Tanta Ida, my mother’s older sister, did not like to cook. She did enjoy baking and was quite good at it. One of my favorites was her icebox cake. The recipe was simple. Chocolate snaps, lady fingers, heavy whipping cream, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract. The lady fingers are split open and placed face up at the bottom of a six-inch pan, then covered with a layer of whipped cream and that covered with chocolate snaps. This was repeated until the pan was filled. It was then placed into the icebox overnight and served chilled the next day. As an adult I learned about Baked Alaska, but it was no match for Tanta Ida’s icebox cake.
After I married and had children, I sometimes made an icebox cake for them, and they loved it. “Why was it called an icebox cake?” I was asked. I explained that when we were young, we did not have a refrigerator. Instead, we had an icebox, a small rectangular wooden and metal lined cabinet with two latch doors. Once or twice a week Mr. Popkin the ice man came to our block with his horse and wagon. The wagon was filled with large blocks of ice covered with saw dust and a burlap cloth to prevent it from melting. Depending upon the size of your icebox or whether you could spare five cents for a small block or ten cents for a large one, Mr. Popkin lifted the ice onto his shoulder, carried it into the kitchen and placed it into the top chamber of the icebox. This was supposed to keep a small number of perishables in the lower chamber cool for several days, but it was not very efficient. In the winter we kept a small box on a window shelf facing the backyard where some foods could be kept cold. However, shopping was required to be done on an almost daily basis to ensure it was fresh. Sometimes, depending on whether Mr. Popkin was in a good mood, he would chop off small pieces of ice and give it to the young children who congregated around the wagon. It was better than candy. We had no money for candy, and the ice was free.
“Since we no longer have an icebox, but a refrigerator, why not call it a refrigerator cake?” my children asked. I replied, “Because then it would not be Tanta Ida’s icebox cake.”