The Sweetness Of An Age
Southern Living|September 2017

In South Alabama,Dean Jacobs bakes cakes from another time.

Matthew Teague

A low building sits off a side road in Andalusia, Alabama, about as far from any major town as possible. There is little decoration on the outside, no shutters, no shrubs.It’s plain in just about every way.

But each time visitors from Atlanta or New York or London open the front door at Dean’s Cake House, it’s like opening a warm oven. They close their eyes against a billow of sweet air, and sometimes—if it’s a first visit—they’ll say, “This smells like my grandmother’s kitchen.”

It’s the highest compliment Dean Jacobs hears. Her bakery is an homage to the Southern grandmother, a testament to the value of doing things the old way. And her secret ingredient is the grandmothers themselves. Past the parlor where visitors can buy cakes, a staff of mostly octogenarian ladies works over a collection of bowls and spoons and icing spatulas.

“It’s the only thing we’ve got going for us,” Jacobs said recently. “People know a real person makes every cake. You can taste it.”

And customers agree. From her nondescript building, Jacobs ships hundreds of cakes a day to grocery stores throughout the Southeast. When the delivery truck pulls up to the back of the bakery, a soft-voiced lady named Bonnie Holley wrestles pallets of cakes out the door.

In a world of processed and packaged food,Jacobs’ inefficient, labor-intensive seven-layer cakes have touched something in people that’s more powerful than flavor and texture alone: memories.

She’s selling layers of place and time. She says she never expected any of this and still struggles to understand it. She has rarely left Covington County and admits, “I haven’t even seen all of the county yet.”

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