CAKE LAYERS

  • 1¼ sticks butter, softened
  • 1¾ cups sugar
  • 1¾ ounces French vanilla instant pudding mix
  • 4 eggs
  • 1¾ cups milk
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon Yah’s Best gourmet vanilla extract
  • 3 cups self-rising flour, sifted
  • 1½ cups hoop cheese, grated
  • 6 packs Lance Toastchee crackers

FROSTING

  • 1 cup solid vegetable shortening
  • ¼ cup butter, softened
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 3 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • peanut butter (see recipe)

PEANUT BUTTER

  • 2 cups Bakers’ peanuts, lightly roasted
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • ½ teaspoon salt

NAB CRUMB GARNISH

  • 12 packs Lance Toastchee crackers

Preheat oven to 350˚. Spray three 8-inch-square baking pans.

CAKE

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed, cream butter until fluffy. In separate bowl, combine sugar and pudding mix and slowly add to butter. Continue to cream on medium speed for 6-8 minutes.
  1. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  1. Combine milk, oil, and extract. Alternating on low speed, add flour to butter mixture, beginning and ending with flour. Stop occasionally to scrape down bowl.
  1. Gently fold in cheese by hand with spatula.
  1. Divide batter equally between baking pans. Bake for 25-35 minutes until done.
  1. Cool in pans for 10 minutes. Invert cakes onto cooling racks to cool completely.

PEANUT BUTTER

Put peanuts in food processor, and pulse until fine. Add oil and salt. Continue to pulse to make creamy peanut butter.

FROSTING

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed, cream shortening and butter.
  1. Add almond extract.
  1. Gradually mix in sugar, one cup at a time, scraping sides and bottom of bowl several times.
  1. Add milk and syrup, and continue to beat on medium speed until light and fluffy.
  1. Blend in peanut butter.

NAB CRUMB GARNISH

Open crackers, and remove peanut-butter filling. Crumble crackers into fine pieces.

ASSEMBLY

  1. Place bottom layer on cake plate. Spread frosting on top of layer.
  1. Lay crackers (four rows of four whole crackers) across, and press gently into the frosting.
  1. Lightly spread more frosting across top of crackers, and top with second cake layer.
  1. Repeat frosting-crackers-frosting layering. Top with third cake layer.
  1. Frost top and sides of cake.
  1. Sprinkle cracker crumbs evenly over top and sides of cake. Press into frosting.

Nabs

If Phillip Lance hadn’t loaned a customer money in the early 1900s, that man wouldn’t have paid Lance back in peanuts, and Lance wouldn’t have turned those peanuts into peanut butter, and his wife and daughter wouldn’t have suggested spreading that peanut butter in between two crackers, and local mill workers wouldn’t have had such a perfect snack to get them through the day, and generations of grandfathers would have had to find a different treat to give their grandkids, and drivers would be a little hungrier, and breast pockets all across North Carolina would crackle less.

Without Nabs, we wouldn’t be empty, but we wouldn’t be nearly as full.

The Toastchee brand of Lance crackers, in particular, is a part of the Carolinas’ culture. It became popular in the 1920s and ’30s, when Charlotte was a textile center. “The packaged crackers were a godsend for people who had to be in a loom room all day,” says Dr. Tom Hanchett, the staff historian of the Levine Museum of the New South.

Around the same time as Lance’s rise, Nabisco opened a regional bakery in Charlotte and started producing packaged crackers. With two versions of the same item, people began to adopt the shorter nickname, Nabs.

There are dozens of varieties of snack crackers all over the country now, but here in the Carolinas, the Lance Toastchee is ours. And we call it Nabs. And we don’t know where we’d be without it.

Yah’s Best Products

The little girl had a hitch in her speech, and no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t say, “Grandma.” So she called her grandmother Yah.

The little girl had a littler sister, and the two little girls had happy, young parents. They went to church one rainy Sunday morning 14 years ago, this little family, and they were on their way back to their Charlotte home when their Toyota Camry hydroplaned, spun, and hit a van. The parents — Dad at 26 and Mom at 25 — died instantly. The little girls, 3 years old and 11 months old, were unharmed.

