The Etown Carrot Cake Tradition
Written by Rebecca Easton, Class of 2019
If you’re sitting in the Blue Bean Café during a typical school day, you’ll overhear at least one tour guide mention a “fun little tradition” to a prospective family. If you dare to look up from your work, you’ll see the tour guide hand a small orange slip to the Dining Services employee in charge, and in return the tour guide and family will receive a carefully crafted cupcake in a clear plastic clamshell container. You probably can’t smell it over the scents of Starbucks coffee grounds, but one glance at the amber delicacy is enough to inform you—it’s an Elizabethtown College carrot cake.
With over 100 years of history, it’s easy for some facets of Etown’s traditions to slip through the cracks. Still, we can try to follow the crumb trail of Etown’s carrot cake. So, let’s start with the location closely tied to the tradition—the Back Door Bakery.
The aptly-named bakery could be accessed from the rear of Myer Hall, and was open to the community. One of the key items sold at the bakery was, as you’ve probably guessed, carrot cake.
Library Technician Sharon Patrick spent five years of her career at the College not in the library, but at the Back Door Bakery.
“Each student on tour got an 8-inch single layer carrot cake with cream cheese frosting,” Patrick said. “They would end the campus tour at the bakery. This would hopefully have them or their parents also make a purchase.”
According to Patrick, who was a clerk at the bakery from 1978 to 1983, the carrot cake gifts for prospective students came shortly after the formation of the Back Door Bakery. This was before Patrick began working there.
In a 2014 interview with the Elizabethtown College Magazine, then-lead cook Sue McSherry recalled that about 35 years ago (closer to 40 now!), “her former boss wanted to start a tradition of serving carrot cake at open houses.” And, according to McSherry, the recipe hasn’t changed—if you grab a carrot cake from the Blue Bean, you’re grabbing a piece of Back Door Bakery history!
To go back further, Patrick said she thought it was a favorite dessert for one of the College’s past presidents and was served at all of the events during his term, a tradition that stuck after his leaving the College.
These are the affirmations of two Back Door Bakery experts, who had first-hand experience with the carrot cake. Still, it seems that no one quite remembers just how the tradition started. Is there perhaps some long-lost documentation that explains the whole thing? Or did carrot cake appear on our plates like a well-timed, delicious ghost?
Let’s go over what we do know—carrot cake made its debut on campus in the 70s at the latest. Then, the Back Door Bakery came around and provided an avenue for the College to entice its prospective students with a unique Etown flavor. Though the Back Door Bakery has since closed, the carrot cakes have lingered, with a recipe older than current students that still has an undeniably savory taste.
Perhaps there’s a secret ingredient—mystery.
(Or maybe it’s just a pinch of spice. We don’t make them, we just eat them.)