In the South, family transcends everything else – it is the structure of the South. It is the foundation of everything. There is also the Southern trinity of religion, football and food – you can decide for yourself the order of things; but that trinity still comes second to family. Families start churches. Food is ever-present at family get-togethers and reunions. Families and familial football teams define communities. Families spread over miles have a closer relationship than neighbors right next door (although may times in the South, your neighbors are your family). But indeed foundations can also break.
Family relationships in the South can die easily when it comes to one of its greatest poisons -- money. Many fights over wills, or lack thereof, of a loved one have broken many a Southern family. Greed and misunderstandings coupled with money or the vision of money are some of the greatest poisons within Southern families. A family dynasty of a hundred years can be undone over the slightest with a drop of one of these poisons. It doesn’t take much to facilitate the first bit to be dropped. Something as even as simple as a valuable, prize-winning recipe can be the catalyst.
The recipe for Sour Cream Apple Cake has never really been publicly known. Guesses have been made for decades as to the ingredients and it continues to be the topic of many a gossip session. Most people understand that whatever the recipe, the same basic ingredients are used. Everyone knows there are apples and sour cream in it, as well as the usual cake ingredients like flour and sugar. However, every year, many people still hear discussions and arguments on the specifics used. What kind of spices? What type of flour? Fresh apples or not? Some have heard less controversy over sections of the Holy Bible Itself than the recipe of Sour Cream Apple Cake. But as long as the Edwards sisters live, they have vowed the original recipe would remain mysterious. They eventually released “simple’ versions of the recipe during interviews, but the original “from-scratch” recipe remains a secret.
Mattie Sue Edwards was the first person in Chester County to cook Sour Cream Apple Cake. The tale Miss Mattie would tell was that the recipe for the cake came from her encounter with the cook of a famous Southern household in Georgia on a visit to a Piggly Wiggly. The recipe had been written in barely legible handwriting on butcher paper, according to Miss Mattie, and was unceremoniously destroyed on one frosty Southern morning as she was trying to light the pilot light to bake the famous cake – how poetic! She never wrote it down again. Some say she didn’t want the recipe to fall into the wrong hands, as the cake went on to win countless awards and ribbons for Miss Mattie. As the years passed, she would repeat from memory the recipe to her granddaughters who themselves would also win countless baking competitions with the recipe.
There has never been such devotion for food as the devotion of rival sisters Mildred Edwards Davis and Martha Edwards Phillips toward their grandmother’s Sour Cream Apple Cake. Ever since their paternal grandmother Mattie Sue Edwards passed, the two sisters have been fighting. And it’s usually about Sour Cream Apple Cake, or at least that’s where it begins.
Mildred (Milly) Sue Edwards Davis
Mildred Edwards Davis’ Original Sour Cream Apple Cake
1 stick oleomargarine
1 (18 ½ oz.) yellow cake mix (Betty Crocker)
½ cup coconut
2-½ cup applesauce
1 cup Breakstone sour cream
½ cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 egg, beaten
Cut oleo into cake mix, add coconut. Put in an ungreased 13x9x2 inch pan and build up edges a little bit. Bake 10 minutes in 350-degree oven. Spread applesauce over top of warm crust. Sprinkle sugar and cinnamon on top. Mix beaten egg with sour cream and drizzle over applesauce and sugar. Bake 20 to 25 minutes.
“I think I was about six years old when Momma Sue first let me help her bake her famous apple cake. I loved staring at all the awards and ribbons she kept in the kitchen on a high shelf up above the refrigerator. She always kept her kitchen sparkling white, because according to her ‘the white walls made the blue ribbons sparkle’. When cooking she’d always wear a blue apron on which was written ‘first-prize chef’ given to her by Papaw Sam. I remember that I had a stool that I would stand on and watch every move she made. I think that’s why my cake is so better than those trying to imitate, like that sister of mine.
