Bless Your Spoon: Tis the season: A ‘spirit’ of giving tasty treats

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 6, 2018

Claudette Weston’s reputation precedes her.

If it didn’t, I might not have believed she personally baked more than 700 rum cakes in her kitchen and gave them as gifts over the holiday season — but,  it’s true — 742 to be exact.

Now that’s no small feat in itself — this gal is a mover and shaker if there ever was one. Weston’s fame for baking and delivering rum cakes for people to whom she was most grateful as a way to say thank you, sealed her notoriety as one of the most extraordinary women in our area.

Directly on the heels of amazing, what comes to mind is adding “wonder woman” to an already lengthy list of attributes for which she’s well-known. Claudette’s no lightweight — she’s a force to be reckoned with.

But, she didn’t just bake her way into fame. She established herself and her influence over years of giving and personal acts of service. Claudette shared with me some personal memories of her family and the values they instilled in her.

“Giving’s just always been a part of my life. My mother was like that. My grandmother was like that. It’s just the walk they were on their entire life. My father died when I was 9. We were taught to give back. We didn’t know those words back then, but if someone got sick, the norm was to go and help. That’s the way we grew up. Then when Joel and I got married, he had grown up the same way, he was like that too.”

Claudette and Joel Weston are most well-known for creating the Joel and Claudette Weston Award which recognizes excellence in nonprofit management at local health or human service organizations. Award recipients are judged on the quality of their financial and personnel management, services to clients, program effectiveness, marketing, and other significant achievements.

They’ve come a long way with this award over the years. Joel died in 1984. The award was established the next year by his family and friends to honor his vision and dedication to the community. He’d been very involved for years with United Way, Crisis Control and many other non-profits. What started out as an award for $500 has now grown to $50,000 for the year 2019 in support of the award-winning company’s mission.

Claudette recollected her younger years when she was just getting involved with Amos Cottage and joined a guild to raise money — probably her first big board. People were signing up for what they would bring to an invitational event — the first guild meeting — and she was asked to bring coffee, tea, sugar, and cream.

“I knew I could bring one or two but not it all. I couldn’t afford it all. I was tutoring, selling makeup, and I didn’t even wear makeup, doing anything to earn a buck. I had four children, and Joel was working at Hanes Dye and Finish Co. I didn’t have money for myself much less to give to someone else. But I always found a way to give to the people in my community.”

Claudette’s probably been involved in any organizations that have to do with children, education, athletics, or the arts. She’s also committed to wildlife — nongame such as turtles — and on a clean water trust board.

“I’ve been involved on some board dealing with one of those things my entire adult life — 35 or more boards over my life.”

The greatest influence on her life was her mother who lived until she was 94 — she was never sick and never complained. Her father died when she was 9, so her mother worked and put Claudette through college. Claudette enjoys remembering and talking about the strong women in her life. She described her mother as a woman way before her time — with a great sense of humor.

“My liberal nature has much to do with the women in my life — strong women — such a good influence. My mother was 35 when my dad died — he was 43 — he was older. She never married again. She toughed it out.”

The children were taught how to mow yards, trim hedges and do most other yard work. They were a churchgoing family, and taught to give back to God. Being raised Baptist, tithing was an important part of their faith.

“My grandmother taught us how to cook.  We grew up in the country and were very poor. My mother raised three girls single handedly. She was a beautiful auburn-haired little woman — Rebee is what we and everyone else called her.”

Claudette’s dad had a trucking company. After he died, her mother had to hire drivers for the company. On her mother’s 80th birthday celebration, one of the drivers came back for the party and shared a story.

“She had a phone installed in his house, so he could be in touch with his wife while he was out of town on the truck — just so he could stay in touch with his family. That’s just the kind of person she was. She was responsible for our having nondiscriminatory attitudes.”

Claudette feels her greatest challenge in helping the community is money. Aside from that, the challenge is observing the group that needs your help, making sure they are doing all the right things.

“You want to make sure they are managing their organization well, making sure it’s something you want to be part of, they’re reputable, the money going for the best cause, and doing what they say they are going to.”

Today, more and more people have gotten to a point where they want to know exactly where their donated money goes. Claudette believes huge not-for-profit companies have to pay the price to get a really good leader. If they have a good leader then that filters down into other business dealings. One of the best things a company can do is help people help themselves by giving them jobs, teaching them skills.

I asked Claudette the question everyone wants to know.

“How in the world did your idea of giving a rum cake as a gift evolve to the epic number that it did?”

