I was reminded of "Anne's cake" and my mother's pride in it as I thumbed through The Brown Betty Cookbook: Modern Vintage Desserts and Stories from Philadelphia's Best Bakery (John Wiley & Sons, $22.99). It's written by Linda Hinton Brown, a local schoolteacher, and her daughter, Norrinda Brown Hayat, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney, who founded the Brown Betty Dessert Boutique in Northern Liberties in 2002.
Brown Betty the cookbook is a heartwarming medley of family stories and recipes for the delectable cupcakes and other goodies that Brown Betty sells in its shops. The book skillfully intertwines their family's recipes with sepia-colored photos and stories of the strong women to whom each dessert is dedicated.
Think old-school nostalgia with a heavy dose of Southern influence. Hattie Don't Play, for instance, is a chocolate ganache layer cake named after Hattie Hinton, a don't-take-no-mess kind of woman who was Hayat's grandmother's mother-in-law.
" Hattie was all about manners and respect. She read her Bible every day, always had it within reach and beside her bed, and often quoted from it, teaching the children in the family about the scripture and what it meant. Every Sunday after church (she never missed a service), Hattie served a feast - cakes, pies, three to four different meats and veggies - and she would talk about the day's sermon," reads a passage in the cookbook.
The authors dedicate a recipe for sweet-potato cheesecake to Brown's grandmother's aunt, the late Mary Evans, a stern-looking woman who once owned a successful beauty salon at 48th Street and Fairmount Avenue, in West Philadelphia.
" Everyone in the family called her "Aunt Bunch"; Bunch was just her nickname. She and Grandmom's mother, Ruth, had married the Gaskins brothers of Philadelphia. As the story goes, their mother had warned them: 'Two sisters marrying two brothers is never going to work.' And it didn't . . . "
Hayat relied heavily on her memories of the stories she heard as a child in her grandmother's kitchen to write passages about her relatives, most of whom are deceased.
"It's just a good feeling to know that when you share stories with children . . . that the stories have an impact," said Brown, who heads to Brown Betty after her day as a library teacher ends at Solis-Cohen Elementary School, in the Northeast. "You honor people by remembering, by remembering what they did."
Contact Jenice Armstrong at firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-854-2223. Follow her on Twitter @JeniceAmstrong. Read her blog at philly.com/HeyJen.