I get a lot of “how do you think of things to write about every week?”
I always answer the same way: “I don’t know.”
But I do know the only way I keep my sanity is to reserve the right to plagiarize from myself. In other words, I am not above repeating an old column.
My wife hates when I do that. “Booooring,” she says, dragging out the word as long as her breath allows.
I counter with something like, “Hey, a old episode of Seinfeld comes on and even if I’ve seen in ten times, I sit right down and watch again.”
“So you think you’re as entertaining as Jerry Seinfeld?” she says.
Can’t win with her.
She’s probably right, but there are times when old columns actually ask to be re-run.
Such was the case Friday night. The Pittston High Class of ‘66 got together for the second straight year for pizza and catching up. I’m a year younger than that group but each time they invite me and each time I have a ball. At Friday’s get together, Sixty-Sixer Frank Soska and I chatted for some time. I never knew he was a nephew of the late Angelo Marcino, a guy whose death left a void that has yet to be filled.
Before the night ended, Frank walked across the room saying he had to tell me something: “My wife has been baking your Hershey cake for years.”
I always crack up when people call it “my” Hershey cake because I have never baked anything in my life. Several years ago I called my friend Joe Majeski and when his wife Diane answered she said, “What a coincidence, I was just baking your Hershey cake.”
My only connection to Hershey cake, other than eating more than my share over the years, is that I printed the recipe about 30 years ago. In was on a Super Bowl Sunday and appeared under the headline “Super Sisters.” See, my two sisters had done some pretty neat charitable stuff over Christmas and I wanted to write about them. But, fearful of turning off my readers by bragging about Sheila and Barbie, I told them if they would put up with a little mush about my sisters, I would give them a present.
The present was the Hershey cake recipe.
Little did I suspect the impact that recipe would have. I got calls from dozens of people who made the cake that very day. John R. Reap, a most dignified elderly attorney, whipped one up himself. Ray Savokinas, co-owner of Savo’s Pizza, said he went to several stores to buy ingredients and each one had sold out of Hershey syrup.
A lady named Edith Nye of Woodbine, Maryland, sent me a letter explaining she got hold of the recipe and botched the first cake she attempted because she didn’t use stick margarine. Her next one came out perfect and won her both the First Prize and Grand Prize at that year’s Maryland State Fair.
All that is quite nice, but I’d much rather be remembered for some poignant piece I wrote about the passage of time, or for advice I’ve dispensed to high school grads, or for my rambles on life and death, or God and Heaven. But, no, just Hershey cake.
The killer came when I got to meet a boyhood idol of mine. Carl Tunylas was a Little League star when I was young enough to give those guys the stature of Major Leaguers. I always knew Carl spent his adult life in Las Vegas which made him even more mysterious to me. I put him under the old category of “a man’s man.”
So, when he was visiting back East a few years ago and I was asked if I wanted to have dinner with him, I jumped at the chance. I was a grown man, but he was still my hero. And when he told me he read my column every week, well, it was almost more than I could bear.
Then he told me he had a favorite.
Do I have to say it?
He said he had made dozens of Hershey cakes himself and had given the recipe to countless people. His friends were now making Hershey cakes in California.
You know, he said, you really should repeat that recipe from time to time. It’s a winner.
“Carl,” I wanted to say, “have you ever noticed the times I’ve practically bled on page two?”
Instead, I answered, “What a good idea.”
I must admit — and I’m pretty sure this is psychological — I had forgotten about the Hershey cake recipe. Then came Frank Soska’s kind words Friday night.
So, I am running the recipe again today. But first, a bit about its origin. The recipe was given to my mom by our neighbor Johanna Vitale who brought a Hershey cake to our house at the time of my Uncle Buddy’s death in the late ’70s. Johanna and her husband Nick, both now deceased, had run a catering business. She said the recipe came from her daughter Carol by way of Hawaii.
Here’s the recipe. Remember to use stick margarine.
1 stick margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 16-oz. can Hershey chocolate syrup
Cream margarine, sugar and vanilla; beat in eggs, one at a time, with a wooden spoon; add flour; mix well; add Hershey syrup. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes in a 9 by 12 (greased and floured) dripping pan.
1 stick margarine
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk
4 Hershey bars (plain)
Boil first 3 ingredients for 3 minutes; remove from stove and beat in 4 Hershey bars. Spread on warm cake. Sprinkle with chopped walnuts or peanuts if desired.
NOTE: (My mother always told me to be sure to add this) The cake is not supposed to rise much. It is more like a brownie.
There ya go.