The Eskimo Igloo Cake

Sara Etgen-Baker

© Copyright 2022 by Sara Etgen-Baker
Photo proberty of Sara.
                      Photo property of  Sara.
Mother’s rectangular-shaped kitchen was tiny—no more than 7 feet long and 5 feet wide. Although equipped with a moderate-sized refrigerator and a full-size gas range, it was cramped; had no pantry; and little storage space. Storage was so sparse that Mother kept her pots and pans in the oven overnight and removed them the next morning when she prepared breakfast.

I learned to cook standing alongside her often complaining about her tiny kitchen. “I hate cooking in here! There’s no room for anything! It’s ALWAYS hot in here. I can’t breathe!” I’d open the kitchen window and dramatically fan myself. “You know, clean up would be easier if you just had a dishwasher and disposal.”
Listen, Missy,” Mother turned to me scowling, “When I was a young girl during the Depression, I helped my mother cook on a wood stove that was so old it had holes in it.” Then Mother stopped what she was doing and grabbed her wet dish towel. “Look around. My kitchen has a stove, a refrigerator, pots, pans, and cooking utensils; everything else is optional.” Then she whipped her dish towel between her thumb and forefingers and snapped it on my buttocks. “Don’t be so fussy! Be grateful for what you have. Now finish washing and drying them dishes.”

I stood at the sink, sulking while hand-washing and drying the dishes watching her, my grandmother, and my aunt huddle around the kitchen table where they dumped all their S&H Green stamps onto the table where they sorted them by denomination; licked them; and stuck them onto the grid pages of the booklets that the supermarket gave away.

Women in Mother’s generation didn’t work outside the home and didn’t have their own income. So, collecting and redeeming those Green Stamps gave them a means of obtaining items they wanted or needed. Mother saved for two years before having enough stamps to redeem for an electric waffle maker and mixer. And on the day Mother redeemed her stamps, I went with her to the Redemption Center. While we waited for the stockroom clerk to retrieve her purchase, I browsed through the store.

Then I saw it—The Betty Crocker Cookbook for Boys and Girls. I opened it; slid my fingers across its pages; and glanced through the recipes, drawings, and photographs and knew that I simply must have that cookbook. Although the cookbook cost only half a book of stamps, I knew better than to out-and-out ask Mother to give me any of her prized stamps. So, I formulated what I thought was a pretty foolproof plan.

Mama,” I guided her toward the cookbook display, “have you seen this cookbook?” I opened the book’s pages. “It’s just perfect for me, and…..”

Hmmmm…” Mother skimmed through the pages. “I don’t know. Half a book of stamps is…”

an awful lot. I know, Mother, but…” I interrupted her hoping to stop her objection dead in its tracks. “…I’ll do extra chores to earn enough stamps to buy it. Please, Mama, pleeeese!”

Well, uh, I s’ppose so. But you’re responsible for your own stamps and putting them in the booklets. But once school starts, you won’t be able to do as many extra chores. School comes first, you hear me!”

Yes, Mama, I do!” I skipped out the door and raced to the car.
I spent the entire summer doing extra chores—ironing Dad’s shirts, folding clothes, vacuuming, and dusting. Even the neighbor ladies helped giving me Green Stamps for polishing their shoes; ironing their clothes; washing their dishes; and running their errands. But by summer’s end, I was two pages shy of having the half book of stamps I needed.

When school started, I did as I promised dedicating myself to my school work. Fall gave way to winter; by Christmas I still didn’t have enough stamps to buy my cookbook. Then while sipping on his coffee one December evening, Dad asked, “How many more stamps do you need for your cookbook?”

Just two more pages, Daddy. Why did you ask? Do you have an errand or chore for me?”

As a matter of fact, yes, I do. Grab your coat and stamps and hop in my pickup.”

I followed him to his pickup; hoisted myself onto the seat; and noticed an envelope with my name on it.

What’s this, Daddy?”

Go ahead, open it.” He flashed me an impish grin.

When I did, Green Stamps poured out onto the seat. “Are ALL these for me?”

Yes, Sweetie Pie!” he said.

But how, Daddy?”

My gas station started giving Green Stamps; so every time I bought gas, I put the stamps aside and saved them for you as part of your Christmas present. Merry Christmas!”
I can’t believe it, Daddy!” I squealed.

Let’s go get that cookbook!” I clutched the envelope of stamps in one hand and pressed my face to the window watching snow swirling around us like white confetti making me feel like we were driving through a tipped-over Christmas snow globe. It was a magical Christmas moment when the redemption clerk placed the cookbook in my hands. Before leaving the store, Dad inscribed these words on the inside cover: “May this, your first cookbook, help you to learn to love cooking.” Daddy, Christmas 1961.

Pick a recipe, Daddy, and I’ll make it for you,” I said when we got home.

How ‘bout this Eskimo Igloo Cake?”

Splendid choice!”

On that Christmas and many Christmases thereafter, I made the Eskimo Igloo Cake just for Dad—our very own father-daughter Christmas tradition—a tradition I kept alive with my own family. Each Christmas, I open the cookbook, magically transporting myself back in time to Mother’s tiny kitchen where I’m cooking alongside her and sitting down at the kitchen table with Dad enjoying a slice of Eskimo Igloo cake with him. I’m reminded Christmas is truly a magical time of year filled with the cheer and joy that comes with the remembrance of precious family members, our memories, and our holiday traditions.

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