Walking the line at school cake walks
By By Robert St. John / food columnist
Oct. 9, 2002
Robert St. John is the executive chef/owner of New South Restaurant Group, http://www.nsrg.com. His weekly food column appears in newspapers in Mississippi and Louisiana. If you have questions or comments he can be reached at email@example.com or (601) 264-0672.
So, we took our daughter to her school carnival.
I love school carnivals. Along with Christmas parades and high school football games, they are part of what makes living in the small-town South so special.
Upon our arrival she made a beeline to the ring toss and the go-fishing booth. There wasn't a crowd at the penny toss, so we gave that a shot. The ever-popular Dunk the Teacher Booth has now evolved into an event where kids throw wet sponges at members of the football team.
I guess the success of the event depends on how well the football team is playing. The line was short so they must be winning. Take teachers and members of the school administration out of the equation and the event loses its kid appeal.
Cake walk fan
I have always been a fan of the cake walk. My neighborhood was filled with excellent cooks, all of whom had children attending my school. Hence, many great cakes to be won (and later eaten) at my neighborhood school carnival.
At a cake walk, the winner chooses any cake he likes. What a great event. An Italian Cream Cake is better than a stuffed animal or a handful of hard candy any day.
I took my daughter to the cake walk at her carnival, but she doesn't eat many sweets so the competition held no appeal. She went to get her face painted while her old man tried to win a cake.
The cake walk has changed.
In my day it was played like a game of musical chairs. The teachers placed a group of chairs in a circle, all facing out. Then they would play a record (usually a cheesy polka song) and every one would walk around the circle. While the contestants walked, a teacher removed one chair, leaving one less chair than there were contestants.
When the music stopped, everyone scrambled to sit down. The odd man out walked away cakeless and hungry. This process was repeated until there was only one chair and two players. That's when it got serious. Fighting over that last chair was a challenge. I was good at it. When there is food on the line, I am a fierce competitor.
If cake walking was an Olympic sport, I would have been a gold medalist. I had no problem sending a fourth-grader sailing across the room when there was a caramel cake on the line. I could fight over the last remaining chair with the best of them. Win at all costs that's what Churchill said.
Nowadays the cake walk is played by standing on a number, not sitting in a chair. The numbers are in a circle on the floor. When the music plays you walk around the circle. When the music stops you, you stop, and stand on a number. Then the teacher draws a number.
BORING! The entire process takes about 25 seconds. There is no pushing or shoving. No flying fourth-graders. No sailing chairs. There is no skill involved. It is all based on the luck-of-the-draw.
Piece of advice
Note to future carnival goers: It is best to play the cake walk early in the evening as all of the best cakes are picked first. At my daughter's carnival the home-baked cakes went fast. One hour into the event there was nothing left but Wal-Mart cakes.
I was glad to see that apple bobbing has been eliminated from the carnival process. Bobbing for apples has to be the nastiest event in the history of school-carnival events.
Who came up with this? Were a couple of PTA moms sitting around in a planning session one day saying, "I know, Thelma Jean. Let's have little children stick their face in a bucket of nasty water that 250 other elementary school kids have submerged their dirty, sweaty, snotty faces into, all for a 5-cent piece of fruit. Surely they'll pay to do that. Never mind that we're in the middle of the cold and flu season."
Talk about an event one needs to do early in the evening. If you weren't the first bobber you got nothing but slobber.
School carnivals make me think of caramel apples, popcorn, pumpkins, the crisp coming of fall and cake walks.
1 cup mayonnaise
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon sherry
1 tablespoon Creole mustard
1 tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 tablespoon Crescent City Grill Creole Seasoning
1 tablespoon Worcestershire
1 tablespoon Crescent City Grill Cayenne &Garlic Sauce
1/3 cup red bell pepper, small dice
1/3 cup green bell pepper, small dice
1 pound jumbo lump crabmeat
1/2 pound backfin lump crabmeat
2-8 oz. wheels Brie or Camembert cheese, cut into1/2 inch cubes
6 tablespoon seasoned bread crumbs
8 oven-proof ramekins or scallop shell
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine the first eight ingredients and mix thoroughly with a wire whisk. Stir in peppers. Gently fold crabmeat into liquid mixture making sure not to break up the crabmeat lumps. Place a layer of crabmeat mixture into a 6 oz. ramekin, then 2 cubes of Brie and another layer of crab. Top with seasoned bread crumbs and bake for 10 to12 minutes or until bubbly and breadcrumbs are brown. Garnish with chopped parsley. Yield: 8