Chopstick Cinema

Celeste Heiter's Adventures in Asian Food & Film

The Duchess Bakes a Cake

Writing this weblog every day has given me cause to think back over the role that food and cooking have played throughout my life. I used to think that my love of both stemmed from my Mom being such a good cook, and all those years I spent working in the restaurant business. But upon reflection, as more and more ancient memories are stirred by my daily musing, I've come to believe it runs much deeper than that. It's in my blood and my bones, and maybe even in my DNA.

In recent days, I've recalled memories of making mud pies in the back yard after a summer rain; of hosting tea parties, replete with a beautiful porcelain tea set, for my best friend Jane and cousin Janet on the back porch of the house where I grew up in Mobile; and of my very favorite children's book, The Duchess Bakes a Cake.

In rhymed couplets, The Duchess Bakes a Cake tells the story of a bored duchess, who whimsically decides to bake "a lovely light luscious delectable cake." But things go awry when the duchess discovers that she has put in too much yeast and the cake overflows the pan... and the oven... and the kitchen, with the duchess frantically bouncing atop the rising dough, trying to squash it back down. Despite her best efforts, the cake rises all the way up to the clouds, and when all attempts fail by the king and his men to bring it down with catapults and arrows, it appears the duchess is stranded, until her little daughter Gunhilde cries out that she's hungry. All's well that ends well, as the cake is devoured by all the people of the kingdom, and the duchess is brought back fat and happy to terra firma.

Written and Illustrated by Virginia Kahl, this now-classic children's book was published the year before I was born, so it was still quite new by the time I became captivated by it. Over the years, I must have checked that book out of the library a hundred times, and by the time I'd outgrown it, I knew every word of it by heart. Oddly enough however, I'd never owned a copy of it until last year, when I discovered that it was still in print and available on And even after all these years, just the thought of it brings a smile to my face, and an abiding sense of sweet nostalgia to my heart.