Pam Stanley made the first red velvet cake I ever had and it was wonderful. She would never share the recipe because she had promised the person who gave it to her to keep it a secret.
The story went that Pam’s friend had been in NYC and dined at the Waldorf Astoria hotel. For dessert she had ordered the red velvet cake and found it so delicious she asked for the recipe. The waiter took her address and said the recipe would be mailed to her.
Several weeks later an envelope arrived from the Waldorf containing the recipe along with a bill for $125, a sizable amount for the mid-1960s. The woman paid the bill and never shared it with anyone other than Pam but swore her to secrecy.
For decades Pam Stanley was the only person I knew who baked red velvet cake and I got lucky on several occasions and was in her home when one was sitting on the kitchen counter.
A couple of decades ago I heard the same story from another person and discovered it was what is commonly called an urban legend; something thought to be true but is not. I don’t know why Pam’s friend told her the story but over the years I told it to other on many occasions, thus helping to spread the myth.
When the Internet came along I learned that countless red velvet cake recipes could be had with a simple search and a few seconds of one’s time. I just Googled the subject and came up with 2,380,000 references. I also Googled red velvet cake urban legend and came up with a story similar to Pam’s and learned that similar urban legends exist for other foods such as the Neiman-Marcus cookie recipe.
Whatever the true origins of the red velvet cake the fact remains that it is one of my favorite desserts and stories about the dangers of red dye aside, I’ll take my chances on the occasional piece of paradise.