I’m trustin’ you to remember what it takes to make this cake. I want you to be able to continue on after I go on to be with the Lord. It’s all up to you, Milly Sue,’ she would say to me as she carefully added ingredients to her old gray mixing bowl. I still use that old mixing bowl every time I make her cake. It just adds that little bit of love to it, you know. I promised her that I would, cross my heart, every time she told me that. She’d always smile and touch my nose, leaving a little smear of batter. I’d reach up and wipe it off, then taste it. I still use a taste of batter to confirm I’m doing it right. My sister all this time was running around looking in the cupboards or making some unruly noise. She’d make Momma Sue stop and scold her. Momma Sue would just shake her head every time a pan or spoon would hit the floor, she wouldn’t get a switch to her little bottom unless she heard china breakin’. That gal never really listened to anything Momma Sue would say. Many times I’d hear Momma Sue complaining about my sister under her breath.
‘I wish they’d send her to her Yankee grandmother,’ she’d say through almost clenched teeth.
My sister had been named after our maternal grandmother who was from Kentucky. Momma Sue considered every one north of Tennessee to be a Yankee and despised them. She was never close to Mother, and Mother went out of her way to be argumentative with her. Momma Sue said that Mother never lost her Yankee ideals or mannerisms. I think Momma Sue thought it was her job to rid Mother of them, and that’s why she was so hard on Mother all the time. I don’t ever remember a good word said between them.
When Mother first got sick, we went to stay with Momma Sue. I lived with her until I graduated high school. I would go with her to competitions and events. She’d always tell me how much she depended on me helping her – that I really helped her to win all her awards. She’s always say that someday it would be up to me to keep up the winning streak, that’s the reason I do what I do. We always had the best time during competition days. It was sad when she got older and I had to go to them alone.
That sister of mine, Molly, has come up with some kind of cake that she calls Sour Cream Apple Cake, but it doesn’t hold a candle to Momma Sue’s original recipe. She’s always been like that, trying to outdo and to show-off. She tells people that hers is the real Sour Cream Apple Cake; but I know for a fact that Momma Sue didn’t tell her the recipe. She’s got this recipe using a boxed cake mix she copied from me. I created it so busy folks could whip up an easy version of the cake; it was for an article in the local paper. Then she comes along with her “version” of it a week later. She tells folks that Momma Sue gave her the original recipe after I left home, but that’s a big lie.
She’s won a few awards for what she calls the “original recipe”, but it has always been like a county fair or such. She could never win a big-time award with it. She did enter a big event one year – it was the year she came up to me hollerin’ and screamin’ about some craziness. I don’t even remember much about it anymore. I did see her talking to the judges afterwards, probably trying to tell them I cheated. She was always trying to pull something like that over me.
When Momma Sue got sick right before she died, Molly called and said she couldn’t come home for some reason. Me and my husband ended up have to take care of Momma Sue all by ourselves. Molly finally came home, but Momma Sue died a few days later. She was absolutely on help and then she tried to steal everything not nailed down. After the funeral, all my sister wanted to do was to clean out the house and get away as fast as she could with as much as she could. She wanted everything in Momma Sue’s kitchen and her cookbooks, and I wasn’t about to let that happen. Haven’t talked to her much since that fiasco.”
Martha (Molly) Ann Edwards PhillipsMartha Edwards Phillips’ Heirloom Sour Cream Apple Cake
1 stick oleomargarine
½ cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 No.2 can applesauce
1 pkg. yellow cake mix (Duncan Hines)
1 tsp. Cinnamon
1-cup sour cream
½ cup Angel Flake coconut
Cut oleo into cake mix. Add coconut. Put in ungreased 13x9x2 inch pan, building up edges a little. Bake 10 minutes in a 350-degree oven. Take out of oven and add applesauce over the top of the warm crust and sprinkle sugar and cinnamon on top of this. Mix beaten egg with sour cream and drizzle over applesauce and sugar. Bake 20 to 25 minutes more. Do not overbake.
“When Mom passed on, I remember us going to live with Momma Sue. I think I was about four years old. I definitely remember her baking and the smells from her cooking was a comfort to me. Smelling something baking still relaxes and calms me. When my sister Milly was at school and before I started going, Momma Sue and I would make cookies or gingerbread. We didn’t make much and would end up eating most of it before Milly got home.
