My Family Recipe

The 4-Layer Carrot Cake That's Remained the Same for Generations

A family recipe from my mother (and her mother).

June 25, 2019
Photo by Bobbi Lin. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine.

Good food is worth a thousand words—sometimes more. In My Family Recipe, a writer shares the story of a single dish that's meaningful to them and their loved ones.

My mother, Caroline Ragsdale Reutter of Caroline's Cakes, had a background in interior design, but good food was always a major ingredient in her life. And growing up in Lake City, South Carolina life revolved around entertaining. Caroline’s mother—my grandmother—was a fabulous cook and a gracious entertainer, and constantly entertained customers from my grandfather’s charcoal business, Ember’s Charcoal, with recipes that had been in our family for generations. There were weekly cookouts and delicious dinners with friends at Caroline’s childhood home, and whether it was a planned cocktail party or a last-minute barbecue, she quickly learned the enjoyment that food brings into everyone’s lives.

“I looked forward to family night dinners at my church when everyone contributes their best dishes," my mother said. "You knew who brought the best deviled eggs, the best fried chicken, and the best cakes, of course. Food brought us all together in happy times and sad. It was the core of our lives—the hospitality and the grace we learned to share."

Growing up with my mother, I don’t recall a time in the kitchen when the oven wasn’t on and a mixer wasn’t humming its way through another delicious recipe. It was always such a treat to help out during the baking process. Her now-famous seven-layer caramel cake was too delicate a recipe for me to help with during my brief visits home from school, but she would ask me to step into the kitchen with her to make our family's classic carrot cake.

The monotonous shredding of the carrots was always my task and it consumed all of my time until they were ready to be added to the cake batter and put in the oven. But the end result was worth it: four moist layers of carrot cake, filled and iced with the creamiest of cream cheese icings. It has remained one of my favorites to this day.

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Top Comment:
“I am having a family gathering this Sunday. Your story make me want to make this cake! It does sound delicious.”
— Joan S.

The most important part for Mom was the tradition behind the recipe, not just the ingredients. Each perfect bite covered with cream cheese icing brought back memories from childhood or family gatherings for so many people—and any alterations to the recipe would be immediately noticed (and shunned).

Whether it was a planned cocktail party or a last-minute barbecue, she quickly learned the enjoyment that food brings into everyone’s lives.

Even as Caroline’s Cakes has grown over the years, the recipe has remained the same and these wonderful memories of time spent in the kitchen with my mother always come back when I heat up the ovens and turn on our mixers. To me that’s the most amazing part about spending time in the kitchen. The ability that each recipe has to connect me to so many fond memories, traditions, and wonderful experiences is truly one of a kind. I feel lucky every day to be a part of the Caroline’s Cakes family and the community that surrounds it.

Got a family recipe you'd like to share? Email [email protected] for a chance to be featured.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Soncerae
  • Pamela Haskell
    Pamela Haskell
  • Joan Summers
    Joan Summers
  • HalfPint
  • Richard Reutter
    Richard Reutter


Soncerae July 1, 2019
I loved your story, it took me back in time to when I used to watch my dad cook. He was never a baker like your mom, but family always crowded his table at dinner time. Thank you for sharing your recipe I can’t wait to make it.
Pamela H. June 30, 2019
Canola oil isn't that old. It is a new oil since Canada coined it. Your title said generations. I am assuming two generations. I am 60 and Canola wasn't around when my grandmother made carrot cake. Disappointed by your title.
Author Comment
Richard R. June 30, 2019
I would love for you to make the recipe and see what you think! I hope you enjoy!

Eat Cake. Be Happy.

mary J. June 30, 2019
it must not take much to disappoint you - this recipe is classic whether you use canola oil or Mazola oil - it still tastes great no matter which oil was used years ago
Author Comment
Richard R. June 30, 2019
We are thrilled that you enjoy it! Thank you!
Eat Cake. Be Happy.
Joan S. June 27, 2019
I am having a family gathering this Sunday. Your story make me want to make this cake! It does sound delicious.
Author Comment
Richard R. June 27, 2019
You should! If you run out of time we could always send one to you as well (
Eat Cake. Be Happy.
HalfPint June 26, 2019
That was lovely. It felt like I was in the kitchen with you and your mother.