Dr. Tayari Jones is professor of writing at Emory University. Her authority comes not just from the fact that she is a talented storyteller, but she has also been on the New York Times bestseller list and recipient of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. Her latest novel, “An American Marriage” (Algonquin, 2018), was an Oprah Book Club Selection and earned an NAACP Image Award.
The novel is told from the perspective of the individual characters, Roy, his wife Celestial, and her childhood friend Andre. Roy is from a good middle class family living in Eloe, Louisiana. His stepfather, Big Roy, is a kind-hearted man married to his mother, Olive, who ran away from Oklahoma upon graduation. Roy, too, is getting out of Eloe as fast as he can, having been accepted at Morehouse College in Atlanta. There in Andre’s dorm room he first sees the talented Celestial Davenport, a Spelman student and member of the Atlanta elite. They meet up again in New York City after graduation and get married in Bali. A little over a year into their marriage they are living the dream.
On a trip to visit Roy’s parents, Celestial has a feeling that something bad is going to happen. That night Roy is falsely accused of raping a white woman. He is tried and convicted without evidence. In an instant their “Huxtable life” dissipates before their eyes. Through a series of letters between Roy and Celestial we explore elements as disparate as a biased justice system, parentage and fate, love and choice. Everyone has a back story, as it turns out, and Tayari Jones is adept at telling it.
Dr. Jones suggested trying Celestial’s Mother’s Blackberry Jam Cake, but the recipe is not included in the novel. Her cake is prepared in August for serving at Thanksgiving and is drenched in rum. Bourbon is another common agent traditionally used in maceration. There are several versions of this cake done in a Bundt pan or as a layer cake. The one used here is from the upcoming compilation, Carolyn Foreman’s Good Recipes, a collection of recipes kept by the late Mrs. Grant Foreman from 1912 to about 1955, found at the Thomas-Foreman Home in Muskogee.
Emily’s Jam Cake
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
3 eggs, separated
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon soda
2 cups flour
1 cup blackberry jam
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon ground cloves
Cream the butter and sugar; add the well-beaten yolks of the eggs and the buttermilk with which the soda has been stirred. Beat in the flour and jam, add spices to taste, and lastly fold in well-beaten whites. Foreman makes no mention of baking pan, oven temperature or baking time, but I used a Bundt pan in a 350 degree oven for an hour, and it came out well.
The original recipe had no icing listed. If desired, frost with the following:
1 8-ounce package of cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup jarred caramel topping
3 tablespoons buttermilk
1/4 teaspoon salt
Place cream cheese and sugar in bowl of mixer fitted with whisk attachment; beat on medium-low speed until combined. Add caramel topping, salt and buttermilk; beat until smooth, 1-2 minutes.
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