Cake recipe provides memories of special lady

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 15, 2001

When we lived in Jackson and my husband David and I visited Natchez, my mother-in-law Joyce always took me to lunch. Our favorite place to go was the Annex Tea Room.

Since Joyce taught school and the Annex was only open Monday through Friday, Christmas break was usually our only opportunity to eat there.

I loved the chicken salad, lemon squares and, above all else, the chocolate chip cake. While I was aware there were two owners, I only knew Mrs. Amacker. David had known her children growing up and since she had been married to a physician she always asked about his schoolwork and later how his residency was going.

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Years later we moved to Natchez, but by then the Annex had closed and Joyce and I found new places to eat lunch.

In 1991 I opened a cooking store in downtown Natchez across from One Of A Kind gift shop. I had shopped with its owner, Mary Lees Wilson, when she was open in Vicksburg and continued to do so in Natchez. Soon after opening I met Mary Lees’ mother, Ellen Edwards.

Imagine my surprise to find out she had been the other owner of the Annex Tea Room.

Miss Ellen, as we all called her, came across and visited us everyday.

My shop served coffee and a different dessert by the slice everyday. One summer I commented to Miss Ellen business was very slow and I hoped we would be able to stay open until Christmas. As a matter of fact, I felt sure the dessert of the day and cups of coffee were what was paying the electric bill.

A few days later she came over to the store and told me she had something special to give me.

She handed me an index card on which she had written the recipe for the Annex’s chocolate chip cake. It came with her personal guarantee that it would be a bestseller and help my business.

She was right.

Whenever we wrote on our chalkboard that our dessert of the day was Annex chocolate chip cake, we sold out. Of all the cakes, pies and hundreds of cheesecakes we made for people, her cake was the most requested.

A few years passed, and I closed the shop and when on to other ventures. I often ran into Miss Ellen at One of a Kind and other places in town; she always had a smile on her face and a hug for me.

When my friend Elizabeth passed away from cancer, I remember Miss Ellen hugging me. It was like being hugged by my grandmother, and she stood quietly, patting me on my back while I cried.

When I heard later that Miss Ellen had been diagnosed with cancer I hoped I wouldn’t run into her. After losing Elizabeth I just couldn’t seem to face people with cancer; all my nursing skills fled me. I was either angry at them for doing better than Elizabeth or too saddened to talk anyway.

One afternoon downtown I ran into Miss Ellen, literally, and there was no turning back. I had to speak. My eyes filled up with tears and my throat closed. She wrapped me in a hug and patted my back.

When I was finally able to ask her how she was doing I was reminded why I though so highly of her. She talked about how going to treatment gave her a chance to visit with her daughter and how it had made her appreciate life so much more.

After that day I saw Miss Ellen many more times, at sporting events that involved her grandchildren, at One of a Kind supervising everyone, and other places in town. She always had a smile on her face and carried herself with dignity.

When heard she had passed away last week I wanted nothing more than to bake myself a chocolate chip cake and eat it right out of the pan. I will never make one without thinking of her and her kindness to me.

In sharing that one recipe with me, she gave to me a special part of her life and a pat on the back.

Christina Hall is the food editor at The Democrat. She can be reached at 442-9101 or by e-mail at