My grandma, Doris Wheeler Evans, was born in 1914 and grew up in Watertown, Florida which is no bigger than a blink and right outside of Lake City.
She was one of 12 children; 8 of them girls, 8 of them incredible southern cooks. I grew up eating “Aunt Eloise’s Pound Cake,” “Doris’s Coconut Cake,” “Lucille’s Lemon Cheesecake,” and “Cleavy’s Chicken Tetrazzini.” The star among the stars, however, was Aunt Inez’s Chocolate Cake.
Reminiscing, my mother said, “There wasn’t an event or get-together at her church that she didn’t take a chocolate cake to; or if somebody was sick, he was getting a chocolate cake. Or, if there was a funeral, she was making a chocolate cake. Everybody LOVED Aunt Inez’s Chocolate Cake.”
What I loved most about growing up eating these proper-named creations was that there was always a story that went along with the dish. The tale sometimes was about the person herself, like when Maud would scare the younger kids by taking out her false teeth and then using her hand to make them talk, or it was about a past holiday get-together in which the “children of the 12” would swim in the Hollingsworth covered pool that “was fed by an artesian spring.”
Sitting around the dinner table hearing my family remember filled me as much as the food did, and it still does.
In late July of this year we had an annual family vacation, and I was reminded again about how much I love hearing the stories of the Wheeler family, and it gave me my next dinner party idea.
At your next dinner party, have everyone bring a dish that is a famous family recipe AND a story that accompanies it. Then, while you are sharing the dishes at dinner, you’ll share your stories as well.
Aunt Nettie Inez Wheeler Hollingsworth grew up in Watertown and Lake City, going on to live there all of her life. Being the wife of Hugh, who owned three local businesses, and the mother to three children, Byron, Diane, and Wayne (former state senator), kept Inez busy. That’s how she liked it. She was quite shy around crowds and would always put her daughter Diane in front of her in receiving lines, so Diane could make the small talk. Inez would much rather be behind the scenes, ensuring everything was perfect so everyone would have a good time. She was that kind of hostess.
She woke up at 5AM to make lemon meringue, coconut cream, and apple pies for her husband’s restaurant, Hollingsworth Grill.
She maintained their fantastic 3-story plantation mansion home so it could be the destination for family get-togethers and holidays; it was so big “you could ride bicycles in the living room,” according to my mother.
She got out all the picnic tables and cleaned their pool so the kids could swim at their annual July 4th parties.
And she made the best chocolate cake in Florida.
She was quiet in the parlor, a force in the kitchen, a behind-the-scenes hostess, and beloved by all.
My mom said, “There was something about all of the sisters… they remembered what you liked and if you spent the night with them, they would have always made your favorite dish. That made you feel so special.” That’s love, and that’s what the best hostesses do.
Here is my Great-Aunt Inez’s Chocolate Cake.
For the Cake:
1.5 sticks of butter
1.5 cups of sugar
2 cups of SELF RISING flour
1 cup of evaporated milk (PET milk)
1 teaspoon of vanilla
For the Icing:
3 cups of sugar
6 tablespoons of cocoa
3 tablespoons of flour
2 tablespoons of Karo syrup
1 cup of whole milk
1 tablespoon of butter
1 handful of marshmallows
2-3 cake pans, sprayed with cooking spray
2 quart sauce pan
4 strips of wax paper
a long knife for halving the cake layers
Make the cake first~ preheat your oven to 350 degrees
[in your mixer]
1. Cream the butter
2. Add the sugar and mix for 10-15 minutes
3. Add the eggs then SLOWLY add a little milk, then a little flour; alternating until you have added both ingredients to the mix.
4. Add the vanilla
5. Bake in sprayed cake pans for 30 minutes on 350 degrees. [2 pans if you want 4 layers, 3 pans if you want 6 layers]
Make the icing~ [in your saucepan]
1. Add the sugar, cocoa, flour, Karo syrup, and milk to your saucepan and cook (med-high heat) on top of the stove until it becomes a soft ball.
2. Take it off the heat and stir in your butter and marshmallows.
3. Stir until it’s a thick icing.
- Once your layers cool, using a long knife, halve the cake layers horizontally so you end up with almost identical cake layers.
- On your cake plate, place your 4 wax paper strips in the shape of a square. You will put your first layer on top these strips, crumb side down, so the icing does not get all over the plate. Make sure the edges of the wax paper extend beyond the cake so it is saving your plate from becoming a mess.
- Ice the smooth top of the first layer and place the second layer on top of it, crumb side down. Ice again.
- Repeat for all 4 layers and then ice the top and sides of the cake.
- Now, gently pull out the 4 wax strips of paper.
- Cut, serve, and enjoy.