It was a simple pine chest in the attic. It was placed right in front of the attic ladder, so I suspected that somebody who carried it up was really happy to offload this heavy piece right at the closest spot possible. It was covered by dust of many decades, there was a long, wide crack on the top and the hinge was creaking when I opened it. I didn’t find any treasures inside, only some clothes chewed by mice. Probably it was once damaged strongly by wood boring beetles because Uncle Jóska has fixed one side with a wooden slat. The lock was missing. A really good sense of imagination was needed to think of this chest as a pretty and practical furniture of our home, but fortunately I never lacked of imagination. I knew that one day it will be beautiful piece in our home, after the planned (and always postponed) renovation and when I will have enough time to burnish it.
This moment came faster than I expected. A burst pipe changed everything and soon we found ourselves in the middle of a full house renovation.
Then, on a cold morning in December, when I arrived at our house dressed like somebody travelling to Alaska, suddenly I couldn’t take a breath. Our roof disappeared along with the old spinning wheel, the wooden chest, numerous demi-johns and empty glass jars. My heart was racing while I was climbing up the ladder to the roof. I complained to Jani, the head of the stonemasons that I wanted to help them prepare the attic, but I expected them to start only in the afternoon.
He pulled up his glasses on his nose and calmly answered.
‘We carried down everything to the cellar, don’t worry Judit’. Actually, at that time I already should have learnt, that having Jani and his colleague Berci on the site means that I don’t need to worry at all.
‘Everything? The wooden chest also? And the spinning wheel? And the glass jars?’, I asked just to be sure, while I felt like I am dreaming, while I was standing in our attic, looking at the Bakony mountains and the feel the wind on my face.
‘Sure, everything. We didn’t throw away anything. However, the the old weigh and the wooden chest were too heavy and large to carry them down so we have put them into the room facing the street.
And it happened exactly as he described. In the cellar there was everything that a lot of people most certainly would have considered as garbage. A broken spinning wheel, empty glass jars, two enamelled grease jars that I use know for making elderflower syrup and several wooden boxes for storing potatoes and root vegetables. A religious print with Maria and the little blond baby Jesus dressed in pink. A hand-made doll furniture that needs to be repaired, burnished and repainted and a dozen of glass soda syphons.
The wooden chest and the old weigh was standing in the middle of our former living room like a contemporary art exhibition, in the room in which only the covered tile stove reminded us, that it used to be once a room and a home.
In the next months electricians, plumbers, carpenters and painters were working around and next to the wooden chest and if possible, it became even dirtier and dustier. The chest was travelling a lot during those months all over the house. It was carried and put down on places where it was not in the way. Sometimes it was in the way for everybody and everything, then Jani and Berci carried it to the garden, and because they sensed that this item is for any reason important to me. They covered it with plastic foil carefully, so neither snow neither heavy spring rains could do any harm to it.
On one afternoon, after we finally moved in, Áron and I carried the chest again to the garden and Áron burnished it with a machine carefully. Then it was my turn to finish it with fine sandpaper, treat it against woodworms and paint it with transparent Swedish wax.
Having an (over)developed imagination has its advantages. For instance, that I could picture this almost 100 years old, simple wooden chest as its best shape serving as storing box for warm blankets, garden cushions and of course clothes that are waiting for ironing.
This wooden chest has lived, seen and heard a lot. Maybe it witnessed when the news about the end of the II. Word War arrived. Maybe it feared the German expulsion as much as the owner of this house did. And then maybe there were less clothes in it after the son of the owner decided to emigrate in 1956. It became even more empty after Aunt Rose’s death and then it was not needed any more. Until now.
Jani passed away last autumn, he died shockingly fast right after we moved back to our house.
However, we see the work of his hands everywhere we look. I remember him every time I look at the stone wall he built for us in the living room. I can see him clearly standing on the ladder putting one stone after the other one, then looks at me, pulls up the glasses on his nose.
‘Do you like it?’ he asked.
‘It is beautiful Jani!’, I answered and every time I said that he looked at me surprised as if he wasn’t used to be praised.
‘Really? Oh, good. That’s good.’
I remember him also, when I open the old wooden chest , which hinge is not creaking so much anymore and I take a warm blanket from it, as I imagined it in my daydreams.
This lemon sponge cake is a combination of two recipes. The sponge comes from the handwritten recipe notebook that once belonged to my grammar school head teacher’s grandmother. For the buttercream I used the basic buttercream recipe from the traditional Hungarian cookbook by Ilona Horváth and enriched it with lemon zest and juice.
Last time when I picked dandelions for the blog post, I already knew that I would like to make something with daisies whose leaves and petals are also eatable. So as I did last time, I walked to the garden, picked some flowers to decorate the cake. I cannot even imagine any better activity.
This cake is a perfect fit to a spring weekend afternoon: light, sweet and sour, creamy and… of course full of flowers.
Textiles I use for photography are hand-woven and botanical dyed, made by @textil_szakacsniki
Lemon sponge cake with daisy flowers
For the sponge:
6 egg yolks and whites, separated
6 heaped tablespoons confectioner’s sugar (120 g)
6 tablespoons all purpose flour (100 g)
For the lemon buttercream:
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
125 g sugar (I made it with caster sugar, but I think powdered sugar would be better)
100 g butter
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
lemon zest of a lemon
1 bunch of daisy flowers
Preheat the oven to 180°C (with fan: 170°C) Butter and flour two 12 cm diameter non-stick cake tins with removable bottoms. Beat egg yolks until they get foamy. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form, then gradually add sugar and egg yolk, continue beating for a couple of minutes. Finally carefully fold in flour by using a spatula. Fill up the cake tins and bake for 20 minutes until they get light brown and it is flexibly bounces back if you push the top carefully with your finger. Remove cakes from the tins and let them cool down on a wire rack. Cut each one horizontally into two in order to get 4 layers.
To make the buttercream beat egg yolks with sugar in bain-marie until it thickens a bit. Let it cool down completely. Beat butter until it is fluffy, add lemon juice and zest and fold in the egg cream. Fill the layers with the buttercream, leave a little bit for the top and decorate it with daisy flowers.