Wedding rituals have been at the heart of every cultural tradition, especially in the Philippines. They affirm our beliefs in family, love and life. Weddings offer everyone the promise of a good cry, a great party, good food. At the center of it is always a beautiful cake, tall, tiered, with creamy confections, ribbons and flowers -- a breathtaking creation that looks like a dream; and for generations of Filipinos, that dream was a cake by Gloria Nichols of The Rolling Pin.
Gloria Y. Nichols was born in Baguio city in 1917. Her parents were Esteban Galang and Eufemia Yandoc, who were part of a catering team from Tarlac and Pampanga. They provided food services for the American company that built Kennon Road going up to Baguio. Gloria’s father was a woodcarver by profession. As a young girl, Gloria worked in the Baguio City market selling handicrafts. This started her love for hand-woven tablecloths, napkins and table accessories.
She married Clinton H. Nichols from Binghamton, New York; he was a mess sergeant with the US Army. It was with him that Gloria learned all about American cooking and baking.
After World War II, Gloria worked at Little Home Bakery. Later, she partnered with Cavite businessman Antenor Virata and renowned physician Dr. Fe Ilano to open Country Bake Shop in Malate, then Manila’s affluent district. This bakeshop became the forerunner of coffee houses in Manila frequented by top newspaper columnists. After a while, Gloria decided to be on her own and opened The Rolling Pin Bake Shop on M.H. del Pilar also in Malate. Later the shop was at the Cartimar Market.
Her reputation for being the baker of beautiful cakes grew. She was a woman before her time in the Philippine baking and restaurant industry. Daughter Maridel Menguito Anama said, “A measure of fame was that mail from all over the Philippines without her address reached us at her San Juan home no matter what.”
Gloria Nichols’ creative mind turned out wedding cakes in many forms – from fountains to buildings. She pioneered in the personalized themes of cakes for weddings and birthdays. She sat down with her clientele – from Manila’s 500 – to discuss wedding and birthday cakes with unique party favors. She started this trend. “She made wedding cakes for the presidents’ families – the Magsaysays, Garcias, Macapagals and even the Marcoses,” said Maridel.
May and December in the Philippines were busy wedding months for The Rolling Pin. Gloria was famous for her butter-based pound cakes baked with premium ingredients. These made her cakes pricier. In spite of this, Gloria Nichols’ cakes were much sought after.
The Rolling Pin Bake Shop’s cakes took two days to complete. A cake was baked the night before. The handcrafted flowers, some quite minute, were painstakingly crafted by Gloria and her staff.
The petite Gloria was a gigantic figure in the culinary world. She was president of the All Nations Women’s Group, collaborating with ambassador’s wives to raise funds for scholarships. She led IFSEA- International Food Service Executives Association, which hosted seminars among restaurant operators to improve services. Her legacy as president and founding member of the Hotel and Restaurant Administration of the Philippines (HRAP) included “Chefs on Parade,” a pioneer event in culinary competitions.
“Gloria Nichols was Julia Child and Martha Stewart rolled into her tiny 4’10” frame,” reminisced daughter Maridel. “We take pride in being her family. Today’s bakers would have marveled at her ability to look at an object and see potential for cakes, table settings and any artistic creations she could think of.” Gloria eventually sold The Rolling Pin and moved to the US to enjoy retirement with her children and grandkids. She continued to stay motivated and was a constant inspiration to her family and friends. To her daughters, her best advice was, “Always be the bigger one.”
In 2008, Gloria Nichols passed away. She is survived by daughters, Maridel, Patty, grandchildren and great grandchildren. She lives on today through the cherished cake memories she made. Daughter Maridel recalled what her mom often said: “Enjoy what you do. Always keep learning.”
Elizabeth Ann Quirino, based in New Jersey, is a journalist, food writer and member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP). She blogs about Filipino home cooking and culinary travels to the Philippines on her site AsianInAmericamag.com.
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