“One year, Joel and I decided to give rum cakes for Christmas, maybe 20 to people he worked with and a few friends. The next few years, we added our personal doctors, some people we just liked, we added on board members for organizations we were on. The last batch totaled 742 rum cakes made, dripped and delivered. We made them in my kitchen. It was a really crazy thing. When our guest house emptied out, we used that kitchen and our main kitchen — that gave us two stoves. Four cakes could bake for 37-40 minutes, then you had to take them out and drip them with butter, sugar, and rum. We had about four people helping, maybe five. If you came to visit and you sat down in my breakfast room, I’d put you to work. No one wanted to come the two weeks after Thanksgiving. Friday after Thanksgiving it started and took two to three weeks, every day and night. We would start early at 8 and baked until 11 p.m. Then clean the mess up.”

Claudette used a recipe off the Bacardi rum bottle. For years, people raved about her rum cakes. Everyone who received one loved it. Many told her it was the best gift they’d ever received. Her rum cakes have been delivered to the embassy in Afghanistan to her unofficially adopted son who’s in the Marines.

 “When I quit, I sent an email out to let people know I was retiring from making rum cakes. But, then I sent many people an apron with the recipe on it, which was printed upside down so they could read it while they were baking the cake.”

Claudette admits most of the fun was in the spirit of Christmas and delivering the cakes to the hospital, doctors, and lawyers offices.

“It was amazing how happy it made people — I mean, really, it was just a cake. I took one to the police station too. I probably added some extra rum, but don’t tell anyone though. I hope no one got arrested for driving.”

I think she must have gotten her mother’s sense of humor.

The funniest thing that ever happened was the year they mailed out 100 cakes. A little, old man from New York contacted Claudette to tell her he had slept much better from the end of November through December.

“Could it be because you had a little cake with a little toddy?” she wrote back.

Claudette’s gift giving doesn’t stop there though. She has also delivered more than 100 cheese balls as gifts at the holidays and still sends well over 700 Christmas cards.

Giving back makes her feel wonderful. Claudette believes giving makes the person giving feel better than the receiver, sometimes.

“I’m not so sure we don’t do it for that reason — doesn’t it make you feel good when doing? I always talked about paying it forward before that was a thing, I know giving is contagious. There’s always something to give — not necessarily money.”

Her children are givers, too. A friend of the family has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and her boys have taken up the cause, committing to helping him sell his car.

“Just a small thing to help someone else. I see the giving in my children now more and more. They’re following in my footsteps the same way I followed in my mother’s. I see young people who have not been taught to give back.”

We talked about some of the ways ordinary citizens can help their community.

“There are so many organizations looking for good people to volunteer and serve on their boards. Call me, and I can sign you up on any number of boards. Everyone is looking for someone to be on their board. There are so many needs.”

Claudette’s church, St. Timothy, has filled a unique community need. There are many babies who die, and no one claims them. Some die in the hospital as preemies and are left there. People leave their dead babies without being buried. The church gives them a real funeral. An Eagle Scout built a place to ring a bell when a baby is buried. St. Timothy’s has buried 30 babies. Their priest, Steve Rice, has found a way to give a funeral and dignity for these abandoned children. Some people just can’t afford to bury them, so they’re buried at the church.

For giving back, Claudette feels one must have a lot of love, a lot of joy, a lot of peace, a lot of grace, good health, lots of happiness, and much fun mixed with fellowship.

“If you have all that, you can do so much for so many people. The ideas just come to you if you have these things in your heart. This came from my Baptist background. But, you must have fun and good fellowship with your folks — the people you are involved with in giving back.”

Many people have difficulty taking their first step toward community service.  It’s a good idea to chose an organization that has a personal meaning to you.

Claudette still dreams of how she could make her community a better place. “My dream would be to educate everyone and get them a job, so we wouldn’t have the problems we have today. Work together to help young people get ahead. Get people who have the money to give more money.”

Above all else, Claudette knows how to encourage gratitude. “People would call and ask why I didn’t bring them a cake. I’d write their name down and take them one the next year.”

On the eye floor of the hospital, one of the doctors saved her mother’s eyesight.

“I probably took 10 cakes just to that one floor.”

Enjoy the following recipes for spirited cakes including Weston’s famous rum cake – one might just help make someone else’s season a bit brighter.


