There I was minding my own business, driving home from a day at work and an evening at the gym. I had a mile to go when one word, Ebinger’s reached out from the radio speaker and dragged me back to 1961 (or thereabouts) to Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, where my grandfather and two aunts lived. Ebinger’s Bakery! It didn’t take long for the faded-to-mist memory to rise up and flesh out. And it brought an old friend – Fudge Marianne. Meanwhile back in the present, as I waited for the light to turn green in 2014 Putnam Valley, a woman related how twenty years ago she went to extremes to to duplicate an Ebinger’s cake for her 80-year-old Brooklyn grandfather.
Ebinger’s was a long-standing Brooklyn icon, kind of a 20th century Junior’s . (Not being a cheese cake aficionado, I venture to say Ebinger’s turned out better cakes) I don’t think the bakery was famous outside of Brooklyn since I never heard it spoken by anyone while growing up in Manhattan. Most likely, if not for Aunt Ginny, the NPR account would have only elicited “huh?” from me. But instead I find myself in the living room on the first floor of the two family home where my grandfather and my two aunts lived. My brother Jim and I are anticipating being called into the narrow mahogany dining room, dominated by a long rectangle of a table, six high-backed chairs, and a sideboard. Finally it comes. “Time for dinner.”
Ever since my grandmother had passed away in 1960, my mother’s youngest sister, Aunt Ginny had assumed the role of hostess whenever we came to visit, we being me, my parents, and my two younger brothers. Whereas I recall my grandmother’s meals as being gravy-drenched and over-cooked, especially the canned spinach, my Aunt Ginny’s dinners were definitely worth the hour and a half drive all the way from Harlem in northern Manhattan, through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel at the tip of Lower Manhattan and then all the way through Brooklyn, the largest of the five boroughs to Bay Ridge . If you saw Saturday Night Fever – you’ve witnessed Bay Ridge. In fact the disco where John Travolta danced his signature solo was just a couple of blocks away and like Grandpa’s two-story two family house, also situated on Fourth Avenue . But disco wouldn’t arrive for another 13 years so it was still the neighborhood movie house, The Harbor.
What was so special about Aunt Ginny’s cooking was that she didn’t! Aunt Ginny was what in those days was known as a career woman. She worked at the New York Times and knew not a thing about cooking, nor do I think she cared to. But she knew her way around a deli and a bakery, and she aimed to please. My brother Jim loved ham and potato salad so there would be a platter of cold cuts on the table with carefully rolled slices of not only ham, but salami, turkey, and roast beef, as well as heaping bowls of potato salad, cole slaw, and macaroni salad. As for my eating pleasure, I kept my eye on the Ebinger’s Box perched on the sideboard, 99.9% sure that when opened it would reveal a Fudge Mary Ann, resplendent in all its smooth chocolate icing, layers of yellow cake, and sumptuous butter cream.
Which brings me back to my car in 2014 where this woman on the radio is rambling on about how hard it was to replicate this landmark Ebinger’s cake, the confection they were known for. So I’m waiting and waiting for her to string together those three glorious words – Fudge and Mary and Ann. That’s when she says Blackout Cake. And I say, “say wha? She goes on describing it, a dark chocolate cake, with dark chocolate frosting and dark chocolate crumbs sprinkled on top, so named for the mandatory black out periods imposed during World War II.
But back to Brooklyn, finally the meal is finished and already stuffed, I proceed to top it off with a piece of ….yes, Fudge Mary Ann, or maybe it was two pieces. We then retire back to the living room where Jim and I are certain we’re going to burst and die. I swear to never eat that much again…….But I do,the next time and the time after that, until I went off to college. By the time I graduated, Grandpa had died and Aunt Ginny sold the house and moved to an apartment, an apartment with no room for a mahogany dining room set. And so like so many other fond memories, Fudge Mary Ann faded away to nothingness until…….
Back in my own living room in the Google Age I decide to resurrect it . Aha, first off, I find thisi
Ebinger Baking Company, with a chain of stores across the borough, was founded in Flatbush in 1898 by George and Catherine Ebinger. Famous for their cakes and pies, and especially their Blackout Cake, they closed in bankruptcy on August 26, 1972, “going the way of the Navy Yard, the Dodgers, and Luna Park”, said the New York Times.
Their what? Their blackout cake?!?!? Not one mention of Fudge Mary Ann? I don’t give up that easily. I march into Google Images and type in Ebinger’s Fudge Mary Ann cake. But instead I’m shown pictures like these.
I scan through rows and rows of cakes until I’m cross-eyed.
Hmm, is this what Fudge Mary Ann looked like?
No, not fancy enough
Or maybe this is her, she may have had slices almonds
No, maybe not
Gradually I come to realize I have no idea what she looked like but I sure remember how that scrumptious cake tasted………or do I?
Hmm, what did it taste like?
A horrifying thought crosses my mind. What if I’m the only one left in the world who remembers Fudge Mary Ann, but I don’t? Does that mean she never existed? Kind of like that tree falling in the forest. How depressing. If only I’d been listening to the classic rock station instead of NPR!