Willa's Heavenly Coconut Cake

I've been thinking a lot about family and the importance of food in Southern life. Potlucks. Family get-togethers. Holiday celebrations. Birthday parties. Food, and especially cakes, are a big part of any gathering. When I think of the important women in my life, they have a cake associated with them: my mom, a cake baker extraordinaire, makes a creamy, buttery, to die for caramel cake; Aunt Sara makes a gazillion layer lemon cheese cake with just the right bit of tart and sweet; Aunt Marion made an apple cake that no matter who bakes it now is referred to as Aunt Marion's Apple Cake; and my mother-in-law, Willa, made a heavenly coconut cake that Mom now makes for us since Willa's death.

It's true. Our loved ones live on through their cakes. The memories of family and food linger in specks of flour, butter, and ingredients that made their favorite cake our favorite.

And Willa's coconut cake was a favorite. No matter what desserts we had, I'd always hear someone say, "I'm saving room for a piece of Miss Willa's cake." Everyone lined up to get a piece of her cake. "It is so good" reverberated through the crowd.

Willa made her coconut cake for almost every occasion. She baked lots of goodies, but the coconut cake was always a favorite. Willa shared her recipe with my mom. I know that she'd want me to pass it on to you with hopes that you'd use it to celebrate the special occasions of your life.

Willa's Coconut Cake

Bake and cool 2 Cake layers, yellow:

1 cup butter (or margarine)

2 cups sugar

3 cups flour (plain, all purpose)

4 eggs

1 cup buttermilk

1/2 t. salt

3 t. baking powder

1 t. Vanilla

Cream butter & sugar, add eggs one at a time. Sift together salt, baking powder and flour. Add to egg mixture, alternating with buttermilk. Add vanilla. Bake in 2 9" layer pans until golden brown (around 20-25 minutes). Cool. Split into 4 layers.


2 c. sugar

16 oz. sour cream

12 oz. frozen coconut, thawed

1 lg. Cool Whip

Split cake layers (so you will have 4 layers). Combine sugar, sour cream and coconut; blend and chill. Reserve 1 cup of this mixture for frosting. Spread remaining mixture between each layer. Combine reserved mixture with whip cream (Cool Whip) and ice the cake. Seal in airtight container. Refrigerate 3 days.

We thought Willa would live forever. That's what we wanted. So we were surprised when her heart stopped. She was too full of life for us to want to let her go. Meredith still had new boyfriends for her to meet, her college graduation to attend, her wedding day... We had too many things left to do that we wanted her to be a part of. But the Lord had other plans for her.

On the day she died after we returned home from the hospital, my mom and I were straightening up my house. She found a newspaper clipping from 1982, the year Allen and I married. It was dated February 12th, just before Valentine's Day. A photo of Willa and her beloved husband James were featured as a couple in love.

What a surprise! How appropriate. It was a timely reminder that Willa was exactly where she wanted to be ... celebrating her new life in heaven with her husband James who she had missed every day since his death in 1987. I'd bet that her coconut cake was somewhere in the moment. How could it not? There's just no celebration without it.