I have no shortage of hospitable influence in my life. Maybe it’s from growing up in the south or being surrounded by wonderful women who know a thing or two about making people feel welcomed. This strong combination of factors has fully prepared me for knowing most all the in’s and out’s of opening my home and happily hosting whoever enters. (If ever I should forget these things, I need only look around me to be reminded of how to graciously serve.)
I’ve heard many stories about how my grandmother Louise hosted and served the people in her life. Since I didn’t get to experience and learn from her hospitality firsthand (she passed away when I was only eight-years-old), I’ve latched onto women who are older and wiser than me in this area to fill in the gaps. One of the women in my life whom I love dearly and continually learn from is Joy Lynn. (If you don't know Joy, just imagine me in 30 years and that’s basically a good description — only a lot blonder and little spicier.) Last spring Joy shared her grandmother “Mama Lee’s” poundcake recipe with me when I was looking for a simple cake to top with fresh berries for a spring dinner party. Not only has this cake proven to be delicious, it’s tried & true and holds so much history in Joy’s family.
Mama Lee always had a pound cake made — it was her specialty. Joy told me that each week on Thursday, her grandmother would prepare a pound cake to have ready for the weekend when she knew family, friends and neighbors would be in and out of her house. (Even when she grew too old to make it by herself, she had a housekeeper come and make it each Thursday for her.) “She always had to have something prepared. She made pound cake because it was seasonal and easy to serve,” Joy said.
Whether your slice of cake was topped with whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, fresh fruit, or dipped in black coffee — Mama Lee’s pound cake was served off of a copper cake pedestal and onto her nice white china. “You never felt like a guest at Mama Lee’s house, you felt important,” Joy said. Always being prepared to serve was an important key to her hospitality, but Joy said what she remembers more than the cake was the way her grandmother always concentrated on her guests and her conversations with them at the table.
The poundcake was such a great symbol of her hospitality. It was Mama Lee’s excuse to get people at her table so she could love and engage with them, not just feed them. What people remember most about having a meal at your house will always be the conversation and time spent together — not how perfect the food tasted or how spotless your house was. One of the things I’ve learned from Joy that she took from Mama Lee was not to let your house become stiff. Instead of being busy cleaning and serving and doing while people are over, be present with them. When everything is lived-in and not so perfect, people will feel more at home and not afraid that they will mess something up. Making people feel comfortable is just as much about the environment as it is in your actions.
Hospitality is much more about letting people come over in the mess, not when everything is perfectly arranged and ready upon their arrival. Joy and I talked about how much this thought has seemed to shift and change in this generation. Mama Lee used to keep the door open at her house, always prepared for anyone who wanted to stop by — now it seems we only show up to each other’s homes when they are fully expecting us or upon an invitation.
I’m sure my poundcake attempt is no where near as good as Mama Lee’s once was, but I’m honored to know her granddaughter and share a piece of what was so much of her weekly routine. Learning bits of hospitality and wisdom from women who served others well will hopefully continue to trickle into my life, habits and recipes alike.
- Cream sugar & butter until smooth.
- Beat in one egg at a time.
- Add in milk & flour alternately.
- Mix together baking soda, hot water, salt & (any) flavoring. (ex: almond, lemon, orange) Add to mix just before pouring into greased tube pan.
- Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes at 350 degrees.