A Bookworm's Tale
By Cindy Della Monica, Cheesemonger & Owner, Cheese Central
The power of the printed, written word: it carries your mind directly into the parlor of the Queen, the undersea world of a scuba diver, the kitchen of Ina Garten, the wardrobe that opens into Narnia, or the offices of the White House. Description, well-versed, can transport imagination beyond anything else in your life.
Books. A book borrowed from the library may not be in best condition, but carries with it the aroma of that hallowed hall. Book dust! Nothing else smells like that…unless it is from your own collection. A new book has its own smell, too, of fresh ink. It hasn’t had time to acquire the patina of being caressed by hands, in the way of older books that have been touched. The crackling sounds of a newly opened book spine allude to the mysteries held within. And YOU are the first to absorb the details of print and picture. Intoxicating.
As a four-year-old, I found learning to read very easy. From the moment that “reading” clicked in my mind, nothing has passed through my fingers without at least a quick perusal – even the junk mail slipped into my mailbox. I just can’t stand that I might have missed something. My family calls me a walking encyclopedia (remember those?) as I practice what I preach—try to learn something new EVERY day, and “knowing a little about everything” affords you the ability to have conversation with just about anyone you meet, in any situation. I’m not a know-it-all, just well-read.
Entering a library has always tightened my tummy with anticipation. When I was young, my hometown library held bi-annual Book Sales. A quick bike ride to the library, and I could enjoy the sight of their outdoor lawn set with stacks of books on tables. The librarians, who knew me quite well, would point out the tables of my interest. It wouldn’t take long to pick out some favorites, and new ones that intrigued with book jacket descriptions. I’d carry over a stack or two and place them in front of the cashier. Out came the ruler to measure the height of my stacks, and she’d charge me ten cents per inch of books! My babysitting money was well spent… my bike basket loaded to the brim… my mother’s face aghast when she saw what would now need shelf place in my bedroom. You could say I have a book obsession, but my favorite t-shirt says “it’s not hoarding if it’s books.”
My grandmother worked for Woolworth’s, managing the Books and Pets sections—double Gold, according to me and my sister! Mom would take us to the lunch counter for grilled cheese sandwiches and milk shakes, my sister would coo over the hamsters, birds and fish, and I disappeared into the books. As Grandma would walk us to the car, she always carried a box of books—without covers on them! Back in the day, whatever didn’t sell from the last shipment of books, the covers would be torn off and mailed back to the publisher for reimbursement. The books were to be thrown away, but Grandma gathered as many as would fit in a box and I would be transported into the paperback worlds of Zane Gray, Daphne duMaurie, Anya Seton, and more.
So, now you know that I lose myself in books. The aroma, the feel of the paper pages, the weight of the book in my hand or lap, and …. ah, the first line of the story. I may have phases of reading only biographies, or multi-generational books, or books about certain places in the world. I read cookbooks like novels—AND learned how to cook at a very young age (I still use the 20-volume set of the Grand Diplome Cooking School from France that I bought at age 11). An author, new to me, may provide a year’s entertainment given the number of books I’ve not known he/she wrote for ME to enjoy! Needless to say, my Santa letter ALWAYS included new books as “surprises” under the Christmas tree.
Each move my husband and I made to new homes, would bring a look of panic to John’s face—the book boxes! How many THIS time. So, our move to Lodi elicited a promise to take some of the books to Tom’s Used Books downtown. As heart-wrenching as it was to cull out those that I could part with, it took a hand-truck to get them into Tom’s shop. Tom calmly explained that I could get cash, or store credit, for my books today. STORE CREDIT! Bingo! I went home, not with empty boxes, but with a full beautiful set of pillow-backed, hard cover, gorgeous Agatha Christie novels! John wanted to know if there is a support group for my “problem.”
Bookworm? Absolutely! Public speaker—absolutely not! In college, I was forced to take a public speaking class. I molted like a chicken for every assignment. Sweating slightly, fairly faint, a stuttering bookworm. I don’t remember the speech topics I produced—too painful, really.
The one I do remember is this--If only I could get all eyes off of ME… there has to be a way… how can I distract the audience from my face? My reading had taken me to a story in the Old South, and an intriguing paragraph about a recipe called Scripture Cake. The Good Book had all my answers.
I translated the Scripture Cake recipe, baked the cake and portioned it for the audience. I drew a crossword puzzle, and the ingredients were the words to fill into the puzzle, so the clues were the scriptural verses themselves. Each participant filled in their crossword as I gave the scripture, a brief history of the ingredient, and amount used in the recipe. They would guess at the ingredient for their puzzle—looking down at the puzzle the whole time! When the puzzle was complete, I passed the platter of cake, and took my seat! No one had to look at me for long that was for sure. I have been teaching cooking classes for four decades, always participation. All eyes are rarely on me, just the way I like it.
Scripture Cake has a few historical references, but most agree that this was one way to teach refined, young Southern ladies how to bake, as well as memorize their scripture. Each Bible verse indicated what product to use, a treasure hunt, if you will.
The final product is quite delicious. Make this cake on a rainy day, brew a cup of tea, and curl up on the sofa with a good book. So much more fulfilling than sitting at your computer desk with the internet. Take it from me….
3/4 cup Judges 5:25
1 1/2 cup Jeremiah 6:20
5 Isaiah 10:14
3 cups sifted Leviticus 24:5
1/2 teaspoons 2 Kings 2:20
3 teaspoons Amos 4:5
1 teaspoon Exodus 30:23
2 Chronicles 9:9
1/2 cup Judges 4:19
3/4 chopped Genesis 43:11
3/4 cup finely chopped Jeremiah 24:5
3/4 cup 2 Samuel 16:1
Whole Genesis 43:11 for garnish
Preheat oven to 325*. Grease a 10” tube pan. Dust lightly with flour. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg yolks, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.
Sift together flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon and spices. Mix flour mixture into butter and egg mixture, alternating with milk, until flour is just blended in. Beat egg whites until stiff; fold into batter.
Fold in chopped nuts, figs and raisins. Pour batter into prepared tube pan. Bake until a cake tester inserted into center of cake comes out clean, about an hour and ten minutes.
Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool. After fifteen minutes, turn cake out from pan onto wire rack to cool completely.
Scripture Cake answer key below…
3/4 cup butter
1 1/2 cup sugar
5 eggs, separated
(Isaiah 10:14 )
3 cups sifted flour
1/2 teaspoons salt
(2 Kings 2:20)
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon each 2 nutmeg, ginger, allspice
(Chronicles 9:9 spices)
1/2 cup milk
3/4 chopped nuts
3/4 cup finely chopped figs
3/4 cup raisins
(2 Samuel 16:1)
Whole almonds for garnish (Genesis 43:11)
Cindy Della Monica
Cheesemonger and Owner of Cheese Central in Lodi, Ca.
This story first appeared in the Ardent
for Life Holiday 2020 issue.