Those lucky enough to know Chester resident Frances Sullivan are likely no stranger to her signature pound cake.
“My husband was so funny,” Sullivan said. When someone would tell her how good her cake was, “he said, ‘When you see her, just waive at her and she’ll bring you one!’”
Sullivan gives away most of the many cakes she makes. A page from a notepad hangs on the side of her refrigerator and is covered in tally marks – one for each of the 255 cakes she’s baked since Jan. 1. Last year, she baked 313 cakes, she said.
Sullivan then opened her freezer door, revealing a space filled with large and small cakes.
“I don’t even have ice cubes in here, because I don’t have room for them,” she said, laughing. Her niece, Brenda, will pick up four or five cakes at a time and give them to people, she said.
“If they love my cakes, I’m going to keep baking as long as I can,” she said.
She and her late husband, Frank, have four sons: Mike, Jerry, Frank and Pat. When Sullivan moved to her apartment in the Chester Village Green, Mike bought the family home on Falling Creek Reservoir.
“Well, all my life, I guess, I’ve cooked and baked,” Sullivan said Friday morning. Though her oven wasn’t on, the sweet smell of pound cake lingered in the air in her apartment.
“Since I’ve been here, I’ve baked so much more because I have more time,” she said. “After I got here, I started making one recipe into two loaf cakes. I’ve enjoyed making the small ones.”
She’s been making her signature cake for more than a decade, and its reputation has grown.
Her son Jerry once took an extra cake back with him to his office in Virginia Beach. Since that day 11 years ago, Sullivan has sent a cake to the office on the first Monday of every month, she said.
“It’s fun,” she said. “It makes me feel good that people enjoy them.”
In April, a group of Sullivan’s friends let her know how much they enjoy her, her cakes and her hugs, which she also gives freely. One woman, Bernice Jones, wrote a poem about Sullivan titled Pound Cake Frances. After they read the poem, her friends at Meadowbrook Country Club lifted a sheet to reveal 50 pounds of flour, 30 pounds of sugar, “I don’t know how much Reynolds Wrap,” extracts and bags, she said.
“I was flabbergasted to think that anybody would do that,” she said.
Another friend recently gave Sullivan six bags of flour, she said. During Friday’s interview, the friend called and asked if she needed more.
“Everybody’s so nice and so generous,” she said. She thinks people have taken to giving her cake-making materials because she gives so many cakes away. “They bought me 12 dozen eggs a couple weeks ago. There’s so many nice people out there.”
Among those nice people is Sullivan’s neighbor, who was her best friend long before they moved into the apartment building, she said. Her best friend got the pound cake recipe from a neighbor and gave it to Sullivan, she said.
But, the five-flavor pound cake recipe is no secret. “It’s in all the books,” she said. But, she does one thing differently: When she started making so many cakes, she began letting them cool in the pan for 15 minutes and then turning them out, wrapping them immediately in aluminum foil and putting them in the freezer.
“I, personally, think doing it that way is what keeps them moist,” she said. “Nobody heard of that before.”
Because she only has one large pan, she only bakes two cakes together when she makes two smaller cakes, she said. She sometimes makes as many as three cakes in one day, she said, and she’s had as many as 15 in her freezer.
Many people don’t make cakes at home anymore, she said. “If you really ask people, they never buy flour or stuff because they don’t bake, but they love eating it,” she said.
Sometimes, they may love eating it a little too much. Sullivan said she once asked one of her sons to take her friend, Bud, a cake for his birthday. Soon, Bud’s wife, Mary, called Sullivan and asked if she could have a piece of Bud’s cake; the birthday boy was, it seemed, unwilling to share.
“I said, ‘Put him on the phone and I’ll tell him where to go,’” she said, laughing.
Sullivan recalled a story of another man who, when he learned one of her sons was delivering a cake, tagged along on the delivery, and even took the cake into the recipients’ house and cut it himself.
“They’re so funny about it,” she said. “It’s almost gotten to be a joke. … Everywhere I go, someone’s got something to say about wanting a cake.”
But Sullivan, a self-described “big hugger,” knows that what she does is about more than supplying people with desserts.
“If you can do anything that makes another person happy, it makes you feel good,” she said. “If you can make somebody else feel good, you’re going to feel good.”