiment. I hadn’t really considered cooking to be chemistry.”

Mom was proud to take the Wacky Cake recipe to school. She presented it to the teacher.

The next day, her teacher told her the bad news.

“We will not be including your recipe in the class cookbook,” she told my mom. “We are only including real recipes, not jokes.”

Mom was crushed. Nana was livid.

“We will see about that,” she reportedly said. Nana was usually calm in the face of crisis. To see her get riled up about the recipe must have been confusing for a little girl. “I will go see your teacher tomorrow.”

Nana busied herself baking a quick Wacky Cake and accompanied her daughter to school the next morning.

Mom wasn’t part of the conversation with the teacher, but she was proud to see her recipe in the cookbook after all.


Melissa L. Weber is a science writer/editor and voice-over talent who lives in Columbus, Ohio. She is a board member of the Available Light Theater. She can be found on LinkedIn.

Wacky Cake

1 1/2 c. flour

1 c. sugar

1/3 c. cocoa

1/2 t. salt

1 t. baking soda

1 t. vanilla extract

1 t. vinegar

1/3 c. vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Combine flour, sugar, cocoa, salt, and baking soda in a 8 x 8 inch pan.

Make 3 holes in the mixture.

Place vanilla extract in one hole, vinegar in another, and oil in another.

Pour 1 c. cold water over the mixture and stir with a fork.

Bake for 30 minutes.


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