Coca-Cola Cake and a Culinary Homecoming

One Lower Alabama newcomer knows you don’t have to grow up in the South to be raised on Southern food.

Portrait of Marissa Deal holding a plate of Coca-Cola Cake
Marissa Deal // Photos by Meggan Haller, Keyhole Photo

Growing up in Colorado as the daughter of two parents raised in Alabama, I quickly became aware that I ate “weird food.” I distinctly recall having a friend over for a sleepover and her telling me that the cheesy bacon grits my parents served us with our breakfast that morning were “gross.”

Over the years, I learned to hide the pimento cheese sandwich and cold leftover fried chicken in my lunch box and not to invite friends over for dinner for our strange turnip greens or our, as one friend described it, “furry” fried okra. After a while, I stopped requesting these foods at all when at home and filled my lunch boxes with turkey sandwiches and chips like the other kids had.

However, I continued to live a secret double life when I visited my grandparents’ houses in Headland, Alabama, (near Dothan) each summer and ate my fill of boiled peanuts, sweet potato pie and potlikker with extra glugs of my Pop’s homemade pepper sauce.

As I got older, I didn’t visit my grandparents as often, instead staying in Denver working summer jobs. Then I went to college, got married and established my life in Denver, all but forgetting about the foods and flavors that shaped my childhood. That is, until my husband and I moved to Spanish Fort. Suddenly, my palate reawakened and my husband, who after so many years thought he knew everything about me, watched with mouth hanging open in surprise as I put pepper sauce in turnip greens or explained that Coca-Cola absolutely can, and should, go in a cake. I started ordering shrimp and grits, said I wanted my tea sweetened (the way it was always meant to be) and delighted in sides of fried green tomatoes with comeback sauce. It has been fun introducing my husband to the culinary delights of the South. And, like reuniting with a dear old friend, I can only say that I regret it took me so long.

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Two pieces of Coca-Cola Cake on a plate
Shot on location at Sugar Kettle Cafe

Marissa’s Coca-Cola Cake

Deal’s great aunt shared this recipe with the family on an old dog-eared index card.

1 1/2 cups mini marshmallows
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa 
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 cup Coca-Cola
2 eggs, beaten 
1 teaspoon baking soda 
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
dash of salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a saucepan, mix marshmallows, cocoa, oil, butter and Coca-Cola. Bring to a boil and stir occasionally until well blended. Remove from heat and cool slightly. 

2. In a separate bowl, add eggs and baking soda to the buttermilk and stir until combined. Add to the saucepan mixture and stir ingredients together. 

3. In a medium-sized bowl, combine flour, sugar and salt. Add liquids from the saucepan into the bowl of dry ingredients and stir by hand. 

4. Pour final mixture into a greased 9-by-13-inch pan. Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Serves 12 – 16


1 stick butter or margarine
3 tablespoons cocoa unsweetened
6 tablespoons cola
1 box (approximately 4 cups) confectioner’s sugar
1 cup chopped pecans or peanuts

In a saucepan, combine butter, cocoa and cola. Bring to a boil and gradually add confectioner’s sugar. Beat well and then stir in nuts. Pour on the cake as soon as it comes out from the oven.

Marissa Deal is enjoying her new life in Spanish Fort with husband Clint, two dogs and two new rescue kittens. When not indulging in her passion for creative writing, food and travel, she provides compassionate care to her patients as an acute care physical therapist assistant.

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