Once upon a time, Margaret Garrish, an Ocracoke housewife, wanted to bake a date cake. But here she was, stuck on an island, with no dates in her pantry, so she substituted with something she had on hand: fig preserves. Thus, the Ocracoke fig cake (as we know it today) was born.
Before Margaret had her necessity-as-the-mother-of-invention moment with the date cake, the Ocracoke Fig Cake was made with much simpler recipe. According to the vintage “green” cookbook, Ocracoke cooks used a “regular butter cake recipe” baked in thin layers, then spread a quart of fig preserves between the layers. (Fun fact: an “Ocracoke Chocolate Cake” is a yellow cake baked in thin layers with chocolate fudge frosting in between.)
Margaret was born on Ocracoke in 1936, grew up in Norfolk, VA, and returned to Ocracoke in 1956 when she married Danny Garrish. She and Danny raised four children on Ocracoke (three still live here) before he passed away in 1991. Margaret was active in the United Methodist Church and served on the Hyde County Board of Education for eleven years. She died in 2002, leaving behind her four children, nine grandchildren, two sisters, and the legacy of the Ocracoke Fig Cake that the island considers the Traditional Recipe.
By the time the United Methodist Women published their “yellow” cookbook in ‘70’s, four women submitted the same basic recipe, but Margaret’s was listed first.
- 3 eggs
- 1 1/2 c. sugar
- 1 c. salad (vegetable) oil
- 1/2 c. buttermilk
- 2 c. flour
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
- 1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
- 1 1/2 tsp. baking soda dissolved in 1 Tbsp. warm water
- 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
- 1 c. fig preserves
- 1 1/2 c. chopped nuts
Beat 3 eggs; add sugar and oil. After sifting dry ingredients, add to egg mixture alternatively with buttermilk. Add vanilla and fold in figs and nuts. Pour into a greased and floured loaf pan and bake at 325 degrees for 45 minutes, or in a greased and floured bundt pan at 350 degrees just a little longer. You can also add a second cup of fig preserves and bake a little longer, approximately one hour.