amy ludwig vanderwater: little birds, a grandma and THAT CAKE

#15 in the Poetry Potluck Series, celebrating National Poetry Month 2011


Hello my little chickies!

Just in time for Easter weekend, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater and her three children have brought some eggs to our poetry feast! They just happen to live at Heart Rock Farm, set on a sprawling 24 acres up in Holland, New York, where they cavort with Icelandic sheep, rabbits, cats, a dog, and of course, chickens.

L to R: Hope, Amy, Georgia and Henry VanDerwater with eggs used in today’s recipe.

In this season of growth and renewal, it’s good to celebrate life, ponder its mysteries, cherish its fleeting moments, and hold our loved ones close. Amy enjoys growing meaningful words and thoughts at her Poem Farm, cultivating the seeds of promising ideas, nurturing them as they blossom into words, and then sending them off into the big wide world. Whether you’re hatching a brand new idea or gazing upon the faces of your biological offspring with wonder and awe, there’s no better way to sing of these sweet miracles than with a poem.

Amy: I wrote this poem in 2000, the year our third child, Henry, was born. That same year, Mark’s paternal grandmother died. Grandma’s recipe for “Pineapple Slices” carries on, as do so many memories of her strength and goodness. Watching Hope, Georgia, and Henry grow up, I realize how quickly this cycle circles ’round, how swift is the time between egg and mother bird.

by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

you’ll be
grown up birds.
You’ll fly
to far-off places.
And I will keep
this memory
of your tiny
feathered faces.

you’ll be
grown up birds.
You’ll do
grown up bird things.
And I will keep
this place for you
right here
beneath my wings.

© 2000 Amy Ludwig VanDerwater. All rights reserved.

So lovely! And there’s nothing I love more than hearing about a family recipe that’s flavored with fond memories and becomes a precious legacy for succeeding generations. Amy wrote about Grandma VanDerwater’s famous Pineapple Slices (or “cake”) in this funny, charming essay/commentary  for WBFO/National Public Radio. Seems when she was dating her husband-to-be, Mark, she learned “the cake” would undeniably figure in their future together.

No, not an ordinary cake. It was something Grandma baked especially for Mark every Christmas and every time she visited. Heavy and not at all to Amy’s liking, this golden monument of Grandma love was capable of turning a grown man giddy and make him sick because he’d eat the whole thing by himself in two days. And it’s not easy to make — so many painstaking steps, not to mention the pressure of maintaining Grandma’s high standards.

Thanks to Mark VanDerwater for sharing this pic of his Grandma!

In the name of poetry, Amy baked a batch of Grandma’s Pineapple Slices just for us — a rare occurrence, since she usually makes it only on Father’s Day and for Mark’s birthday. She even photographed her process, just in case you’re brave enough to try the recipe yourself. But be forewarned: this pineapple-y pièce de résistance will likely attract a passel of eager suitors. ☺



First step — make filling. Combine 1/2 cup and 1 T sugar, 3 T cornstarch, 3/4 cup water, 1 #2 can crushed pineapple and juice (2-1/2 cups). Cook until thick. Set to cool.


Next step — add 1 T butter, 1 tsp vanilla, 1 beaten egg yolk. Filling done.

Batter — Scald 2/3 cup milk. Cool to lukewarm. Add 1 T sugar and 1 package yeast. Set aside.

Then, mix 3 cups sifted flour, 1 cup butter. Mix like pie crust. Then add 3 beaten egg yolks. Add yeast to flour mixture. Mix well.


Divide dough into 2 parts. Roll one part on pastry cloth. Put on bottom of greased pan 14″ x 10″. Press dough on bottom of pan.


Spread with filling. Cover with other part of dough. Let rise for one hour or more.


Before putting in oven, spread with melted butter. Prick with fork, clear through, about 12 times. Sprinkle with streusel topping.


Bake for 45 minutes at 350 degrees.


1/4 cup light brown sugar
2 T butter
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Sprinkle on top of cake before baking

Remove cake from oven and make a frosting of 1 cup confectioner’s sugar and 1 T butter and water to make very thin frosting on top of streusel topping.


Wow! Now that’s what I call a R-E-C-I-P-E!! Having grown up in pineapple country myself, I see that it’s my civic duty to make this sometime. Yes, I’m willing to risk having Colin Firth beg me to marry him once he knows Pineapple Slices are part of my dowry. Sometimes I can’t believe my own unflinching courage and dedication. ☺


Amy Ludwig VanDerwater is a writer, poet, and writing teacher living in Holland, New York. She gives workshops in and out of classrooms, demonstrating how to implement a writing workshop, study texts, and confer with children. Her poems have appeared in Ladybug magazine as well as numerous anthologies, the most recent of which are Sharing the Seasons (McElderry, 2010), Dizzy Dinosaurs: Silly Dino Poems (HarperCollins, 2011), and I Am the Book! (Holiday House, 2011). Amy’s poem, “My Hand,” is included in the brand new e-anthology, PoetryTagTime, selected by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong (Kindle Release, 2011).

Amy also reads and writes commentaries for WBFO, Buffalo’s local NPR station, and writes a quarterly column for Edible Buffalo magazine. Her debut poetry book, Forest Has a Song (illustrated by Robbin Gourley), will be published by Clarion in Fall 2012. You can find Amy online at The Poem Farm, where she participates in Poetry Friday and shares a wealth of teaching and writing ideas with students, teachers, parents, readers and other writers every day. Don’t miss this excellent interview at The Writer’s Armchair.

**And now, after careful consideration, the alphabet soup kitchen helpers have decided to present Amy with a special award in recognition of her exceptional pineapple prowess and inspiring spirit of sacrifice, as she unselfishly bakes Pineapple Slices year after year in order to preserve an important family tradition.

*trumpet fanfare, please*

Amy, please accept the Crystal Pineapple with our undying admiration and best wishes for the successful production of thousands more pineapple cakes. We bow to you, O Pineapple Princess!

♥ Today’s Poetry Friday Roundup is being hosted by Kate Coombs at Book Aunt.

♥ Previous Potluck Poets: April Halprin Wayland, Carol WeisJoAnn Early Macken, Heidi Mordhorst, Diane Mayr, Jessica Swaim, Irene Latham, Barbara Crooker, Toby Speed, Tabatha Yeatts, Jane Yolen, Marilyn Singer, Tracie Vaughn Zimmer.

Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.

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