Heritage Cake Is The Icing On Payson's 125th

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One big cake, made up of many little cakes, will be the "icing" on Payson's 125th Celebration in October. Called a "Heritage Cake," this big cake will bring back memories for some of the Old Families, and will hopefully share some culture with those who are not from the Old Families. These cakes are links to our Early Payson area culture. Memories of special people -- especially grandmothers and aunts -- and special events -- such as Christmas or a wedding or a Saturday Night Dance where a young woman was proposed to -- are often recalled. Just as many individual pieces of cloth make up a Heritage Quilt, many individual cakes make up the Heritage Cake.

Just as it was assembled 125 years ago, a Heritage Cake will be made by members of the Payson125th Committee and the Northern Gila County Historical Society and presented for all to see, before it is cut. Several flavors and colors of cakes and icing will be used, plus the cakes will be decorated. Your favorite is likely to be there.

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Jayne Peace Pyle

Whatever your favorite cake happens to be, it is likely it will be there.

The Heritage Cake was first made in the Rim Country area during the 1880s when ranchers' wives traveled for several miles into Payson or another nearby dance location such as Little Green Valley, Pleasant Valley, or Gisela to serve attendees a Midnight Supper. This was a custom at most Saturday Night Dances.

The custom originated pre-Civil War in the Deep South where poor people could not afford to serve big beautiful cakes at special events. So, instead of one big cake, every woman brought her favorite cake and they were all put together to form one big cake. Even though this custom began out of necessity, it continues today, because of the variety of cakes available at special events.

When this custom was brought to the West, the custom changed a little. Women could not bake and frost fancy cakes and get them to the dances without damaging them, so they baked their cakes and packed them in their wagons or maybe on their horses, unfrosted. Every woman baked her cake in the same size pan, if possible -- usually 9-inch by 12-inch. They made white cakes, chocolate cakes, yellow cakes, and fruitcakes of all kinds. Upon arrival at the dances, the cakes were dumped out of the pans upside down on a big table or board that was first covered with wax paper or a white sheet. After arranging the cakes similar to quilt blocks, the women frosted their cakes with white frosting or icing. Many times, the women in the community where the dance was being held furnished all of the white icing. Then each woman decorated her cake with colored icing, sugared fruits and nuts -- and tried to make hers look the best. So her husband would know which cake was hers, she would put the family brand on the cake. These cakes became known as Heritage Cakes because women made their favorite cakes, or their mothers' or grandmothers' favorite cakes. Not only were these good to eat, they made great conversation pieces.

As better roads were built for traveling to and from Payson, and Betty Crocker became a household name, the Heritage Cakes almost disappeared, except for the traditional Old Family members who have hung on to the custom. During the 1980s, the Tonto Cowbelles revived the tradition at their yearly dinners and dances in Cline's Meadow in Star Valley. After the Cowbelles disbanded, the Heritage Cake was once again almost lost to history.

Take time to see the Heritage Cake and hopefully it will preserve a memory of Payson's 125th Celebration for you. Taste of its goodness and store in your memory another custom of early Payson. You might also bring your cameras.

The Heritage Cake was first made in the Rim Country area during the 1880s when ranchers' wives traveled for several miles into Payson or another nearby dance location, such as Little Green Valley, Pleasant Valley, or Gisela to serve attendees a Midnight Supper. This was a custom at most Saturday Night Dances.

Take time to see the Heritage Cake, taste of its goodness and store in your memory another custom of early Payson. You might also bring your cameras.

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