I loved those days in the kitchen with Momma Sue. I think it helped me deal with Mom’s death when I was so little. I was always rambunctious as a child and couldn’t sit still for long; but when I was in the kitchen with Momma alone, I was settled and very quiet. I listened to every word she would say. I can still hear her calm melodious voice talking to me when I get anxious nowadays. She told me my first teachers marveled on how well I paid attention once I settled down. I think it comes from my time with Momma Sue in the kitchen.
Momma Sue would mix everything up in that old blue enameled bowl that she said Mom gave to her one Christmas. I still use that old bowl when I make the apple cake. I feel it connects me to Mom and Momma Sue both. My sister was going to sell it at the estate sale and was determined to not let me have it. It meant nothing to her but she was bound and determined not to let me have it. She was that way with a lot of Momma Sue’s things, acting as if it all belonged to her after Momma Sue passed. What she couldn’t use, she tried to sell for cash. The only things I have that belonged to our mother are a little charm bracelet and a jeweled flower pin because my sister kept or sold everything else. But I do have the memories of what Momma Sue told me about our mother. My sister would never listen when Momma Sue would talk about Mom.
Momma Sue told me that Mom wasn’t a very strong person and that she was always doing exactly what her mother wanted to do. This caused all kinds of friction especially since Mom’s mother lived hundreds of miles away in Kentucky and didn’t always know what was going on. Our maternal grandmother never wanted us kids to visit her alone. Momma Sue always said she wished we could go stay with our maternal grandmother and allow her to have the same chance to enjoy us as much as she herself did. But I think Momma Sue knew that that would never happen. I really loved being around Momma Sue and learning everything she could teach me.
When we went to live with Momma Sue full-time after Mom passed, my sister, Milly, started to spend more time in activities like the Girl Scouts and other clubs. I myself preferred to just stay with Momma Sue helping with chores and cooking. I learned so much during that time and believe it is why I choose to go into a career that dealt with food.
I remember my sister always entering all kinds of baking contests and generally winning many of them. We both entered a baking contest once. The other contestants started telling me that my sister was talking it up that I sometimes cheated. I had the judges approach and question me about it. Milly had written a grievance to them about me stealing her recipe and she wanted me barred from the competition. After a long talk with all the judges, they let me stay. As soon as I left them I went straight to my sister and gave her a piece of my mind. I stayed pretty calm and collected, but I told her a thing or two. Yes, I pitched a fit. She couldn’t stand that I was there, but I wasn’t going to give her the satisfaction of leaving or dropping out. She ended up winning, but one of the judges had a talk to me before I left after the competition. Her name was Eleanor Beardesley and she said that I showed a real talent and the judgment had nothing to do with my sister’s grievance or the rumors. She even gave me contact information of one of her friends who was a food editor at a regional newspaper. She said I had great poise and professionalism throughout all that had transpired doing the event.
Momma Sue got sick just as I was starting my first job as a food editor. I talked to her when she first started to get sick and she told me that whatever happened, she wanted me to put my nose to the grindstone and not worry about her. She said that I had her dream job. She told me that Milly and Jack were taking good care of her and I didn’t need to worry. At the first opportunity though I did go back home and spent some time with Mommas Sue. I didn’t have much time with her before she passed. She wasn’t able to really eat much but she’d want to talk about recipes and dishes featured in the different articles I had worked on. She wanted to know about food I’d eaten at different restaurants. She was a “foodie” long before the word was invented!
After the funeral, I wanted to just clean up and get on with life. However, Milly fought me at every turn. Momma Sue had always promised her cookbooks and recipes to me. She had thought I’d get more use out of them. I figured the fair thing would be to share them with my sister, but Milly wanted them all. I think she hid several of the antique cookbooks even before the funeral, just to keep me from them. I finally made copies of most of the recipes I wanted and just let her have most of the cookbooks, but it still remains a contentious subject between us today. It’s sad we fell out over all this. I still haven’t really talked to her since.”