June 12, 2021

HERITAGE RECIPE: Oatmeal Cake (and a 1929 news story)

While I was browsing through my heritage cookbook, I was going to try not to pick another baked good/dessert recipe--but when I saw who submitted this one, I knew I wanted to make it. I have an interesting story from July of 1929 to share. Normally, I don't like to write a bunch of stuff before the recipe because I know how annoying that is when you're going to a website for recipes! This heritage series is a bit different, though, as it's as much about heritage as it is about recipes (to me, anyway).

If you're just here for the recipe, here is the printer-friendly, no-nonsense version!

Otherwise, please bear with me while I explain the who's-who of this story.

This recipe for Oatmeal Cake was submitted to the Rockwood, Michigan Area Historical Society by Marge Robillard, in memory of her mother, Agnes Woodcroft.

Backstory: Until I was 15 years old, I lived next door to Theodore (Ted) and Marge Robillard, an elderly couple. They had grandchildren who stayed with them (a lot--for months and even years at a time). The oldest (Brian) was my age, and the middle one (Mike) was my younger brother's age. They had a younger sister as well.

Anyway, I was very good friends with Brian and Mike. When I talk about my "childhood friends", Brian and Mike are two of them. I remember playing at their grandparents' house when I was a kid, but I honestly cannot remember anything about Marge. When Ted and Marge had both passed away, Brian and Mike's mom and dad moved into the house.

Here is a picture of Brian and me. I wish I could remember what the heck we were doing! Hahaha.

The following story has nothing to do with Marge's recipe, but it's actually about Marge's (future-at-the-time) sister-in-law. In 1929, Ted Robillard (Brian and Mike's grandpa) was 12 years old. He had a 13-year old sister named Goldie. Goldie was invited to go to a beach cottage for the weekend with her friend's family... and her friend just so happened to be DeLand Mercure (does that name ring a bell? That's my grandpa!).

I'm going to include the actual The Monroe Evening News article here, dated July 1, 1929. I had to type it out because the photocopy of the article is kind of hard to read.



Body is Recovered After Two Hours; Efforts at Resuscitation Fail

While hundreds of resorters looked on and many made frantic attempts to rescue her, Goldie Robillard, 13-year old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Morise Robillard of South Rockwood, drowned shortly before 6 p.m. Sunday while bathing in the dredge out at the mouth of the Sandy Creek, just south of Detroit Beach. DeLand Mercure, aged 13 years, her companion, narrowly escaped death in attempting to save her.

The children had hurried home from a moving picture show to the Detroit Beach cottage of Mr. and Mrs. Dan Mercure of South Rockwood, parents of DeLand, where Goldie was a week-end guest. Goldie went wading along the shore, and for a while was content to practice the swimming strokes which she had just learned at the Girl Scout camp at Manitou Beach.

Apparently without realizing it, she edged out into the deeper water from which she had been warned, both by DeLand, who is an excellent swimmer, and by Mr. and Mrs. Mercure, who had come down to the lake a few minutes before to make sure the youngsters were all right.

As soon as the girl got beyond her depth young Mercure came to her assistance and struggled for several minutes to bring her back to shore. She pulled him under several times and as she became more and more frightened she made rescue more difficult. By this time scores of men, women and children were attracted to the scene. Several of the bathers went to the assistance of the struggling children and one man, whose name has not been learned, reached the girl before she went down. She grappled with him, tore his bathing suit and scratched him badly, and in his efforts to break loose from her grip he lost his own hold and the girl went down.

In the meantime, the boy had become exhausted and was in danger of drowning. He was rescued by Walter Kunder, a life guard who was attracted by the screams of the girl. DeLand was so far gone that it took many minutes to revive him and for a time his life was thought to be in danger. He was taken to the cottage of his parents, where he is still suffering from the effects of his experience.

A call was put in for Coroner George Huber and another for Dr. W. W. Bond. Both responded promptly, but were unable to do anything because the body of the girl could not be recovered. It was not until members of the South Rockwood post of state police arrived with grappling irons that the body was brought up, shortly after 8 o'clock.

Efforts were made to revive the girl, but they were entirely without avail. The newly purchased Huber pulmotor was used but the girl had been in the water too long to make it effective.

The channel in which Goldie Robillard was drowned has long been regarded as dangerous. A number of drownings have occurred there, although none within a period of more than a year. Cottagers from neighboring beaches have been warned to avoid the place, which is more than 20 feet deep in places, and, like all creek mouths, full of treacherous currents. The dredge cut is apart from all the beaches, but many bather are attracted to it because it is deep enough for diving.

The Robillard and the Mercure families have been neighbors and close friends for a good many years. Goldie Robillard was a week-end guest at the Mercure cottage at Detroit Beach. On Sunday she had been invited to extend her visit to a week, had obtained the permission of her parents and had accepted the invitation.

