Sean of the South: Pound cake day

You might not know this, but a few days ago was a national holiday. A day when our nation traditionally puts aside our differences, stands together in solidarity and brotherhood, from sea to oil-slicked sea, and we celebrate our most cherished national pastime.

Pound cake.

That’s right. It was National Pound Cake Day.

Frankly, I did not know it was National Pound Cake Day until a reader named Phyllis Ratliff, of Oneonta, Alabama, brought this to my attention. Phyllis reminded me that today is a critical day in our native heritage.

“We must ask ourselves,” writes Phyllis, “how many pound cakes sacrificed their lives defending our privilege to celebrate this day?”

Phyllis is absolutely right. Pound cake is an expressly American dish, right up there with Velveeta, and Budweiser. And yet nobody in the news media is even talking about this issue.

One columnist demands to know why.

Contrary to popular notions, apple pie is not our flagship American dish. Forget apple pie.

Apple pie originated in England during the 14th century, shortly after the birth of Cher. Back then, English peasants were so poor that most historians believe the first apple pies were made with apples harvested from the stalls of nearby horse pens.

Pound cake, on the other hand, is an American cake. It originated right here in the North American colonies. The first mention of pound cake comes to us in a cookbook entitled “American Cookery,” published in 1796 (HarperCollins).

So this morning, I, for one, am choosing to celebrate this holiday by eating a wedge of pound cake that is roughly the same thickness as the unabridged edition of “Gone With the Wind.”

Pound cake is in my DNA. I have been eating pound cake since I was six minutes old, which was all my grandmother’s doing.

In the hospital delivery room, shortly after my birth, my Granny and her church-lady friends showed up with baked goods and greeting cards. My granny was the kind of domesticated woman who exchanged baked goods and greeting cards for almost any occasion, including the onset of daylight savings.

My grandmother allegedly shoved a tiny slice of cake into my infant mouth and I started to gag.

My mother pitched a fit.

“Mama!” said my mother, “it’s too soon to feed my baby pound cake!”

“Why?” said Granny.

“Because he doesn’t even have teeth yet.”

“Neither do I, but you don’t hear me whining about it.”

So my people are extremely serious about our pound cake. We eat it for every community event. We eat it at birthday parties, church potlucks, graduations, weddings, funerals, infant baptisms, real estate closings, etc.

As a boy, everybody’s mothers and grandmothers made their cakes uniquely. And this is what makes them so special.

We had cinnamon pound cakes, orange-currant pound cakes, chocolate pound cakes, 7 Up pound cakes, strawberry pound cakes, fluffy pound cakes, dense pound cakes, loaf-shaped pound cakes, pound cakes that weighed more than tractor tires, and miniature pound cakes shaped like Bible characters.

In my house, I grew up with a pound cake perpetually on our counter. It was always within eyeshot.

We sold our mother’s pound cakes at Little League bake sales to earn money for new uniforms. Our aunts and mothers donated pound cakes to raise money for the missionaries. We gave pound cakes to the ill and infirm and shut-ins. I ate pound cake at my father’s wake.

Pound cake was not just cake, not to my people. It was code for “I love you.”

My grandmother made beautiful pound cakes, baked in ginormous, domed bundt-cake pans. She was known in three counties for her pound cake.

I remember when my grandfather was dying. The whole family gathered around his bedside, weeping, and my grandfather bid goodbye to each of us individually.

That night, my grandmother was grieving so deeply she stayed up all night baking a pound cake with her little hands.

That same evening, Granddaddy smelled the wafting scent from the oven, and somehow, miraculously, found strength to rise to his feet. He painstakingly made his way down the stairs, and limped into the kitchen where he managed to cut himself a slice of cake.

Immediately my granny slapped the steaming pound cake from his hands and shouted, “That’s for the funeral!”

Long live the American pound cake. And long live love.

Sean Dietrich is a columnist and novelist known for his commentary on life in the American South. He has authored nine books and is the creator of the “Sean of the South” blog and podcast. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to

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