CAPE ELIZABETH — Susie Konkel wants her cake pans back.
They disappeared – all 20 of them – the night of Jan. 20, at a benefit dinner for the Calkins family of South Portland. Mark and Denise Calkins and their two boys had lost their home, two dogs and two cats in a Black Friday fire, the day after Thanksgiving.
Denise Calkins is a piano teacher active in local schools and local theater. One of her longtime students – Konkel – along with two neighbors and Denise’s best friend organized the spaghetti supper and raffle at Events on Broadway, the old Eagles hall.
“It was one of those things where we were totally humbled and overwhelmed,” said Calkins. “All of my piano students and their families, people from all different parts of our life, people we hadn’t seen in years and people we see all the time. It was like a wedding reception.”
Konkel took care of desserts. A prodigious baker with an ample two-oven kitchen, Konkel and a few friends cranked out 20 oatmeal cakes with caramelized coconut icing using a recipe she learned at age 8, when she and her mom used to bake goodies for their father/husband, a captain in the Navy. She also churned out 1,900 chocolate chip cookies.
The cookies were auctioned off – 200 a month for three months, is what Konkel pledged – but the cakes were intended for dessert at the spaghetti dinner. Twenty tables, 10 people per table, one cake per table is how she figured it.
“Sometimes you go to these spaghetti dinners and the food isn’t that great,” she said. “Well, the food was good, so people were not really hungry for desserts.”
Not wanting to return home with all those baked goods, and hoping to raise as much money as possible for the Calkinses, Konkel suggested selling off the remaining cookies and untouched oatmeal cakes, which, with nutmeg and cinnamon, are close cousins of spice cakes.
Anyway, out the door they went (boosting the take to more than $5,000 to help the Calkinses rebuild their home), the cookies in sandwich-type plastic bags and the caramelized coconut in 9-by-13-inch Pyrex pans, with neither address labels nor a request for their return.
“We were working hard that night,” Konkel said Tuesday morning in her immaculate Cape Elizabeth kitchen. “I wasn’t focused on (cake pans) as much as I was on raising as much money as we could.”
The APB (All Pans Bulletin) went out the next day to Calkins and the other organizers. Gradually, as Calkins spread the word among her piano students, the pans came trickling back, one or two per week. Thirteen found their way to their familiar kitchen drawer (beneath a vast glass crock of chocolate chips whose equal might be found in Hagrid’s hut) before the flow dried up.
“When I stopped getting them in,” Calkins said, “I said, ‘You know, Susie. You’re probably not going to get your pans back. I’m really sorry.’ And I said, ‘When you do this next time, just buy those cheap aluminum ones.’ “
Undaunted, Konkel continued her cooking, donating baked goods to favorite organizations such as Ducks Unlimited, the Maine Children’s Cancer Program and the Portland Symphony Orchestra. Still, she missed the seven pans still on the lam. One, in particular.
See, one of those Pyrex pans came wrapped in wedding paper and has been in the Konkel family since 1960, when Susan Donnell traded marriage vows with Harry W. Konkel. Mother taught daughter how to soak old-fashioned oats in boiling water before adding the other ingredients, so the carefully wrapped cake for father on some distant destroyer or aircraft carrier halfway across the world would always arrive moist.
Actually, the pans originally came in a pair. There were two, until that awful day in Virginia, when Susie was 10 and pulling an oatmeal cake from a hot oven. She still remembers the oven mitts – one green and yellow and the other green and white – and the sound of broken glass after the pan slipped from her grasp.
“I was devastated,” said Konkel, who has used potholders instead of oven mitts ever since. “It was a cake for my dad.”
Her mom wasn’t angry or upset. She told her daughter, “Well, things break.”
Susan Donnell Konkel died almost three years ago. Susie treasures those kitchen moments with her mom, and somewhere in southern Maine is a Pyrex cake pan bubbling over with memories. If she gets it back, she promises a gallon-sized bag of homemade chocolate chip cookies as a reward.
“The Mystery of the Missing Cake Pans,” Calkins said in a hushed voice. “Well, I’m sure if you put it in the paper anybody who reads it will say, ‘Omigosh, I have one of those pans!’ “
Anyone with information on the missing cake pans can reach Konkel at 767-7770 or 838-5516. She originally wrote a letter to the editor, but agreed a story might reach more readers, particularly those who remember licking the beaters and scooping cookie dough from the bowl.
“What can I say,” Konkel said with a hopeful shrug. “I’m sentimental.”
Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: [email protected]