Big Cakes, Cupcakes, and . . . Finally, Mug Cakes

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for October 10, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            One thing I never learned how to make was a cake. No doubt because I learned to cook in the 1940’s during World War II, when sugar and flour and many other goods and commodities were rationed by the government. Each household was allowed a certain number of coupons per month for each of the rationed items, and when you used up your ration stamps, you did without the rest of the month. The rationing began with a few items, but more were added as the War progressed. At various times, such things as sugar, coffee, meat, flour cheese, milk, canned goods, shortening, cooking oil, eggs, dried fruit, syrup, jellies, etc., required stamps.

            My family had the advantage of living in a rural area where we had chickens and cows and could produce our own eggs and milk, though not sugar and flour.

            While my mother could allow my brother and me to attempt to cook such easy dishes as goulash, which could be thrown together with leftovers, she couldn’t dare waste sugar, flour and shortening on our cooking and baking attempts. Like other women during the War, she learned to create cakes and pastries without using up scarce commodities. For those who lived in cities, “War Cake” recipes were especially necessary, and many ladies made milk-less, egg-less cakes, — such as the “World War II Ration Cake,” which could be made with brown sugar, water, raisins, and cinnamon. These “Ration Cakes” could be very tasty, and people came to love them and continued to bake them even after the War.

            The “Victory Cake,” the “Crazy Chocolate Cake,” and the “Weary Willie Cake” were very popular, though the Victory Cake did require one egg. The Crazy Chocolate Cake called for no milk, no eggs, and no butter. Believe me, nobody used cake mixes in those days!

            Having a sweet tooth, I have always loved cakes, all kinds, — fruit cakes, lemon cakes, white cakes, carrot cakes, angel food, etc., etc. So naturally during my bachelor years, I did try to learn to bake cakes long after the War but produced enough flops to give up on the idea. And I’m talking about baking cakes using cake mixes. In my early attempts, the cakes always broke into a dozen pieces when I tried to dump them out of the pan, or the dough didn’t rise, or it rose too much. Gave up for good . . . until recently when I discovered “Mug Cakes.”

            First of all, let me make it quite clear that there is a big difference between a “Mug Cake” and a “Cupcake.” A cupcake is as complicated to make as a big cake, only you use a muffin tin rather than a cake pan.

            The cupcake was invented in the United States in 1796, probably by Amelia Simmons. It became very popular in the 1800’s, because it took less time and was not so easily burned in hearth ovens as were big cakes. But by my standards, cupcakes were still difficult to do, and I wouldn’t have to make them in a brick oven in a stone-lined fireplace. Cupcakes were just a smaller version of big regular cakes.

            The first inkling I got about a “Mug Cake,” as they are now called, to be differentiated from a “Cupcake,” came as a gift to us from a friend, called “A Cup of Cake.” It consisted of a package of cake ingredients the person had mixed together herself. You spooned some of the mix into a cup, added water or milk, and microwaved it for a minute.

            Well, I couldn’t figure out how to replicate the mixture after we used it all up, so life went on without such easy little cakes. A month ago, I saw on something advertized as a “Mug Cake.” What an awesome discovery! You could buy a box of four packages of mix, choosing from several options, — a chocolate, a lemon, and a carrot cake. Pour the package in a mug. Add three teaspoons of water or milk. Microwave for one minute, ten seconds, and you’ve got one of the best little cakes in America! I now make cakes, finally!


Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor, and author of the book, It Must Be the Noodles.

Small Town Festivals: Prescription For Joy

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for September 26, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            Most “city folks” I know wouldn’t live in a small town no matter where it’s located, or what the incentives are. For them, It’s “Boredomville.” However, they’re not adverse to attending the many small-town festivals held all over the great State of Texas.

            That’s because small-town festivals are a prescription for joy! And I say prescription for “joy” rather than prescription for “fun.” Fun can be fun, but not necessarily bring joy. When you go to a country festival, there’s a feeling of abandonment to enjoy the splendid music, food, dancing, and unique ethnic displays and activities. Country people put their hearts and souls into these festivals. And what visitors take away from them is good medicine for all.

