A headline from RNS (Religious News Service) came in my email inbox the other day and caught my eye: “Nones Now as Big as Evangelicals (and) Catholics in US.”
No, this was not a story about Roman Catholic NUNS but “Nones”. These are Americans claiming “no religion” — sometimes referred to as “nones” because of how they answer the question “what is your religious tradition?”
Under a picture of empty pews in a church in the midst of the Bible Belt, the story revealed that “According to newly released General Social Survey data analyzed by Ryan P. Burge of Eastern Illinois University,— Americans claiming “no religion” …. now represent about 23.1 percent of the population, up from 21.6 percent in 2016. People claiming evangelicalism, by contrast, now represent 22.5 percent of Americans, a slight dip from 23.9 percent in 2016.That makes the two groups statistically tied with Catholics (23 percent) as the largest religious — or nonreligious — groupings in the country.”
My Portuguese grandmother made Simnel Cakes faithfully. Every year. And, of course, she always told us the story that went with it.
We would line up all the ingredients on the kitchen table - the older kids measuring the liquid ingredients, the younger ones allowed to measure the dry ingredients. One of us was assigned to greasing the pans, another to chopping the walnuts (which we first had to crack - usually with a hammer - and get the meaty walnut out before chopping).
And I, only I, was allowed to sift the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves into the batter. Ha! And my grandmother, only my grandmother, was allowed to pour in the hot applesauce. We all stood back when she did that, in a respectful silence which was tinged with a bit of awe reserved only for sorcerers and magicians.
And, indeed, she did cook up laughter there in her kitchen. In the midst of the doldrums of Lent, she was making Bolos do Riso - "Laughter Cakes". Oh, but here's the special ingredient - the secret of "Laughter Cakes".
After every ingredient had been added and stirred, and before she poured the batter into the muffin tins or cake pans, she would gather us round the Very Large Mixing Bowl. And then, she would tell us not to worry. That Lent was a very sad time, but that soon, it would be Easter. Jesus would play a wonderful trick on Satan, and death would not kill him.
And, because death could no longer kill Jesus, death could no longer kill us. Because of Jesus, we would know eternal life in heaven where we would all someday be, once again. She would tell us this and then say, "So, laugh, children. Laugh into the bowl. Laugh into the cake. Laugh at the Devil. He can't win. He can't ever win! Only Jesus can win. Only Jesus! Laugh! Laugh! Laugh!"
And, we would. Laugh. Loud. Right into the bowl. I swear people ten blocks away could hear us laugh. It was the best part of making - and eating - that cake.
1 ½ c. raisins
4 tbsp. (or so) Brandy
1 c. shortening
2 c. granulated sugar
2 c. very fine flour (all purpose will do if you sift)
2 tsp. Baking soda
2 ½ tsp. Cinnamon
1 ½ tsp ground Cloves
2 tsp. nutmeg
½ tsp. Salt
1 ½ c. chopped walnuts
zest of one lemon (optional)
2 c. hot applesauce
Soak raisins in brandy overnight.
Mix together in a large bowl - shortening, sugar and eggs. Into that sift flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Add chopped walnuts and raisins with the brandy. Add 2 cups of applesauce while it is VERY HOT. Blend thoroughly. Add optional lemon zest. Pour batter into 8 ½ x 12" pan (greased and floured.) Bake at 350̊ For about 30 minutes (or until done).
When done, cool cake in pan 5 minutes - then remove to finish cooling on a cake rack. Frost generously with Butter frosting.
1/4 lb. (one stick) Butter
1 lb Confectioners Sugar (10-X)
about 3 tbsp heavy cream (or milk)
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
Blend together the butter and sugar. Add in the cream (or milk) and vanilla until smooth. Makes enough frosting for the cake above.