½ cup chopped pecans

1 box Duncan Hines yellow cake mix (no pudding)

4 eggs

½ cup Wesson oil

½ cup rum

½ cup water


1 stick salted butter

¼ cup water

1 cup sugar

½ cup rum

Spray a Bundt pan generously with Baker’s Joy. Add nuts in bottom of the pan. In a mixer, combine cake mix, eggs, oil, rum, and water. Pour into the cake pan. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 35-40 minutes until done. Invert and turn out on the tray.

While cake is baking, melt butter in a saucepan. Add water and sugar. Bring to a light boil and then remove from heat. Stir in rum. While cake is hot, drip sauce over top and sides of cake.


1 cup chopped pecans (optional)

1 box Duncan Hines yellow cake mix

1 (3 ¾ oz.) pkg. instant vanilla pudding

4 beaten eggs

½ cup cold water

½ cup Wesson oil

½ cup Bacardi dark rum


1 stick salted butter

¼ cup water

1 cup sugar

½ cup Bacardi dark rum

Grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan. Sprinkle nuts in bottom of the pan. In a mixer, combine cake mix, pudding, eggs, water, oil, and rum. Pour batter over nuts. Bake in a 325-degree oven for 1 hour. Invert cake on serving plate. In a saucepan, melt butter. Stir in water and sugar. Bring to a boil for 5 minutes while stirring. Remove from heat and stir in rum. Prick holes in top and sides. Drizzle the glaze over top and sides while the cake is still hot.


1 cup Crisco shortening

2 cups sugar

4 eggs

3 cups all-purpose flour

½ tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. soda

½ tsp salt

1 cup buttermilk

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 tsp. rum flavoring


½ cup butter

½ cup sugar

¼ cup water

1 Tbsp. rum flavoring

1 tsp. vanilla

In a mixer, cream sugar and shortening. Add beaten eggs, one at a time. Mix dry ingredients, and add to egg mixture alternating with buttermilk. Add flavorings. In a well-greased and floured tube pan, bake in a 325-degree oven for 45 minutes or until done. Let cake cool 10 minutes. Invert and poke holes in tops and sides. For sauce, dissolve butter and sugar in water. Add rum and vanilla. Pour over top and sides of cake while still warm.


1 box Duncan Hines yellow cake mix

1 (3 ¾ oz.) pkg. instant vanilla pudding

4 eggs

1 cup Wesson oil

1 cup water

1 tsp. vanilla

2 tsp. rum flavoring


1 cup sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

½ cup water

2 tsp. rum flavoring

In a mixer, combine cake mix, pudding, eggs, oil, water, vanilla, and rum. Mix well. Pour into a greased and floured tube pan. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes. While warm, cover with sauce.

For sauce, combine sugar and water. Bring to a boil for 3 minutes. Add flavorings. Pour over cake while warm.


5 cups flour

1 pound white sugar

1 pound brown sugar

 6 eggs, separated

3 sticks softened, salted butter

1-pint rum

1 pound chopped pecans

½ pound chopped dates or raisins

1 pound candied cherries

2 tsp. nutmeg

2 tsp. baking powder

Soak cherries and dates (raisins) overnight in rum. In a mixer, cream sugar and butter until fluffy. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating well between each. Add soaked fruit, flour, nutmeg, and baking powder, and mix well. Fold in beaten egg whites and mix well. Fold in nuts last. Grease and flour a tube pan. Bake in a 275-degree oven for 3 hours or until done.


3 ½ cups vanilla wafer crumbs

1 cup confectioners sugar

1 cup chopped pecans

¼ cup unsweetened cocoa

1/3 cup light or dark rum

1/3 cup light corn syrup

½ cup confectioners sugar

In a mixer, mix crumbs with confectioner’s sugar, pecans, and cocoa. Stir in rum and corn syrup. Shape into 1-inch balls, roll in confectioner’s sugar. Store in tightly covered container.


2 cups chopped walnuts

2 cups crushed vanilla wafers

3 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa

2 cups confectioners sugar

¼ cup melted butter

½ tsp. vanilla extract

¼ cup dark rum

Confectioners sugar (optional)

In a bowl, combine pecans, wafers, cocoa, and sugar. In a mixer, combine butter, vanilla, and rum. Add pecan mixture and mix well. Shape into 1-inch balls and roll in additional sugar if desired.


