Meet Sweet Richard and His German Sweet Chocolate Cake
Everyone in my family thought Aunt Shari was a little nutty when, at age 63, she moved from her condo in suburban Kansas City to a home on 11 acres in Eddyville, Illinois, a village with 153 residents and one restaurant, in the state’s least populated county..
Aunt Shari, an avid horsewoman, moved to Eddyville for the trail riding — the town is on the edge of the spectacular Shawnee National Forest. But I think she has stayed because the people are so darned friendly.
Get this: When Aunt Shari’s neighbor Richard Craig heard that Aunt Shari had family coming to visit — my clan from Bend, Oregon, and my cousins from Los Angeles — he baked us a German Sweet Chocolate Cake.
It was huge and moist and smothered with thick, gooey, coconut-pecan frosting. Did I mention it was delicious?
Fittingly, Richard delivered the cake on our Grandma Honey’s 100th birthday. As my boys pointed out, “Grandma Honey is dead” — she has, in fact, been gone seven years. But that didn’t stop our group from celebrating Grandma’s remarkable life.
As we indulged in Richard’s scrumptious cake, we reminisced about Grandma, who bought her first computer, an iMac, at age 86, wrote her first book at age 90 and, at age 93, produced an oeuvre of short essays featuring keen observations about modern life, such as the mysterious disappearance of pockets from women’s dress pants.
Richard’s cake was so enormous that it lasted on Aunt Shari’s counter for days, as the five grown-ups stealthily pinched off bites, sliced off slivers and dug our fingers into the frosting. (I know for sure it wasn’t just me.)
I was so taken by Richard’s thoughtfulness that I insisted on meeting him. Aunt Shari invited him over, and we had a nice chat in her kitchen. Richard, who is 65 and a retired soybean and hog farmer, grew up on a farm 90 miles south of Chicago.
“I’m from the country, and I was 9 before we got a television, so our recreation was visiting neighbors,” he told me. “If you went to visit someone you’d take a cake or a pie. It wasn’t anything unusual. That was just our nature.”
Richard says his mom was a good cook who seldom used recipes. “I just hung around and watched her. I’m a long ways from being any kind of chef. I like to follow a recipe.”
Richard moved to Eddyville a year ago to help out his friend Alice, whose husband was dying of cancer. He stayed on, living on Alice’s property and helping out with the horses, the mowing and the rest of the chores.
“It’s a real community here,” Richard said. “We help each other out. There are so many people from different places, but we all have horses. If someone’s in need, everyone rallies around.
“One gal down the road had a brain tumor, and now she comes home from the hospital on the weekends. I try to take her down something to eat every weekend. My mom was a giver, and I enjoy giving, too.” Richard was the recipient of some good-neighbor cooking recently when he had a hernia operation and Aunt Shari brought him dinner.
Baking is Richard’s forte, but he always gives away his creations because he’s trying to watch his weight. “If I keep it, I’ll eat it.”
But, he admits, “I do lick the pan.”
Here is the Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate Cake recipe that Richard used.