            My friends love festivals; in fact one of them recently sent out a list of all the many festivals held throughout Texas, and the list is mind-boggling long! My Wendish friends are still posting pictures on Facebook of the 31st Annual Wendish Fest, just held Sunday, September 22, in Serbin, Texas. Seeing the photos was like being there, — there were Wendish noodle-making demonstrations, coffee-cake bake-offs, quilting demonstrations, spinning, weaving, and tatting presentations, cross-cut saw competitions, and stuffing sausage and making mustang wine exhibitions. And, of course, there was Slavic polka music, explosively played by the Moravian Polka Band of Ennis (not Wendish, but akin).

            East Bernard folks held their version of the Wendish Fest this summer, drawing large crowds to the Kolache-Klobase Festival at Riverside Hall on June 8. Like the Wends in Serbin, many Czechs in East Bernard wore their magnificent Slavic folk costumes. And, not one, but four polka bands provided wonderful ethnic music, — the Ennis Czech Boys, Czech and Then Some, the Dujka Brothers, and the Red Raven Band. Dancing, kolache-eating contests, arts and crafts booths, and lots of very special food and drink brought joy to the hearts of those in attendance.

            Some of my friends enjoyed the Watermelon Festival, Parade, Car Show, and Street Dance at McDade, Texas, not far from where I grew up. Other friends described the joy of attending St. Michael Catholic Church’s Festival in Weimar on August 11, being especially delighted by the lively music of the Shiner Hobo Band. And there was also the St. Andrew Catholic Church Picnic in Hillje, Texas, on August 18, with great food, a live auction, country store, raffle drawing, cake walk, ring toss and much more. Combined with the great country air in Hillje, this festival was an uplifting experience for visitors, especially for the city folks who could experience the joy of country fun at the end of a hard week at the office.

            These were just the festivals I knew about; as my friend showed us, there are many, many more throughout the State.

            And, of course, there is the Festival still to come on October 4 and 5 that is so close to my heart, — The Dime Box Black Bridge Festival with Mini Marathon, Barbecue Cook-off, Parade, Crafts Booths, Street Dance, Domino Tournament, Quilt Display, and live music. The Traditional Mosqueda Mariachi Band will provide a great ethnic touch to the festivities. Only if you grew up in Dime Box, as I did, can you understand the profound love for, and attachment to, the Old Black Bridge, aka, the Moses Bridge, that used to hang dramatically suspended over the railroad tracks. Though smaller, it was our “Brooklyn Bridge.” If you want to find out more about the historic old Black Bridge of Dime Box, head off to Dime Box on October 4 or 5, and the friendly folks of Dime Box will be glad to give you a special history lesson.

            In this crazy old world we live in today, with all of its problems, violence, crime, vulgarity, and cold-heartedness, these small-town, country festivals are a rest and joy for body and soul. That’s why people spill out of the big cities to participate in them.


Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor, and author of the book, It Must Be the Noodles.

An Old Picture Is Worth More Than A Thousand Words

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for September 19, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

Several years ago, a half dozen of my paternal cousins and I met at my home to discuss family genealogy, share family stories, and exchange old family photographs. The meeting was also a precursor for a Spitzenberger family reunion, something we have never had before.

            Ever since that meeting, I have been going through old photo albums, various collections of photographs, and stored boxes from my parents’ home, sorting pictures into family groupings. The oldest pictures were absolutely fascinating and I couldn’t resist posting some of them on Facebook and my Facebook Page, both those from Mama’s side and those from Daddy’s side of the family. Also, I have been reading many snippets of family history written by different relatives from different eras. The snippets of history were interesting, but the morsels of photos were more captivating.

            This discovery reminded me of the old aphorism, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” If “any” picture is worth a thousand words, then an “old” picture is worth more than a thousand words. The much-quoted saying, according to a quick google, was originated by Fred R. Barnard in 1921, and he said it as advice for advertising a product. Not everybody agrees with the idea, but it certainly held true for me. At least when it came to trying to understand my forebears and selling my book, It Must Be the Noodles.

