Let Them Eat Cake!

Isabella Macdonald married Gustavus Rossenberg “Ross” Alden on May 30, 1866 in her home town of Gloversville, New York. They were married fifty-seven years. Isabella described her husband as unfailingly courteous, good-natured, patient, and principled. As a minister, those traits must have served him well.

Almost immediately after their marriage ceremony, Ross and Isabella boarded a train bound for the tiny town of Almond, New York, where Ross was given his first church after receiving his ordination.

Image of a slice of yellow cake with chocolate icing on a plate with a fork. in the background are a cup of coffee, a cream pitcher, and a sugar bowl filled with sugar cubes.

Isabella had very fond memories of that first church. Not all the parishes to which Ross was assigned, she said, “were as kind and considerate as the choice souls in that first beloved one.”

She had plenty of tales to tell about some of the congregations her husband led over the years, and she often included those tales in her novels. If you’ve read Aunt Hannah and Martha and John, you might remember one of the congregants gave Martha a perfectly ugly bonnet as a gift, leaving poor Martha undecided about whether to wear the bonnet to church. That “bonnet dilemma” was a true story that actually happened to Isabella!

Image of a three-tier chocolate cake with white icing.

In other novels, Isabella wrote about congregations that did not want to pay their ministers living wages, and decided to make up for the short-falls with fairs and bazaars to raise money for the minister and his family. That, too, was something Isabella and Ross had to deal with far more often that they would have liked.

In one particular parish, the people decided that instead of meeting Reverend Alden’s salary requirements, they would pay him less, but supplement the short-fall with food donations. The only problem was that nearly every woman in the church decided to make her contribution a marble cake.

Photo of a chocolate-iced marble cake on an ornate silver serving stand.

Isabella wrote about her growing dismay every time another marble cake was delivered.

“Marble cake! I don’t believe some families in this village can have anything else to live on, they make so much of it.” 

Photo of a marble cake sliced open to show the marble pattern

Before long Isabella’s pantry shelves were filled with cake. She wrote there was …

…enough marble cake to pave a walk from the kitchen door to the barn door.

She and Ross probably did their best to eat as much marble cake as they could, but days later it was becoming quite dry and stale, and Isabella wanted nothing more than to have “that obnoxious marble cake out of our sight!” But there seemed no way to get rid of it without hurting their parishioners’ feelings.

That’s when Ross came up with a plan. In the dark of night, with a spade and a lantern, he went behind the barn, dug a deep hole, and buried the remaining marble cakes. Isabella wrote:

“We have never cared for marble cake since!”


Click here to learn more about Isabella’s novel Aunt Hannah and Martha and John, which included fictionalized accounts of the “ugly bonnet” story, more about marble cake, and other anecdotes from Isabella’s life as the wife of a Presbyterian minister.

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