Best by Request

In the fifties, before television signals made it over the Mule Mountains and down into Bisbee proper, KSUN radio was our link to the outside world as well as a source of entertainment. We listened to Paul Harvey and the News as well as to The Shadow, Sgt. Preston of the Yukon, and the B-Bar-B Riders. Every evening at seven o’clock a program called Best by Request came on. Listeners were encouraged to call into the station—2-2277—and request their favorite tune. I remember calling in several times for “Get Out of Here with that Boom, Boom, Boom” as well as “How Much is that Doggie in the Window?”

So this blog is a twenty-first century version of Best by Request. I’m responding to several requests that came in due to last week’s blog, but I’m a storyteller, and before I get to the heart of the matter, I’m going to tell you how this all started.

I sold the first two Beaumont books on a two-book contract in 1983. At the time one was already written and the second was in process. About that time, a guy named Dick Sawyer called to introduce himself. He was president of a local professional writing group called Seattle Freelancers, and he invited me to be the speaker at an upcoming meeting. The whole idea was daunting since I was stuck in that uncertain limbo where, although I had sold two books, I was still unpublished. Nonetheless, I agreed, and when it was time for me to do the talk, Dick and his wife, Carol, picked me up, took me to the meeting, and made me feel welcome—enough so that I ended up joining the organization.

During the next year or so interacted with Dick and Carol a number of times, but then I learned that she’d been diagnosed with cancer. She passed away in March of 1985. A few months later when Until Proven Guilty was due out at the end of June, I invited Dick to come to the grand opening party. I had met Bill just a week earlier and had invited him to the party, too. At the event, I introduced Dick to Bill. They were both recent widowers—Dick of three month’s time and Bill of six—and the Beaumont party was the first totally social event either of them had attended since losing their respective spouses. In the course of chatting, Dick mentioned that he was leaving soon, going back to Texas on a road trip to visit with old friends.

The next several months were a whirlwind of activity for me because, unexpectedly, Bill and I were falling in love, getting engaged, and planning a wedding. Just before the wedding, I decided to call Dick to see if he would like to attend. When I told him the wedding would be at eleven AM on December 21st, he allowed as how he was busy and couldn’t come. “What’s more important than MY wedding?” I demanded. His reply? “MY wedding!”

It turned out that, while in Texas, he had reconnected with an old friend named Cynthia, the widow of Dick’s only cousin. Prior to her husband’s death and to Carol’s, the two couples had socialized a good deal. And soon after Dick’s visit, romantic sparks started flying. Their wedding was scheduled for the same time and the same day in the assisted living facility where Dick’s mother was residing. So, although they missed our wedding ceremony itself, Dick and Cynthia brought their best people along after their ceremony, and our reception became their reception, too. For a full year after that, I hassled Dick endlessly about being so cheap that they’d had to freeload on our reception. For our joint first anniversary, they took us out to dinner at a lovely restaurant on Capitol Hill, and that was the start of a long-running tradition. We celebrated together and alternated paying every December.

One year, when we went to pick them up, Cynthia came downstairs carrying a small jewelry box. “When I was in my fifties,” she said, “I was allowed to design a ring of my choosing. I wore it in my fifties and sixties, but now that I’m in my seventies, it’s no longer appropriate, and I’d like you to have it.” When I saw it, my eyes bugged out. It looked for all the world like a piece of gold broccoli studded with diamonds. But I accepted it and thanked her profusely. Then I put it on my finger and wore it proudly in my fifties and sixties.

The four of us remained good friends for a long time. For years we all made an annual trek to Ashland for the Shakespeare Festival, and we shared countless meals together. Cynthia was a dynamic cook, and the pecan praline cake mentioned in last week’s blog is a recipe she gave me. There are two kinds of people in the world—chocolate people and non-chocolate people. I’m definitely one of the latter. My weakness is anything related to caramel. Naturally that cake really hit my sweet spot!

But Dick and Cynthia were a good deal older than we were. We lost Dick first to complex heart issues. Later, when Cynthia developed some dementia concerns, she was victimized by a twenty year-old scam artist. Fortunately, a trust officer at her bank blew the whistle on the louse. At that point, Cynthia’s daughter collected her and took her home to Texas before further damage could be done. In order to protect her mother, the daughter blocked all further communication from Washington State. As a consequence, we lost track of her, and we learned of her eventual passing long after it occurred.

As I said, I wore Cynthia’s ring while I was in my fifties and sixties, but in my seventies, I passed “broccoli with diamonds,” as we call it, along to my daughter, the same one who loves Cynthia’s pecan praline cake. Thanks to DNA, she’s also in the non-chocolate camp. And now in response to please both in the blog comments as well as ones sent to me by email, I’m passing the recipe along to you.

By the way, you’ll see that the title here is “Grandma Judy’s Praline Cake, but those you you who have read this blog will know that’s fake news. It’s really Cynthia Sawyer’s Pecan Praline Cake. Enjoy both the cake and this late breaking written episode of Best By Request.

PS. If you want more praline, make it two cups of brown sugar and two cups of pecan pieces when it comes time to make the frosting.

Grandma Judy’s Praline Cake:   JAJ Praline Cake

33 thoughts on “Best by Request

  1. Believe the “get outta here with that…….” was from “The Thing”.

    Bobby Benson and the B bar B.

    How about “Sky King” and that annoying Penny.

  2. Thank you for sharing Cynthia/Judy’s Praline Cake recipe and your wonderful story.
    Merry Christmas to you, Bill and your family.
    Vie Brock

  3. Love your stories! I look forward to your blog every week. Thanks for the recipe which I will definitely be making, even though I am more on the chocolate side of life!! Happy Anniversary!