            During that “Council of Cousins,” the cousins gave me copies of photos of my father as a boy that I had never seen before, and these photos gave me a new understanding of the man this boy became. In all the pictures of him, he was smiling, and the smile looked real, not posed for the photo-shoot. It also struck me that many of my other forebears were not smiling in pictures of them, — such as Great Grandmother Karoline Zschech, who looked so fierce and grim in the original, large, framed photo of her hanging on the wall of my maternal grandparents’ bedroom where grandkids slept, that she kept my cousin and me awake. And probably my brother, too, though he wouldn’t admit it.

            It also became apparent to me that in all the childhood photos of my father, he was wearing knickerbockers with long stockings, a dressy jacket, and a “flat cap” (“paddy” cap). For those of you not familiar with it, the flat cap looks like a beret with a narrow brim. In contrast, all of the pictures of my mother’s only brother showed him in overalls and sometimes wearing a straw hat. I couldn’t help but wonder why this contrast in the boys’ attire. Did it represent a difference in family finances, or lack of, or was it a Wendish/German cultural difference? Both families lived on farms in Dime Box, Texas.

            Daddy’s father spent his boyhood in the Black Forest of Germany, where boys wore knickerbockers, long stockings, and what most people call “Greek fisherman’s caps,” also known as “mariner’s caps.” The “flat cap,” so popular in America in the early 1900’s, bore a great deal of similarity to the Greek fisherman’s cap. Thus I concluded, whether right or wrong, that Grandpa Spitzenberger wanted my father and his other sons to dress like he did as a boy in Germany. My mother’s brother dressed like farmer’s kid from Dime Box, Texas, with no reflection of Wendish customs.

            One of the most delightful photos I came across was a shot of my mother’s sister, Malinda Zschech, as a teenager, standing under the hot Texas sun, holding a parasol, and wearing a sun dress and long black stockings. In those days, a lady used an “umbrella” to protect you from rain, and a “parasol” to ward off the rays of the sun, though I was never able to discern any difference between the two. Malinda’s grandfather (my great grandfather, Johann Gottlieb Zschech), narrating his emigration story, described the Wendish women and girls coming on deck on a sunny day on the German Steamer, the Frankfurt, holding their parasols above their heads while promenading. No doubt Malinda reflected a tradition of her culture.

            It’s been a few years now since the “Council of Cousins” met, but the Spitzenberger cousins are planning that first ever family reunion, to be held in March or April of 2020, in the Fellowship Hall of the church in Wallis, where I used to preach. Photographs will be taken!


Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor, and author of the book, It Must Be the Noodles.

When You’re Almost Sorry The Cat Came Back

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for September 12, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

Don’t ever name a cat “Pixie”!

            We named the stray kitten who showed up on our patio over nine months ago “Pixie” before she left for nine months and came back and before I fully understood what a “Pixie” is. Pop psychology tells us that children become what their name implies, so be very careful what you name your kids. Well, this kitten, now a teenage cat, has an uncanny humanlike intelligence, and I’m convinced she’s trying to live up to what we named her.

            The Slavic and Nordic understanding of the mythical creatures of folklore is somewhat different from the British, and the American view generally reflects what the English and the Irish believe. According to the Irish or Celtic view, a “Pixie” is a fairy, but smaller than other fairies, and more mischievous, though all fairies are thought to be full of pranks. Based on folklore, Pixies and fairies are “good” supernatural beings, even though full of impishness, and “bad” or “evil” fairies are called “urchins,” “ouphes,” or “goblins,” and they do very mean and vicious things.

            One version of pixie folklore is a belief that they steal horses and children and lead travelers astray. That tradition about pixies would put them in the evil category, along with urchins, ouphes, and goblins. However, most British beliefs about pixies consider them mischievous but lovable and never malicious.

