Anna’s lemon pound cake and other memories of growing up in Bonifay

Mike Balaban

In 1952, Red and Micki Balaban bought a cattle ranch five miles north of Bonifay and moved there with their three-month-old son, me.

Despite being northerners, we easily integrated into the community and remained residents until 1967. During that time, Micki and Red expanded their family with the addition of my brother Steve and our baby sister Rachel. 

Managing a growing family led our mom to realize she needed some assistance. She found a 

reliable helper in town, Anna Phillips, who became a steadfast presence in our lives throughout our time in Bonifay.

Anna played the role of surrogate mother, often driving us to town or to school events. She cooked our meals and maintained our home, and also imparted practical southern life lessons, like how to catch a fish. 

Among the memories of our time with Anna are the delicious meals she cooked for us, her infectious sense of humor, and visits to her home, where we ate salted watermelon on the porch.

Anna delighted us with her favorite dishes. Two recipes in particular captivated us so much that we asked her to write them down and teach us to make them: her lemon pound cake and her buttermilk biscuits. These recipes have endured for more than 65 years and we continue to savor both dishes today.

Recently, my brother Steve and I and our families relished Anna’s pound cake after our weekly Sunday dinner in San Diego, prompting this story.

Reflecting on our time as the sole Jewish family in Holmes County, we were uncertain whether we would be accepted. But we were. We went to temple in Dothan, Alabama, some weekends, but more often were to be found with our friends at services in their Baptist and Methodist churches. 

Years later, my classmate Mary Matthews reassured me. 

“My minister mama taught us that Jews were the chosen people,” she said. “And your family was just so exotic looking. We wanted to be y’all!” 

More than half a century after we left, I’m told what was once our 800-acre ranch on the Poplar Springs Road — we called it Lookout Plantation — is still called “the old Balaban place.”

The last time we saw Anna in person was in 2008 during a family visit to Bonifay. Despite a few added years, Anna remained unchanged, inquiring about each family member with the characteristic gleeful laugh we knew from our childhood days.

Anna died in 2015 and is buried in the Bonifay cemetery. She was special to us, and today we remember and celebrate her by continuing to use the recipes she taught us to love more than half a century ago.

Mike Balaban, an investment banker in New York City for many years, now lives in San Diego.

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