Personal Statement

Personal Statement

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Southern Girl 101: Shibboleth Cake

I took a linguistics class in college (yes, I was a Liberal Arts major; may I flip a burger for you?).  One lesson dealt with regionalisms, and to illustrate a point about how usage patterns tend to break down along geographic lines, she asked each class member to identify his or her go-to term for the road that runs along a freeway.  Most said "access road," a few said "service road" and a very few said "feeder road."  Then she asked each of us to identify our home town.

All of the "feeder road" users (myself included) were from the greater Houston area.

Who knew?  As a child, I did not understand that "feeder" referred to a type of road and thought that Feeder Road was an actual (singular) road - and a LONG one at that.  I also thought that Buffalo Speedway, a road running through a part of Houston, was an actual raceway for livestock.  My parents thought that it was odd that I kept asking to "visit" Buffalo Speedway, as they could not fathom what might be of interest to me along that particular stretch of road.

I wanted to see the buffalo race.

So "feeder" is a Houston shibboleth; another is "Treebeard's Cake."  I grew up eating this gooey butter cake, which was the featured dessert at a restaurant in downtown Houston called Treebeard's.  Treebeard's (at least, the original location) is operated out of an abandoned historic church.  The food - cake included - is quite tasty.

In law school, the mother of one of my six roommates (yes, there were seven of us - five-bedroom house, former duplex, both kitchens left intact when they took down the demising wall, HUGE living area in between the kitchens - it was a great party house) brought us a homemade Treebeard's Cake when she was in town to visit her daughter.  Or so I thought.  Upon taking off the cover to the pan, my two Fort Worth roommates and a third from Plano all exclaimed, "Ooh - a Neiman-Marcus Cake."

Um, what?

"It's a Neiman-Marcus Cake.  You call it that because it's so rich."

"No, it's because they serve it at the Zodiac.  Gosh, I love Neiman-Marcus Cake!  I grew up eating this stuff."

Ohhhhhkay.  Clearly, that's a Treebeard's Cake.  And what is it with your North Texas people and your slavish devotion to N-M?  N-M wasn't really a big deal on the Gulf Coast, at least not at first.  Growing up, our shopping mecca was Sakowitz.  The Sakowitzes were to Houston as the Marcuses were to Dallas.  Same basic back story - local family decided to open a department store to cater to the tastes of the oil-rich.  Except, somehow, N-M kept growing, and I think Sakowitz is just a fur store now, if it's even still around.

Tomato, tahmahto, I guess.  Midway through my fifteenth year in North Texas, I am now a N-M girl by default.  But I refuse to attribute my favorite butter cake to the store.  It will always be a Treebeard's Cake to me - but I am posting my recipe for it here as Shibboleth Cake, in recognition of the fact that people are going to call it what they will call it, and everyone will know what part of the world they hail from as a result.

As a good Southern girl, I must tell you that this is a great "takealong cake" for new baby sip 'n sees, housewarmings and funerals.


1 box yellow cake mix
1 stick butter, melted
4 eggs
1 (8-oz.) pkg. cream cheese, at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla
1 box confectioner's sugar

Slightly beat 1 egg, and mix egg with dry cake mix and butter until just moistened.  Press mixture evenly into a greased 13-x-9 pant.  Beat cream cheese, remaining eggs and vanilla in bowl of stand mixer until creamy, then beat in confectioner's sugar until all is combined.  Pour cream cheese mixture over cake mixture in pan.  Bake 35-40 minutes at 350 degrees.

1 comment:

Chic Wino said...

ok as I too "hail" from Houston I can concur with the fact then when indeed I attend college and moved to Ft. Worth I too called it a feeder road, and everyone around here calls something I say a funny word... but thus this is interesting that I found another just as fascinated with the different terms in different regions as you are, such like we call everything coke and the ppl from the northern or eastern states bring you a coke, don't ask you what kind as they do in good ole' TEJAS!! Interesting lesson learned at least in my book, didn't know what Shibboleth meant until I read this blog and by the way I agree that NM is not a big name in Houston and still really isn't especially because the only time I stepped foot into one is my senior year to look for a prom dress and this was at the Galleria at that, didn't even know they had a cafe until I moved to FT.Worth... still haven't gone to to the cafe, so when I do I will compare the cakes and let you know my opinion...