This is how Yah saved her family.

Suzanne McCord Crawford thought she had finished raising kids when her cell phone rang on October 26, 1997. She had two children, and her oldest was Jason. He was successful in the home construction field, installing granite and marble surfaces. Jason had a wife named Heather, and they had two little girls.

Suzanne had been a nurse for nearly 20 years. She was divorced, and by 1997, she had cut back on her nursing hours to slow down. She did private nursing and opened a bed and breakfast. She lived on land near Huntersville, land her grandfather first bought in 1895.

That Sunday, Suzanne had been away at the beach with a girlfriend, and she was on her way home.

The phone rang when she was still five hours away. Jason and Heather were dead; the two little girls survived.

Suzanne went straight to the hospital, and she started doing things without thinking, things she needed to do because nobody else could. She took care of the formal paperwork and organ-donation matters. “And then I just wrapped the babies up and took them home with me,” Suzanne says.

Yah had those little girls from that day forward. Yah became their mother. Yah raised them in that home by herself, with the help of her surviving daughter, Paige. Paige had recently graduated from North Carolina State University when her brother and sister-in-law died. Paige was on her way to medical school, but she decided not to pursue that dream because the timing was no longer right: She couldn’t spend another eight years off in school when her mom and those two little girls needed some help.

We make sense of the world by breaking it into groups, narrower and narrower — from something as wide as being members of God’s kingdom to something as small as being members of one church. We find ourselves, as individuals, among others who are like us. The smallest unit will always be family.

And within every little family is an ordinary person who’s a hero to somebody.

Three years after Jason and Heather died, Suzanne knew she needed to find ways to make extra money. She and Paige began selling homemade salsa at the farmers market in Huntersville. Suzanne first served that salsa at a family party in 1995. A picture from that day shows Heather with her oldest daughter on her lap. Jason is in the chair across from them. The salsa’s on a little table in the middle.

Suzanne took seven jars to the farmers market that first weekend, and all of them sold. The next weekend, she took 14. All of them sold.

Suzanne is now 67 years old. And she and Paige run a business that includes more than 80 products — salsas, seasonings, dressings, flavorings — and those products are in specialty stores and restaurants all around North Carolina.

The business is called Yah’s Best Products. We used just one little teaspoon of Yah’s Best’s vanilla extract in our Nabs Cake. We couldn’t have made the cake without it.

The two little girls, by the way, they’re growing fast.

The older one, who gave Suzanne the nickname Yah, is now 17 years old and a senior in high school. Her name is Molly, and she’s just like her mother — quiet, private, organized, and committed. Molly is applying to colleges. She wants to work in forensics.

The younger one, less than a year old when her parents died, is now 15 and a sophomore in high school. Her name is Claire, and she’s just like her father — funny, personable, a social star. Claire wants to be on Broadway.

They have big dreams. But their grandmother has made something clear to them: If for any reason those dreams don’t come true, those two little girls always have a great, little company named Yah’s to fall back on.

Yah’s Best Products
Huntersville, N.C.
yahsbest.com
(704) 947-0011

Other North Carolina Products Used
Midstate Mills Flour
midstatemills.com

Bakers’ Peanuts
bakerspeanuts.com

Reliable Cheese Company
reliablecheese.com

Michael Graff is the senior editor of Our State magazine. His most recent stories were “Jacksonville’s Heroes” and “Pure Pinehurst” (January 2012).

Try the other quintessential North Carolina cakes that appeared originally with this one:
The Krispy Kreme Cake
The Maple Syrup & Country Ham Cake
The Pimento Cheese Cake
The Pepsi ‘N’ Peanuts Cake

This story was published on

Since 1933, Our State has shared stories about North Carolina with readers both in state and around the world. We celebrate the people and places that make this state great. From the mountains to the coast, we feature North Carolina travel, history, food, and beautiful scenic photography.