Baking For Mom: A Farewell

20150804_183319I am baking for my mom tonight.

Since she died two weeks ago, the days have been a surreal blur of plane flights, phone calls, family gatherings, tears, looking at old photos, more tears, murmured condolences, and sentimental storytelling. To manage the grief, I’ve been filling my hours with triaging the family finances, making arrangements with lawyers and funeral directors. But on this rainy night, I need to stop. Stop everything, and just dive into her memory, into what it felt like to grow up as her daughter.

So I’m baking, because that’s how my mom and I spent so many happy hours when I was little. Our family photo 20150804_185708albums have assorted pictures of me and my brother perched on step stools or the flip-top trash can, holding the beaters of the hand mixer, with some kind of batter smeared across our faces. Mom always made sure there was just enough batter left on the beaters for licking. 

I’m making mom’s black-bottom cupcakes, and I’ll send them to my dear friends Don and Donovan, who put me to bed in their guest room, let me sob on their shoulders, fed me, and gave me the keys to their home and their pickup truck, no questions asked, for two months this summer when my mom was sick. Friends like that are two in a million, and that’s the kind of friend my mom was, too. At the memorial gathering we held three days after her death, many people told stories of how she’d taken them in when they needed a place to live. Her kindness, her deep interest in others, and her willingness to make room for someone in need rippled through the stories.

She also knew how to have fun and break the rules. Every once in a while she’d let me and my brother stay up way past our bedtimes on a school night to bake chocolate chip cookies with her.  When a thunderstorm led other moms to round up their kids and bring them inside one afternoon, my mom gave me a mischievous look and a big grin. She grabbed my hand and we ran outside, barefoot through the squishy grass, screaming as the thunder crackled and the rain soaked our clothes. For her, it was all just too joyful, natural and exciting to resist. 

20150804_183854Every birthday there were cakes with candles. Every night there was a home-cooked meal on the table. Under mom’s watchful eye, I learned to navigate her lucite box of 3 x 5 recipe cards, and to sauté, bake, and broil. She welcomed each of my awkward adolescent baking projects–Bundt cakes, carrot cakes, cookies, brownies–with good cheer and a hearty appetite. When I went away to camp, she mailed me care packages of homemade cookies, the chocolate chips melty in the summer heat. The care packages followed me to college. When she was older, and Mother’s Day flowers seemed repetitive, I started to bake for her. Peanut butter brownies. Caramel brownies. Chocolate-topped almond toffee. “You baked for me all my life, and you taught me how to bake,” I wrote in one card. “Now I love baking for you.”

So tonight I’ll bake for you again, mom. I still can’t believe you’re gone, and I can’t begin to imagine my world without you in it. But I can carry on what you taught me: that few things are more joyful than making and sharing food with those you love. I’m so lucky you loved me, and shared your kitchen with me. I’ve done the same with my daughters. Somehow, we’ll carry on without you. I know you’d want us to fill our kitchens with the smells of your recipes. Baking.


Mom’s black bottom cupcake recipe comes from the cookbook that she hand-wrote for me when I moved from Los Angeles to Washington DC in 1995, taking her two beloved granddaughters 3,000 miles away. The introduction she wrote resonates even more deeply now that she’s gone:

20150804_175553The recipe itself is easy, and she wrote it in a way that makes the three simple parts a snap to understand.

20150804_17272420150804_172736You’ll need two bowls. In one, you make the cupcake filling: combine softened cream cheese, sugar, one egg and chocolate chips. In the other, you combine the dry ingredients: flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, cocoa. 

Then, to the dry ingredients, you add water, oil, and something surprising: vinegar. Resist the temptation to leave the vinegar out. It adds a nice, edgy quality to the chocolate part of the cupcake.

Spoon the chocolate batter into the greased muffin tins. Drop a generous tablespoon full of the cream cheese-chocolate-chip mixture to the center of each. Bake 28-30 minutes at 350 (a little less than she writes in her recipe… ). Cool completely before removing from muffin tins.

Enjoy with a glass of milk and memories of baking with someone you love.

Even though you’re gone, mom, I’ll always have your spirit with me when I’m preheating the oven. And I’ll save a little batter on the beaters for you.



