Mama made almost all our cakes, from scratch. I wasn't even particularly aware that they sold cake mixes until much later. For the longest time, the traditional birthday cake was golden layer cake with white buttercream frosting, and/or whipped cream, and strawberries, until I expressed a preference for chocolate. Then it became chocolate cake (from the recipe on the back of the Hershey's cocoa powder box) with chocolate buttercream frosting.
Mama's relationship with baking cakes was complex. They were always delicious, but sometimes they fell apart. There were superstitions about how to get a cake to come out right, including "It's just a home cake," said in the cake's presence before turning it out of the pan, as a home cake was almost always perfect, and a cake to take somewhere else often came out with craters. (One frosted them back together, put the nicest layer on top, and took it anyway.)
For one of the birthdays of my teenage years (this may have been 1996), Mama had the standard two-layer chocolate cake with chocolate buttercream icing. As a joke, she had frosted it with white buttercream chicken tracks and a Hershey's kiss, because we had chickens (the batch of four Egyptian Fayoumi, teenaged) in the bathroom at the time.
We had been out all day at Suzuki Institute, and came home to see that the entryway was *trashed*, with chicken droppings all over, and the chickens sitting innocently in their box in the bathroom, with the netting pushed to the side. Who, them?
The wreckage proved to be mostly confined to the square of light from the bathroom door and a bit up the stairs. The cake was untouched, and was now doubly hilarious.
Another excellent cake was the Enterprise. It was huge, and kind of weird-shaped, and lumpy, and blueish where it should have been grey, but it was nonetheless awesome. My virtual aunt made it, although for whose event I can't recall anymore.
Mama made the wedding cake for my virtual uncle and his (now ex) wife. It was some lovely golden cake with wild Alaskan cranberries in it, the sour kind that leave you spoiled for any domestic cranberries ever, with cream cheese frosting and little garnishes of fresh cranberries. I decided then and there that screw bakery cakes, I wanted this at my own wedding.
Then there was The Year of the Two Birthday Cakes (2005, in point of fact).
Grandma was going to the nursing home, so we were cleaning out the ancestral home. This was around the same time as my birthday, and my family decided that a late celebration was in order. I went out with Dawn for breakfast the day that the celebration was planned, and while we were out, I decided I might as well pick up a cake.
Now, Guide Dog Aunt is notorious about health food fads and general clean living, so I decided that I'd go for as healthy as possible a cake, and picked a gorgeous tart covered with fresh fruit (and glistening with sugar syrup, as it turned out). We returned, cake borne proudly, just as my aunt returned, proudly bearing a swanky bakery box.
We looked at each other, looked at our own parcels, and busted up laughing, then compared cakes. She'd got something that looked truly decadent, with a very smoothly frosted chocolate top with a chocolate fan garnish, and sides that had been browned in a checkerboard pattern. She'd been thinking of my tastes while I was thinking of hers.
We cut into both cakes that evening, and we had enough people that it was good we had as much cake as we did. My tart turned out to be filled with gooey and delicious custard, and her expensive fancy cake turned out to be dry and disappointing aside from the lovely chocolatey bits.