            Our teenage Pixie doesn’t quite ever reach the level of “bad” like stealing horses and children and leading travelers astray, but at times, she comes awfully close. But then she is so very, very lovable. After you spray water in her face and fuss at her for her misdeeds, she looks at you with adorable kitten eyes and squeaks in a way that touches your heart.

            Since she has been back (she left a kitten, came back a teenager), she repeatedly tries to shred the arms of our cloth recliners in the Patio Room, where we keep her most of the time; and when we let her have the run of the whole house, she sharpens her claws on top of our real leather living room couches. We bought her a cheap cardboard scratching board, and after ignoring it for a long time, she shoved it under the table (apparently cardboard won’t do; it’s got to be elegant cloth or leather). OK, so yesterday, we ordered her a high class scratching post from Amazon.

            Like an elf or a pixie, she is always hiding, and when you walk by, she leaps out and bites your ankles, — then zooms away through the house like a high-speed locomotive. You go after her to put her in “time-out,” and she thinks you are playing hide and seek. You’re really, really mad and she peeks out from behind a box or a broom where she is hiding, and then races to her next hiding spot. This is one way she is so human-like, — she is obviously playing hide and seek with you. Finally, you give up, plop down on the couch, tired, and she leaps up in your lap and, ever so sweetly, snuggles your face. What do you do with a cat like Pixie?

            We should have anticipated her latest act of rascality, but didn’t. The patio room was added on to the back of our house about 25 years ago, and the carpenter built a very attractive mantel above the brick all across the room, like a huge fireplace mantel. This became Pixie’s favorite place to sit on, to lie on, and to explore. There is only one problem, — my wife, because the mantel is so high up and supposedly a safe place, put many of her heirloom vases and bowls and figurines. At first, Pixie seemed not to notice these beautiful objets d’art, until one night she pushed three of them off the mantel, breaking a vase and an exquisite bowl which Peg thinks was a wedding present to her parents. For a few hours, anyway, we almost wished the cat had not come back.

            So my wife moved the objets d’art to safer locations, and Pixie continued to stake out the entire mantel as her territory. We couldn’t stay angry very long. There’s a glass sliding door between the dining area and the patio room. Pixie greeted my wife one morning by hanging upside down (like a squirrel hanging with its feet from the top of the bird feeder to steal bird food) and looking at her through the glass. Now, an animal can’t get any more adorable than that. Yeah, we’re glad she came back!


Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor, and the author of a book, It Must Be the Noodles.

Warda by John Schmidt. Giddings Deutsches Volksblatt, 21 Oct 1909.


Werten Leser!

                Ich muß doch wieder ein paar Zeilen einsenden, somit ich nicht ganz in Vergessenheit gerathe.

                Gegenwärtig ist e shier sehr trocken, und infolge dessen macht sich der Wassermangel recht fühlber. Möchte es doch bald regen. – Sie Baumwollernte ist wohl nun bald drendet, und ist dieselbige stellenweise etwas besser und stellenweise wieder schlechter als letztes Jahr.

                Unser Kitchinim der im Sommer von Blitz beschädigt wurde und reparirt werden mutzit, ist nun wieder fertig. Die Kosten für denselben sind $225.00.

               Diese Motze schien die Wardaer Mädchen das Wanderfieber ergriffen zu haben, den sie verstogen wie die wilden Hause. Die Frls. Maria u. Lena Domaschk sowie Frl. Emma Bittner gingen nach Austin, Frl. Martha Kubitz u. Theresa Domaschk gingen nach Brenham, um dort Dienstellen anzunehmen, während Frl. Emma Rothmann nach Port Arthur ging um gleichfalls dort in Dienst zu treten, ihr Vater Herr Ernst Rothmann de geschäftshalper dort zu tun hatte, begleitete sie hin. Hoffentlich gefällt es nun allen recht gut, sonst — — —

                Doch so, genug für dismal.

                Mit Gruß an all Leser.

                                John Schmidt

Transliterated by Weldon Mersiovsky