1 Duncan Hines white cake mix

½ tsp rum extract

½ tsp vanilla extract


1 stick softened butter

2 cup confectioners sugar plus more

¼ cup dark rum

1 cup chopped pecans

In a mixer, prepare cake mix according to directions or make your own. Add rum and vanilla extracts. Pour into a well-greased and flour miniature muffin pan. Bake in a 325-degree oven for 20 minutes or until done. Cool and cut into miniature squares. For icing, cream butter and sugar. Add rum and more if needed. Ice cakes and roll in pecans, coating well.


3 sticks softened, salted butter

2 cups sugar

1 ¼ cups packed light brown sugar

8 eggs

5 cups sifted, all-purpose flour

¼ tsp. salt

1 tsp. mace

1 ½ cups bourbon

3 ½ cups chopped pecans

In a mixer, cream butter with both sugars. Beat until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, and beat until light and fluffy. Sift dry ingredients. Add flour mixture to egg mixture alternating with bourbon. Fold in pecans. Mix well. Pour into a well-greased and floured tube pan. Bake in a 300-degree oven for 1 ½-1 ¾ hours or until done. Cool.


3 cups crushed vanilla wafers

1 cup chopped pecans

½ cup bourbon

1 cup confectioners sugar

½ cup cocoa

3 Tbsp. light corn syrup

1 cup shredded coconut

In a mixer, combine wafers and chopped nuts. In a separate bowl, mix bourbon, sugar, cocoa, and corn syrup. Add bourbon mixture to wafer mixture and mix well. Shape into 1½-inch balls and roll in coconut. Refrigerate.


1 pound butter

3 cups sugar

8 eggs, separated

3 cups sifted cake flour

¼ tsp. salt

2 Tbsp. bourbon

3 tsp. vanilla

½ cup pecans

In a mixer, cream butter and sugar. Add egg yolks one at a time. Beat well after each one. Add cake flour and salt. Beat egg whites until stiff. Fold into butter mixture. Add bourbon, vanilla and beat all until mixed well. Put chopped nuts in the bottom of the pan. Pour mixture on top. Bake in a well-greased and floured tube pan in a 325-degree oven for 1½ hours. Let cool before turning out.


2 cups sifted, all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking soda

¼ tsp. salt

¼ cup dry, instant coffee or espresso

Boiling water

Cold water

½ cup bourbon

1 cup softened, salted butter

1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract

2 cups sugar

3 large eggs

3 oz. melted unsweetened chocolate

2 oz. melted German’s sweet chocolate

Powdered cocoa to dust pan

2 Tbsp. bourbon

Confectioners sugar

Whipped cream

Dissolve coffee in a very small amount of boiling water. In a 2 cup liquid measure, add dissolved coffee and cold water up to the 1½ cup line. Stir in ½ cup bourbon. In a mixer, cream butter and sugar. Add vanilla and beat well. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until smooth after each addition. Add melted chocolates and beat until smooth. On low speed, add flour, soda, and salt, alternating with the coffee-bourbon and water mixture. Grease and flour a 9-inch tube pan and dust it with powdered cocoa. Bake in a 325-degree oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until done. Cool cake in pan before turning out. Invert cake and sprinkle with remaining 2 Tbsp. bourbon. Serve with powdered sugar, sweetened whipped cream, and fresh fruit.


2 tsp. nutmeg (freshly grated is best)

1 cup bourbon

4 cups chopped pecans

2 cups raisins

3 cups sifted all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1 cup softened, salted butter

2 cups plus 4 tsp sugar

7 large eggs, divided

Dash of salt

Soak nutmeg in bourbon for 15 minutes. In a bowl, combine pecans, raisins and 1 cup sifted flour. In another bowl, combine remaining 2 cups flour with baking powder and sift twice. In a mixer, cream butter and sugar. Add egg yolks 1 at a time and beat until smooth. Add flour mix and bourbon alternately. Blend well. Fold in raisin-nut-flour mixture. Beat egg whites and salt until stiff. Gently fold in egg whites. Pour batter in a greased and floured 9-inch tube pan. Bake in a 325-degree oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Cool for 30 minutes before removing from pan.


1 box crushed vanilla wafers

1 ½ cups ground pecans

1 ½ cup confectioners sugar

4 oz. bourbon

Confectioners sugar

In a mixer, combine wafers, pecans sugar, and bourbon. Roll into balls and roll in additional sugar.

Hints: For a gift, using a fluted Bundt cake pan adds to the appeal, but you can use either a Bundt or a tube pan for the cake recipes. When using a cake mix, use either a plain cake mix and add a small box of pudding mix or use a cake mix with pudding included in the mix, and don’t add extra pudding mix.