Tag Archives: Alabama Lane Cake

And the Winners Are…

Thank you to all who shared cakes, stories, and recipes at our Annual Meeting last night. While our judges selected winners in five categories, all participants received a BLUE RIBBON for sharing a cake, as well as much appreciation from all those who attended the meeting and were able to taste them! There was a big variety and remarkably, no two cakes were alike.

Special thanks also goes to our two judges, Susan Swagler and Pam Lolley for a difficult job selecting winners. Susan is a Food, Books & Lifestyle Writer and a founding member & past president of Les Dames d’Escoffier International Birmingham and you can follow her at Savor.blog. Pam is retired from twenty years in the Southern Living test kitchen, a free lance cook, and also a member of Les Dames D’Escoffier. Thank you, judges!

  • Most Unusual Cake: Potato Caramel Cake (Alleen Cater) – secret ingredient, mashed potatoes! Pam Lolley said her 20 years in the Southern Living test kitchen, she’d never heard of using mashed potatoes in a cake and it was delicious!
  • Most Vintage Cake: Caramel Cake (Elizabeth Hester) – this brought back wonderful childhood memories for the judges and was considered a standard in most southern kitchens
  • Most Beautiful Cake: Napoleon (Vasilisa Strelnikova) – the judges appreciated the care with which this cake was decorated and said the baby’s breath was a beautiful addition
  • Best Overall Cake: Miss Tinsley’s Sour Cream Pound Cake (Wilson Green) – the judges agreed that you can’t beat a good pound cake and this was delicious. One BHS attendee stated that Myrtle Tinsley was one of her church members and friend, a former schoolteacher, and a dynamite cook!
  • Best Memory Statement: Grand Aunt Mrytle’s Lane Cake (Don Cosper) -the secret ingredient was a cup of whiskey, somewhat scandalous among these Baptist bakers! This original cake recipe is one of the oldest in Alabama and was immortalized in To Kill a Mockingbird.

All the cakes were accompanied by childhood stories and we hope that one day the Birmingham Historical Society can assemble these recipes and stories into a book!

Alabama’s 100-year-old Holiday Cake

In the South, recipes are filled with history, and often shared with memories, stories, and traditions. One of the most iconic examples is the Alabama Lane Cake. Created by Emma Lane from Clayton, Alabama for a county fair in Columbus, GA, her flavorful layer cake won first prize. She subsequently included the recipe in her self-published cookbook entitled, “A Few Good Things to Eat” as the “Prize Cake”in 1898.

It immediately became popular for its light sponge cake texture combined with a raisin or dried fruit filling which was soaked in brandy. Over the years, Southern home cooks experimented with many variations and created their own special versions passed down with carefully guarded secrets among generations. It was often the cake of choice for celebrations and holidays, particularly Christmas, for its festive presentation.

This version of the Alabama Lane Cake uses the filling for the sides and top of the cake instead of the boiled icing called for in the original recipe. The recipe used here was from food historian, Gil Marks. Gil Marks wrote about the history of American Cakes for ToriAvey.com, revealing the history and culture of the United States through its classic treat. An author, historian, chef, and social worker, Gil Marks was a leading authority on the history and culture of culinary subjects. 

By the 1960’s, Harper Lee, an Alabama native, memorialized this tradition in her book, “To Kill a Mockingbird” as Atticus Finch’s daughter Scout reports:

“Miss Maudie Atkinson baked a Lane cake so loaded with shinny it made me tight”

Also in To Kill a Mockingbird, Miss Maudie bakes a Lane cake for Mr. Avery, who was severely injured in an attempt to put out a fire in her home.

“Mr. Avery will be in bed for a week—he’s right stove up. He’s too old to do things like that and I told him so. Soon as I can get my hands clean and when Stephanie Crawford’s not looking, I’ll make him a Lane cake. That Stephanie’s been after my recipe for thirty years, and if she thinks I’ll give it to her just because I’m staying with her she’s got another think coming.”[

– To Kill a Mockingbird. Author Nelle Harper Lee (1960), a native of Monroeville, Alabama, presented a picture of Southern culture in the mid-20th century, with numerous vestiges of life in the Deep South and Southern foods including Lane cake.
[Shinny = slang for liquor, derived from moonshine]

After Harper Lee published her second book, “Go Set a Watchman”, interest was renewed in Southern culture which included the iconic Lane Cake mentioned in her book. So, in May 2016, a bill passed in the Alabama state legislature to make it Alabama’s official State dessert, signed by Governor Robert Bentley.

According to former Southern Living Food Editor, Margaret Chason Agnew, Alabama Lane Cake was one of the two most frequently requested recipes the magazine received (the other being Hummingbird Cake), and it was even more popular at Christmas. In fact, her mother’s recipe, published in Southern Living’s Annual Recipes, 1983, page 269, was used again and again in multiple Southern Living publications with several variations.

Taste, traditions, stories, memories, and Southern culture are all wrapped up in a serving of Alabama Lane Cake. Happy Holidays!

And a special shout out to Becky Sorrell of Ritch’s Pharmacy for the inspiration. She has been baking her family’s special recipe for decades and provided lots of baking tips!