Anyone who has watched the epic television show "The Waltons" knows of the Baldwin sisters and "the recipe."
Well, I've had my own "recipe," not from a still, but from a wallpaper-paste bucket.
The recipe I'm talking about is the 30-Day Friendship cake I've been babysitting for my best friend, Sue Botsford.
Back in January, she and her husband, John, thought it would be nice to get out of the winter weather for a while and head south to their Georgia retirement home. Before leaving, she asked if I would keep "the batch" going for a few weeks while they are away.
I said, "Sure, why not!" If you've ever tended a 30-day anything, you know it means you have to keep it on your schedule every week until it's finished. I figured a few weeks would be a cinch. What a surprise!
The wallpaper-paste bucket, which John covered very nicely with wood-grained sticky paper, held the "starter batch": a cup and a half of the juice from previous batches, a can of fruit cocktail and sugar; stir once in a while until the 10th day, when you add a can of pineapple chunks and sugar; then the 20th day, you add a can of peaches and sugar. By the 30th day, when it's time to bake three cakes, the fruit and sugar have really begun to "percolate" and taste a little bit like fruit liqueur, or, more accurately, the Baldwin sisters' "recipe."
I was so pleased with my first three cakes that I called Sue and told her I had succeeded, saved some for a friend who wanted to try it and even took one cake in to the newsroom staff, who always look forward to Sue's cakes.
Then she tells me: "You know, I think I've been making that cake for about 30 years, ever since Fred Arce came into the newsroom one day and asked if anybody wanted to try making a 30-Day Friendship cake." Oh, great! No pressure here. I'm part of a bigger picture now. What if I botch the batch and ruin the whole thing?
Before this little tidbit of information, I thought it was fun. I'd be making cakes from scratch. Each batch makes three cakes that you give to friends or put in the freezer until you need one for a special event. Now it's like protecting the Crown Jewels. I couldn't wait to get it back into her hands.
The only "fly in the cake batter," if you will, was that John was rushed to the hospital for emergency surgery, and just days later, Sue was afflicted with a second macular hole in her eye that needed surgery as soon as possible. They weren't coming back north any time soon.
So I continued on with the cake epic. I even worked it out to stay on schedule when Sue asked me to fly south to help out following her surgery. I added my fruit and sugar the morning of the day I left. I was away nine days and added the final fruit the day after I got home. Voila! Back on track.
Thankfully, Sue and John's health problems passed, and they were able to come home in July. I finished the 30-day routine, baked the cakes, transferred the main batch into the wallpaper-paste bucket and took it all back to Sue in Keeseville. I have to confess it was like handing over a precious jewel, and I was glad to see it back in good hands.
The moral to this story is: A friend is a friend is a friend. When your best friend (like a sister) asks you to babysit her friendship cake, you do it, no matter what. One caution: If the "batch" is ready to celebrate its silver anniversary, think twice. Better yet, don't ask.
One last thought, as always, please be kind to each other. The world needs more kindness.
Susan Tobias lives in Plattsburgh with her husband, Toby. She has been a Press-Republican newsroom employee since 1977. The Tobiases have six children, 18 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. They enjoy traveling to Maine and Colorado, and in her spare time, Susan loves to research local history and genealogy. Reach her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.