This morning, a librarian contacted me about a fund raising campaign to build a new library in Jefferson, Oregon. They are collecting recipes for a cookbook called Authors and Appetites. I knew immediately which recipe I would submit.

Frances Gugeler (GOO-gler) was the model for Anne Edwards in The Sparrow, and in many ways the model for my own style of mothering. Mrs. Gugeler was my best friend Annie’s mother. Mr. and Mrs. Gugeler had four children but welcomed me into their home as though I were #5. Starting in 4th grade, I came over to play with Annie after school all the time. I was invited to stay for dinner nearly every Friday night for years. I almost always slept over and had breakfast with the Gugelers as well. I was about 30% raised as a Gugeler child.

Mr. and Mrs. Gugeler were both readers. They had a real actual library in their modest home. Mr. Gugeler’s rule was, if you could read a book and answer a few of his questions to prove it, he would give it to you and you could keep it for your own. This generosity effectively transformed childish greed from a desire to get stuff to a hunger to read stuff. Mr. Gugeler also made notes in books, which amazed me, but as an adult I always read with a pencil in my hand. And when everybody else in our massively Republican little town was scared to death of what was happening in the ’60s, Mrs.Gugeler was reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X. She was ‘way out in front on a lot of things.

Mrs. Gugeler treated little kids as though we were interesting people, worthy of her attention, not just pains in the ass who messed up the house and got in the way. She’d urge me to sit down and keep her company while she peeled potatoes. Fran usually had a glass of wine while she was getting dinner ready and she’d ask me, “So, would you like a drink? A whiskey sour or a glass of milk or something?” I always said, “Milk, please,” but it was thrilling to be asked about the whiskey sour, as though I were a grownup. Often she’d invite me to comment about the news of the day, and I started watching the news and reading the paper so I’d have something to say.

When I got engaged, it was Fran Gugeler who taught me how to shop and cook and run a household. She was not the mother I was born to, but she was the mother I needed. Not a day goes by without an echo of her influence.

I call this recipe “Holy Relic Cake” because it is written in Mrs. Gugeler’s own hand on 40-year-old 3×5 card, complete with splashes of batter. I bake this cake about twice a month. It keeps well and it’s even pretty healthful — Mrs. Gugeler was also the first person I knew who cared about nutrition, long before it was the norm.


Cream: 1 c. brown sugar (packed) and 1/3 c. veg. oil (better for you than shortening)
Stir:  1 tsp. soda into 1 c. apple sauce and add to creamed sugar mixture
Add:   1 tsp. cinnamon and 1/2 tsp. each cloves, nutmeg and salt

Mix in 2 c. unbleached flour (better nutrition if you use 1 c. whole wheat in place of one of the cups of white flour).

Dust 1 cup of raisins with flour so they don’t sink to the bottom of the batter, and mix in.

Grease and flour a 8×8″ pan. [I use Pam, personally. –MDR]

Bake about 15 minutes at 350 degrees, then drop temp to 325 and bake another 30 minutes. Turn out and cool on a rack.