I was also amazed when I found out that none of my friends had dimes hidden in their birthday cakes. How could that be? I thought that everyone got dimes in their cakes. A dime was a great deal of money for a kid in the 1950s. My brother and I could go to the little grocery store next door to our apartment building and buy sticks of peppermint, or maybe some gum, or any number of other goodies with that little dime.
My grandmother was Lorena Grace Sanford Wallace Werkhoven. Her mother, however, was Elizabeth Dorothy Zeigler Sanford, "Miss Libbie," as I always thought of her. Her ancestry was German, and according to family tradition, she was an outstanding cook. She passed those abilities along to each of her daughters, including my grandmother - who, unfortunately, did not pass them along to either my mother or to me!
I specifically remember calling my grandmother after I first got married to ask her a question about cooking a particular dish. I was always an avid reader and had determined that I could read a cookbook and therefore, I'd be able to cook. No problem. Boy, was I wrong! Things were going particularly bad with this meal, so I called her in desperation. Her answer? "I did not raise you to have to do that." "Well, thanks, Grandmother," I replied. "Your little girl can't cook, and I'm in a big mess!" (And what exactly did she mean by that, anyway? I failed to ask her that question for fear she might actually tell me.)
The "not-being-able-to-cook" eventually turned into "not-being-able-to-cook-very-well." And the idea of baking a birthday cake? Forget it. It was "store-bought" for me with all of my children. I remember when my oldest was truly old enough for me to consider putting that thin dime in his birthday cake. I actually took that "store-bought" cake and tried to get one in there. What a mess that was...and I never tried it again.
Consequently, my children missed out on that wonderful tradition. I regret that, but I did tell them about it over the years. I guess that counts for something. Luckily, I had all boys and didn't feel quite so bad about not passing along any cooking skills. My second husband is the best cook in the world, and he managed to do that quite nicely, thank goodness.
When I began my fervent research into my family's history years ago, I began to wonder about that special tradition that had sadly ended with my line. I wondered as to its origin, and I did find a source that confirmed that it was a prevalent practice in Europe over the centuries. The Germans, in particular, often placed a coin in a cake during special celebrations.¹
I truly wish that I had been able to pass down that tradition to my children. However, writing about it now is my way of keeping the tradition alive, so I'm passing it along - to them and to you.
¹Spicer, Dorothy Gladys. Festivals of Western Europe. (The H.W. Wilson Company, New York, 1958), 55.@2014 Copyright by Carla Love Maitland