Gooey Butter Cake is reminiscent of dessert but is actually a breakfast food, like coffee cake. When heated the center turns molten, a pale yellow pudding with a crust and dusted with powdered sugar. My grandmother said Eat your crust it’ll make you pretty. She was lying. She escaped the Dust Bowl as a child and now living on a farm in mid-Missouri she would not watch her children and her children’s children waste perfectly non-dust filled food. Nor fake dusted food. The dust on your food is sugar! she’d say.
When our German ancestors came over they brought two things from the motherland: the family bible and coffee cake. The bible was easy to pack. It was so slim and light. It was a Protestant bible, seven chapters shorter than the Catholic’s with a couple more sections removed during the boat ride over to make spit balls to shoot at the Catholics. However, after settling in Missouri my German ancestors were too poor to splurge on coffee, and what little coffee they did have they kept in an old boot on their kitchen counter, until that boot got washed away in the Easter Flood of 1851 when the Mississippi rose higher on the cross than Jesus. Instead, they bickered with their English neighbors to throw them a teabag now and again.
However, they couldn’t go very long without their favorite breakfast food: cake. So in the recipe they replaced coffee with more sugar and butter. While the first cakes were sitting to cool on the sill, that other river rose, the Missouri River, gorging itself in a single afternoon until it burst — right on all those fine people who had just rebuilt their lives after the last flood! Well, the cakes on the sill, heavy with all that butter in them, survived, but they were soggy. Knowing they couldn’t sell soggy cake much less feed it to their German husbands lest they get beat with the heal of a boot, one woman in this group of wives fancied herself a poet. She suggested when they describe this new creation that they replace the word “soggy” with “gooey,” because doesn’t “gooey cake” sound better?
The women looked at their cakes anew. Now the river only seemed to have added spice. A nice browned butter glaze on top. A mouth-watering sheen! The river mixed nicely with butter and sugar. It even acted as a sort of egg replacement. Breakfast was a hit, and Gooey Butter Cake became a staple in not just German homes but the homes of all Caucasoids.
* One possible consideration for this story is that the coffee famine, while it did exist, wasn’t caused by the Easter Flood of 1851 but by the need to cover with dirt all of those massacred Mormons after Joseph Smith was run out of these parts and there wasn’t enough ground to bury all his dead wives. The townspeople with their persistent spirits were used to blindly rebuilding after devastation, and so they all pitched in, volunteering what little they had by way of substitute dirt such as coffee grounds, but not precious cow manure.