  4. Happy belated anniversary!!
    Today is my wife Dianna’s and mine 56th wedding anniversary – the best Christmas gift ever.

    Merry Christmas from Kentucky – 5 below zero with several inches of snow. I thought Kentucky was the Gateway to the South.

  5. Yummy recipe…will definitely use double the pecans and brown sugar! I’m from the South and any day, pralines beat chocolate!

  6. Once more you make my Friday morning…A brother and sister from my hometown scheduled their weddings on the same day in different cities, neither would change; very upset parents….some of us love chocolate and caramel….

  7. Oh, Judy, I am loving this story of a wonderful friendship. It’s so amazing how some friendships can be formed from such casual meetings. And that Praline Cake Recipe will be made by me for the first time. I have those ingredients on hand. I really am a chocolate lover, but this will be a great holiday cake. Thanks for sharing the story and the recipe with your fans. Merry Christmas from Janice & Frank Molina!

  8. Although I am a chocolate person carmel is my 2nd favorite so I will give this a try. thank you for it and for the wonderful history behind it.
    Happy Holidays and thanks for the FABULOUS books.

  9. Thank you for posting the recipe for the Praline Cake. I’ve never seen oatmeal used in a cake before. I have all of the ingredients and could make it today. I started using pecans instead of walnuts for baking. Like the taste.

  10. Such wonderful stories, J.A. It is touching that you have kept the tradition going with that ring.
    Merry Christmas and all the best for 2023 to you and yours.

  11. Thanks for the yummy cake recipe! Just yesterday I made pralines that are everyone’s favorite. They are creamy instead of grainy like the New Orleans ones–and made in the microwave, so no tedious stirring! Merry Christmas to you and all your family–I love hearing your adventures and miss going to book signings.

  12. What a lovely story. Thank you for sharing and warming my heart with this tribute to a dear friendship. Merry Christmas to you and your family and a very happy, healthy New Year.

    PS: Is there anyone besides me who wants to see what a broccoli ring looks like???

  13. Cynthia’s recipe sounds devine. As a caramel-aholic, I immediately printed the recipe as I finished your blog ?. And I second your readers request for a picture of the diamond-broccoli ring. Happy Anniversary too to you and Bill.

  14. Thanks for the recipe. I have a Christmas cookie recipe that was titled “Mother-in-Law Cookies” that are my daughter-in-laws favorite Christmas cookie so I renamed it “Daughter-in-Law Cookies.”

    Merry Christmas to you, Bill, and your family.

  15. A touching story, not to mention the instant memories: “On King! On you huskies!” And… “The Shadow knows…” Now you know the rest of the story…

  16. I sang “How much is the doggy in the Window” last night as my wife and I went to bed. I week or so ago I went to the dentist for a crown prep. I told them they need to up their Christmas music to include “All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth”. So yesterday when I went in to get my cap, I was singing ” All I want for Christmas is a new crowned tooth”

  17. I am the chocoholic married to a caramel lover. I will find an occasion to gift her with this cake.

    I’m currently with my extended family of origin, and on Dec. 21 we were singing Happy Birthday via Facetime, one day late, to the missing sister as well as celebrating the Dec. 20 anniversary of our hosts. Many dates have multiple reasons for celebration in our family — shared birthdays years apart, two couples married on Jan 9, 56 years apart, and the birthday/anniversary three days ago.

    It is wonderful that you had so many years to celebrate your friendship with Dick and Cynthia as well as your bonds as couples. Is that ring in any of your author photos?

    My circle of Jance fans keeps expanding. I found another one in a casual after-church conversation last Sunday, gifted Man Overboard to a nephew who is a computer nerd, learned that one of my nieces is also a reader, and we have sold one of the spouses on giving you a try as well.

  18. Thank you for the recipe. I love pralines!! Also thank you for the story as it was the first time I had heard it.
    Have a wonderful holiday season and blessings to you and yours.

  19. My parents were keen to have the latest form of entertainment, so that by the time I was four we had one of those T.Vs that were a large piece of furniture in their own right- I do not have any memories of my parents listening to the radio, except for baseball games played in the car-
    So I watched Sergeant Preston of the Yukon on the screen in black and white-
    I feel sorry for kids who did not experience Howdy Doodie and The Mickey Mouse Club, not to speak of Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, My Friend Flicka, and Fury-
    I’m afraid some shows I loved were very far from PC: The Lone Ranger for one-
    Who thought up the name “Tonto” for a self-respecting indigenous man? Perhaps even worse, which linguist came up with the term, “Kimosabe”
    to denote friendship between the Lone Ranger and Tonto?
    At least Tonto was portrayed as a peaceful and civilized human being, in contrast to Indians in other shows who were all part of murderous mobs out to slaughter
    and scalp as many white people as possible-

  20. Judy: That cake recipe (and the photo of it!) looks so scrumptious I’m going to have to make the darned thing! It’s such a wonderfully simple recipe and those are always the best. Thanks for letting us share your fabulous cake!! (And Merry Christmas to you and Bill!)

  21. I enjoyed reading your blog as much as I do reading your books. And thanks for giving us a peek into your life,

    Merry Christmas from Nana in Victoria, BC , Canada

  22. I enjoyed reading your blog as much as I do reading your books. And thanks for giving us a peek into your life,

  23. Dear Judy,
    Thank you for blog that brought joy and tears…and many thanks for the recipe!
    Best Christmas blessings to you, Bill, your family, and to all your loyal (and new) readers!

  24. Thank you for your blog, all of your books, and your glorious recipes… I made Judy’s Praline Pecan Cake……my guests loved it and my husband says “I love your cake recipe” and he had seconds.

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