Judy Gewertz's Black Bottom Cupcakes
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  1. 8 oz. cream cheese
  2. 1/3 c. sugar
  3. 1 unbeaten egg
  4. 1/8 tsp. salt
  5. 6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
  6. 1 1/2 c. flour
  7. 1 c. sugar
  8. 1/4 c. cocoa
  9. 1 tsp. baking soda
  10. 1/2 tsp. salt
  11. 1 c. water
  12. 1/3 c. cooking oil (canola)
  13. 1 Tbsp. white vinegar
  14. 1 tsp. vanilla
  15. Sugar for sprinkling
  16. Finely chopped nuts (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. In a bowl, combine the cream cheese, 1/3 cup sugar, egg, and 1/8 teaspoon salt. Beat well. Stir in the chocolate chips.
  3. In another bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add the water, cooking oil, vinegar and vanilla. Stir until well blended.
  4. Grease two muffin tins: one tin that holds a dozen, and another that holds a half-dozen. You'll probably only need three or four in the half-dozen pan.
  5. Pour the chocolate batter into the muffin cups until each is about one-third full. Drop a generous dollop of the cream-cheese-chocolate-chip mixture into the center of each one. Sprinkle a little sugar over each one, and finely chopped nuts, if you like.
  6. Bake 28-30 minutes. Check for doneness with a toothpick; it should come out clean. Don't over bake. Cool completely before removing cupcakes from tins,
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  1. Janice Tarbill
    What a wonderful tribute! It was the same for me when we lost our mom. It's a long transition, but soon the sweet memories will overtake the grief. She sounds like an absolutely wonderful woman! My mom inspired my baking, too. How great to be part of their legacy. My condolences to you and the family... Janice - Pie Sister
  2. KC
    The love and poignancy here is just beautiful and baked into every cupcake too.
  3. Mary P
    I am very sorry for your loss -- your mother sounds wonderful. You gave her a wonderful tribute in both words and deed. I'm lucky I have had a chance to meet you and share in your life.
  4. Bob Rothman
    Catherine, So sorry for your loss. What a beautiful tribute. Bob Rothman
  5. Nancy Wischnowski
    I think the bond between mother and daughter is forged in the kitchen, by her side, watching, tasting and learning - partly sub-consciously. We marry, perhaps, but still call mom about that certain way to cook that special recipe. You have her recipes to comfort you and keep her close. God bless!
  6. Kim Bernard, old neighbor
    I'm so sorry to hear about the passing of your mom. She is so clear in my memory. I remember our moms visiting each other in the afternoon, probably with some delicious baked goods your mom brought over, and her laugh. Oh her laugh was so contagious. I can still hear it. We lost my dad April 18th so I deeply feel your grief. I wish you time to feel the feelings. Be gentle with yourself. Sending you a hug.
  7. Geralin Clark
    I too have been the recipient of Judy's goodies. Every visit since I knew her was always about love. It felt palpable like a finely woven cashmere shawl was placed over my shoulders. Such comfort. Love was her religion. I want it to be mine too.
  8. Evelyn Mandel
    Catherine: I know Judy will live in your heart. What a nice place for her to be. Love evelyn
  9. Carol Haselmann
    Catherine, Thank you for such a beautiful post. It flooded me with memories of my own mom who passed two weeks ago as well. I finally was able to get back into my kitchen and it just brought me back to where my heart could start to heal a little bit. May your journey through your grief be peaceful and filled with beautiful memories of your mom. And know that your words have helped me out today. -a fellow pie-baking friend.
  10. Curvy Mama Pies
    Thank you, Carol, I'm so glad to know that the post resonated with you. We're keeping our moms with us by baking...
  11. Curvy Mama Pies
    That's how it feels, Evelyn. Sort of like she's watching me measure the flour and pour the batter into the tins, and she's happy about it. I wish she were sitting in my kitchen, though. :-(
  12. Curvy Mama Pies
    Love that image, Gerry.
  13. Curvy Mama Pies
    I'm so sorry about your dad, Kim. Thank you for sharing that lovely memory of my mom's laugh. She did have a very big laugh! Sending hugs back.
  14. Curvy Mama Pies
    Thank you so much for this, Nancy.
  15. Curvy Mama Pies
    Thanks, Bob. I can't preheat the oven without thinking of her.
  16. Curvy Mama Pies
    Thank you so much, Mary.
  17. Curvy Mama Pies
    I remember when she had to talk me into using the vinegar in this recipe, KC. That old "try it, you'll like it!" line. ;-)
  18. Curvy Mama Pies
    Thank you, Janice. It does feel like I am at the very beginning of a very long and profound journey to understand this loss. I'm sure that baking will help me walk from one end of it to the other...
  19. Ruthie
    I am so sorry for your loss. She sounds lovely. I hope you can find some comfort in your kitchen. My grandmother taught me to bake. Every time I make a coconut cake. I think this one is for you grandma.
  20. Curvy Mama Pies
    Thank you, Ruthie. I think I'll be doing the same every time I preheat the oven.
  21. Joanne Jubelier
    Thank you Catherine for giving us the gift of your feelings and memories as well as a high calorie recipe! Your mom never spared the calories when it came to her baking. She introduced me to my first flourless chocolate cake. I use it still when I need an overdose of chocolate. Memories of her are embedded in my heart. Joanne
  22. Curvy Mama Pies
    That's lovely, Joanne, thank you! My mom really did teach me and my daughters how to use chocolate as a comfort food! And we carry on her legacy!
  23. Rose Parris
    Very sweet. You're a good storyteller. And, of course, a great maker of pie!
  24. Curvy Mama Pies
    Thank you so much, Rose!