Maybe it was Marie-Antoinette, more likely it was Marie-Thérèse, but one of these bad-ass chicks said something like “let them eat cake”. Since then we have been faced with the vexed question of what was meant by that inflammatory remark made in the face of soaring bread prices. If Marie-Antoinette, a much-misunderstood woman, had indeed uttered these famous words, it would not have been the cynical statement it first appears. Hers would have been a plea that if her people can’t have baguette then they deserve something better. So historians have neglected to consider another vexed question: which cake exactly was Her Royal Sweetness referring to? Answers have been sought in the patisseries of Paris, with theories verging from a simple sponge like a Madeleine to some elaborate, cream-laden concoction. But it is on this small rock, where the population has no appetite for revolution, and salt bread prices are relatively stable, that the answer has at last been revealed.
Actually “revealed” is not quite correct. Not all 280,000 inhabitants of this small rock have tasted The Cake and there are no signs of it coming into commercial production. A man who makes his living by selling a Caribbean cake in a distinctive box at tourist outlets, (the locals know better than to eat the stuff themselves), tasted The Cake and was smitten. It was moist and overflowing with perfectly blended ingredients. A slightly tart frosting, the texture of pure cashmere, offset its sweetness. And every time the tip of the tongue touched this sensual paradise it quivered involuntarily. Apparently.
But I digress. The Box Cake man made the baker a proposition: I will buy the Holetown coffee house you are selling for the full asking price. But in return you must agree to give me The Cake recipe so that I may bake it, put it in a box, and sell it to the tourists and locals alike. She declined. He had already ruined one cake and she was not about to let him ruin another. Ten years have passed since that rejection. Still he asks. Still it seems she refuses.
Others have been less bold, preferring an occasional taste on The Cake, rather than coveting the recipe for private use. Emily was content that the baker agreed to make it for her wedding and Sharon asked for and received nothing more - or less - than The Cake for her big Five O. Two elderly ladies were known to make the journey by bus from St. Philip, on the other side of the island, every Thursday that God spare life, to eat The Cake and drink freshly brewed tea while the baker was in residence.
One day the coffee house did change hands and the baker departed taking the recipe with her. Years have passed but stories persist of a party in St. Lucy, or a wedding in Christ Church, when guests were treated to The Cake. By the time I came to live on this small rock The Cake was pure urban myth. Versions of the recipe have apparently been found around the island. Someone claimed it was among the many scribbles that covered the walls of Groots roti shop. A woman sent a letter to Dear Christine, our national agony aunt, with a version of the recipe she said was left on the seat of a ZR taxi. Still another said it was inside a bottle that washed up on Pebbles Beach. But these glimmers of hope have been short-lived. No one could reproduce anything like The Cake.
Such pessimism neglected to value one factor: chance. As a statistical probability I should have known I would sooner, rather than later, come face to face with the baker. Yet even as I was stumbling onto The Cake I was only half aware. It was Sunday morning and we were collecting First and Second Born from a sleepover.
'Come in! Come in!' said the gracious host.
'Thank you but we mustn’t impose. We’ll just get the boys and head off.'
'Please I insist.'
'Okay,' said The Husband as he pushed past me to join our host. He was dying for a boys chat – you know the sort of thing - modeling exchange rate risk or, for a real laugh, reforming the Bretton Woods system.
Tea and cake were offered. It looked like any other nice carrot cake. But from the first bite we were delirious.
'This is amazing cake!' said The Husband only to add in the same breath, 'Ingrid never bakes me a cake.'
I took a deep, deep, breath.
'It is not my comparative advantage. Perhaps you might like to take a baking course at the Community College?'
Our host coughed.
'Ahem. Have another slice,' and quickly pushed the cake stand towards me.
My homicidal mood melted with the next bite.
'Do you know about this cake?' asked the hostess to no one in particular.
And then I understood.
It was hard to keep from trembling.
'Is this The Cake?' I asked nervously.
'Yes. I’ve been making it for years. Used to sell it at my coffee shop in Holetown when I had the place. Got the recipe from a sculptor who was living on the island.'
I hesitated but this chance might never come again. There was nothing to lose and only girth to gain.
'Do you think I could maybe, please, possibly have the recipe?' I mumbled.
'Sure,' she replied. 'I’ll email it to you.'
My inbox is still empty.