Mom, Monty Python…

…and “Belladonna Took’s Lemon Cake”

My mom occasionally liked to see films at our local art cinema, The Guild. One day she took us to see And Now For Something Completely Different, starring a band of relatively obscure Brits collectively known as Monty Python’s Flying Circus. I was ten and my sister was seven. It was 1972—why wasn’t she taking us to see some Disney film, like Napoleon and Samantha?

Thank goodness she didn’t. In the end, my mom didn’t always appreciate the Pythons, but my sister and I were hooked. We spent our teen years quoting Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Between comfy chairs, hedgehogs, silly walks, and killer rabbits, we would often find ways to integrate Python quotes into our daily lives.

My modest collection—that rabbit is dynamite!

Can I quote all the lines in The Holy Grail? I could come very close, if it’s on. And it is on, about once a year. Was Graham Chapman the first man I ever saw naked on screen in The Life of Brian? Maybe… I’m pretty sure he was. Do I still bother people with obscure Python quotes? Sometimes—let’s face it; the Pythons are an acquired taste, and you have to know your audience.

Have I based friendships and boyfriends on whether they understand Python references? Or Star Trek, or Tolkien, or Star Wars references? Yes, I have.

Thank you, mom, for skipping Napoleon and Samantha.

I can hardly wait to expose my grandsons to this crazy Python world…

This was mom’s favorite cake, out of all the recipes I tested before she died on May 17, 2012.

From “The Hobbit”—Bilbo’s Pantry

Various other pesky dwarves call out for “more cakes—and ale—and coffee, if you don’t mind,” so Bilbo brings out what I imagine would be one of his mother’s special recipes. In my original cookbook, I envisioned this lovely lemon cake as a recipe handed down from Bilbo’s mother, hence the name. I have pictured it with coffee below; some desserty, chocolatey ale might complement the cake, but I’m doubtful (mainly because I’m not the most avid beer connoisseur, but try it and let me know…).

Belladonna was the ninth child (of 12) of Gerontius (The Old Took) and Adamanta Chubb. She married Bungo Baggins and their only child was Bilbo. This seems to be her only claim to fame, though, in the beginning of The Hobbit, Gandalf pardons the somewhat rude Bilbo, “for your old grandfather Took’s sake, and for the sake of poor Belladonna.” Did Belladonna suffer from some unknown tragedy? Or is Gandalf merely commenting on the fact that Bilbo turned out to be so different from his apparently fun-loving, firework-enjoying relatives? Regarding his Tookish relatives, even Bilbo comments that “life used to be quite inter—(he is so obviously going to say interesting, but his fustiness prevents him).” Is she “poor Belladonna” because her son turned out to be such a stick-in-the-mud?

Oh well, children often become their parents, or they react to them by becoming their opposite, you know what I mean? But let’s assume that Bilbo’s mom was a good cook—she’s bound to have had a few delicious recipes on hand.

“Belladonna Took’s Lovely Lemon Cake”

  • 1 giant lemon (or 2 medium lemons)
  • About ¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon 1% milk, room temperature
  • ¼ cup soft salted butter
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 extra large egg, room temperature
  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon poppy seeds
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon soft lemon curd
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350°. Coat a 9″ heavy aluminum cake pan with cooking spray or grease lightly. Lightly flour bottom of pan. With a fine grater or microplaner, scrape as much zest as you can from the lemon; you should end up with 1-2 tablespoons—set aside. Then squeeze the lemon and measure out about ¼ cup of juice into a 2-cup glass measure (remove any pits, of course). Add ¾ cup milk to this, or enough to measure 1 cup total. Add the zest and vanilla; whisk and set aside (it will most likely appear curdled—don’t worry).

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter, sugar, and egg until thoroughly combined. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and 1 tablespoon poppy seeds. Add to butter mixture alternately with the lemon/milk mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients; mix well on medium speed;scrape down sides. Spread in prepared pan and bake at 350° for 33-37 minutes, until cake tests done in the center. Cool in pan on a rack for 15 minutes. Run a knife around edge and turn out onto the rack, bottom down—cool one hour.

Transfer to a serving plate and split in half horizontally; carefully set aside the top layer. Mix up the 1/2 cup lemon curd and gently spread on the cake. Replace top carefully. In the same bowl you mixed the flour in (don’t bother washing it out), whisk together the 1 tablespoon lemon curd and 1 tablespoon milk, then add the powdered sugar and whisk until fully combined. Spread this evenly over the top—it’s okay for some to drizzle over the sides. Sprinkle with the ½ teaspoon poppy seeds. Cover and store at room temperature or refrigerate. Serves 6-8.



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