The Robillard girl had just graduated from the eighth grade and was to have entered the South Rockwood high school in the fall. She was a member of the Campfire Girls, and also of the junior choir of St. Mary's Catholic Church of South Rockwood. The girl, who would have been 14 years old in October, had a wide circle of friends both among children and grown-ups.

Besides her parents, she leaves three brothers and two sisters, all at home. They are George, aged 22 years, Mildred, aged 19 years, Theodore, aged 12 years, Joseph, aged 8 years, and Naomi, aged 4 years. Mr. Robillard is a clerk of Berlin township, and has served for 23 years as a section foreman on the Grand Trunk railway.

Isn't that simply heartbreaking? I was stunned when I saw this recently while asking questions about my grandparents. This is such a tragic story--and it makes me think about how hard that would have been for my grandpa, seeing his good friend drown at just 13-years old. That's not something you can ever get over. I don't know if he kept in touch with the Robillards afterward. My being next-door neighbors to Ted was entirely coincidence.

Anyway, Goldie's brother Theodore (Ted) grew up and married Marge. And Marge is the one who submitted this recipe for Oatmeal Cake to the Historical Society.

NOW, on to the recipe...!

This was a unique cake--not only because of the oatmeal, but because of the "frosting". I put that in quotes, because it's not a typical frosting. You spread it on the cake and then put it under the broiler, which toasts the coconut and nuts, and caramelizes the sugar. 

As usual, I made this recipe exactly as written (which I will post word-for-word below). Any notes or clarifications will be in my notes after the recipe.

Oatmeal Cake

1-1/4 c. boiling water
1 c. raw oats
1/2 c. soft margarine
1 c. sugar
1 c. firmly-packed brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
1-1/2 cup flour
1 tsp. soda
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg

Pour water over oats. Let stand 20 minutes. Beat margarine; gradually add sugars. Blend in eggs and vanilla. Add flour, soda, salt, and spices. Stir in oats. Blend well. Pour into greased 9x9-inch pan. Bake at 350 F for 50 to 55 minutes.


1/4 c. butter
1/2 c. brown sugar
3/4 c. coconut
3 T. light cream or milk
1/2 c. nutmeats

Melt butter. Add sugar, milk, nuts, and coconut. Spread on cake. Broil until bubbly. Very good!


This was another pretty straight-forward recipe. As far as ingredients, the "soda" is obviously baking soda; and I learned in a previous recipe that nutmeats are just nuts (I chose to use pecans). It didn't specify sweetened or unsweetened coconut--I had unsweetened coconut on hand, so I used that.

The cake part of this is very moist and tastes just like zucchini bread--it's delicious! The frosting gets crispy under the broiler, so it's a different texture than what you'd expect on a cake. I'd actually think this would be just fine without the frosting/topping. I would have liked a more typical frosting texture.

Now that I think of it, there is a recipe in the heritage book for "banana filling for a cake" and I always wondered what kind of cake you would use that for. Well, I think this one would be perfect! I'll be making this cake again in the future and I'll try out that banana filling as well. The cake is very tall, so it would work out to split it and put a filling in there. Or, it could be baked in a 9x13 pan to thin it out a little.

Regardless, Marge was correct when she wrote this cake was "Very good!" on her recipe ;)

The batter before going in the oven:

I couldn't find any toothpicks, so I stuck a butter knife in to check if it was done--that's why it looks a little butchered.

This is the topping before I put it in the oven. I realized just now that I forgot to add the milk! I was supposed to have added 3 Tbsp. of milk, which would have thinned it a little--but not by much. I'm assuming it wouldn't have made a huge difference.

After putting it under the broiler for a few minutes (I watched it like a hawk! I was sure I was going to burn it. I literally laid on the floor in front of the oven watching it under the broiler.)

Just for fun, since I shared that news article about my grandpa (Pippi), here is a "recipe" that was included in my grandma's (Gobby) recipe collection:

Salmon Balls

One Friday, Pippi asked Gobby
what was for dinner.
Gobby said, "Salmon Balls."
Pippi said, "I didn't know salmon
had balls."

The more I learn about him, the more I wish I could have known him! Here is a picture I saw of him only recently:


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I loved the story before the recipe, even though it was so sad. I love how people wrote stories back then. It makes you feel like you are right there witnessing the tragic event.

    1. Yes! I loved reading it because otherwise, I never would have learned the details of this story about my grandpa; at the same time, the descriptive language in it would have been very hard to read after the accident--as a parent, reading about your child's struggle in the water like that would be horrible! It's interesting how much the news reporting has changed.

  3. What an amazing and sad story! I think it's also interesting how the tone of the newspaper piece is quite different from today.

    1. I agree! When I first read it, I said to my mom, "I don't think writing an article like this would fly today" because of how descriptive it was--it must have been horribly painful for her family to read that.

  4. Thank you for ending on a hilarious note after that tragic story. LOL Salmon balls!


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