Grandma Opal’s Coffee Cake
If I close my eyes and try to remember my Grandma Opal, I picture a 4′ 10″, gentle, but yet strong lady with the most beautiful white-grey hair, kind eyes and an easy laugh. But if I want to remember our time together, all I have to do is make her signature coffee cake and the smell of cinnamon, pecans and sweet vanilla will bring her right back to me.
I think the thing that is truly remarkable about my grandma was the courage that was required of her in the first 30 years of her life. She and her brothers and sisters were orphaned when she was eight years old. In 1918, her father died of influenza and pneumonia. Less than two months later, her mother died from pneumonia following a hernia surgery. She and her five brothers and sisters were taken in by family and neighbors and, being the oldest, she cried herself to sleep many nights, worried about the care her siblings were receiving.
Grandma loved school … well, she loved learning. She remembered being bullied by the big kids (nothing new under the sun, as they say), often walking two miles to the nearest country school, and changing schools seven times in eight years. Despite all that, she had a gift for spelling and being a good student, she hoped she could continue beyond the typical 8th grade education and go to high school.
In those days, and given the circumstances of being cared for by relatives, there just wasn’t money to pay for her continued education. At 14, she went to work. Three dollars a week was her wage for housekeeping, laundry and caring for new mothers and babies. By the time she married my grandfather, she was earning eight dollars a week. She was 22 years old.
From what we would consider a meager wage, Grandma was able to save money to buy her own furniture. She ordered a new cookstove for $49 and a heater for $65 from Kalamazoo, Michigan. Starting their life together in the heart of the depression taught them great lessons on being self-sufficient, frugal, and grateful.
After losing their first baby at childbirth, she developed some form of kidney poisoning and nearly died. A new drug saved her life and she was later able to deliver two healthy baby boys.
The first 28 years of her life sound full of sadness. Then, I see a picture like this, my favorite of her, and I know that she also experienced much happiness.
She lived for 101 years. This is what she wrote to describe her life:
As I look back through the years, I know my life wasn’t easy at times,
but can see God’s hand was guiding me through the years.
I had a good husband and my two boys for which I am grateful.
Faith … gratitude … and a whole lot of class.
I loved spending time with her. Whether is was sharing a frozen pizza between my high school activities, baking cookies together at Christmas, canning and freezing garden produce side-by-side, or just playing a long game of UNO! together, we created simple memories. We had a lot in common but she envied my 5’8″ height and was quick to say so each time I could reach the upper shelves of her kitchen cabinets for her. I can only hope the grey hair that I keep camouflaged will someday be as beautiful as hers. To be remembered as a good-natured, fun-loving, faith-filled woman like her, would be a huge compliment. To be remembered by the smell of something warm and comforting fresh from the oven … well, that would be icing (or glaze) on the cake.
Grandma Opal's Coffee Cake
- 1 14.5-oz package yellow cake mix
- 1 3.9-oz package vanilla instant pudding mix
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil
- 3/4 cup water
- 4 large eggs
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 cup minced pecans
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Coat the inside of a bundt pan well with butter or cooking spray. Sprinkle liberally with flour, turning the pan on it side and rotating to distribute flour evenly. The entire inside of the pan should be well coated.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine cake and pudding mix. Add oil and water, mixing on a low speed just until combined. Increase mixer speed a little and add eggs, one at a time, allowing 2 minutes of mixing between each addition.
- Struesel mixture: combine sugar, cinnamon and pecans in a small bowl; set aside.
- Pour half of the batter into the bottom of the bundt pan. Sprinkle the struessel mixture over batter. Pour remaining batter into pan.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes or until cake is brown and set in the middle. Cake is done when a toothpick, inserted in the center, comes out clean.
- Remove from oven and allow to cool 15 minutes. Use a very thin knife to gently release the outside edges of the cake from the pan. Place a serving dish over the top of the pan and invert quickly so the cake will drop onto the dish.
- Allow to cool completely.
- A powdered sugar frosting or glaze may be drizzled oner the cake, if desired.