Woodlands Foundation rum, apricot-brandy cake sale marks 10th year

| Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

The annual sale of rum and apricot-brandy cakes to raise money for the Woodlands Foundation will continue again next year but without its founder, Dr. Kamthorn Sukarochana, or “Dr. Kam,” as he is known to friends, volunteers and staff members at the Woodlands.

A retired pediatric surgeon, Sukarochana started the annual sale, now in its 10th year, in 2004 because he began swimming at the Woodlands for exercise after he retired. The annual sale has since raised approximately $50,000 for the programs at the Woodlands, said Brian Edward Leach of Sewickley, communications manager for the foundation.

The mission of the Woodlands Foundation, based in Bradford Woods, is providing recreational, cultural and other activities for people with disabilities or chronic illnesses.

“Everything is in a routine now, which I initiated in the past,” said Sukarochana, 84, of Ross Township. “Now it's time for me to leave and let everything run itself.”

The annual fundraiser has both Thanksgiving and Christmas ordering cycles, and teams of volunteers from FedEx are brought in to help bake the cakes, said Peggy Harris, food-service director and head chef at the Woodlands.

“Dr. Kam can't come every day, and he can't stay for the whole time when he's here, but he does try to have a presence and thank the volunteers,” said Harris, of Cranberry Township.

A session of baking during the day can generate as many as 35 cakes, Harris said.

“(Dr. Kam will) come in and greet everybody and usually hang out in the dining room with a cup of coffee,” Harris said. “The volunteers have some down time while the cakes are in the oven, so he'll talk with them and tell stories of his life in Thailand, learning English and being a surgeon.”

Volunteers for the fundraiser come exclusively from FedEx, Harris said. This year, 15 groups of volunteers from the local FedEx headquarters in Moon Township are “rolling up our sleeves” to help bake cakes, said Stacey Heitzenrater, a FedEx employee who has volunteered to make cakes for three years.

Getting a taste of the cake is one of the perks of volunteering, Heitzenrater said.

“From sampling the goods, it's easy to see why this fundraiser has seen year-over-year growth,” said Heitzenrater, of Economy Borough.

When Harris first joined the staff at the Woodlands, she said, she was able to “streamline” Sukarochana's recipe by asking him to go home and determine the exact amount in what Sukarochana called an “eyeball's worth” when measuring ingredients.

Not only is there alcohol in the cake batter, the whole cake is drizzled with a sugar syrup that has rum or apricot brandy in it via the “poke-and-soak” method, Harris said

“We poke them with a fork on the tops of the cakes when they come out of the oven,” Harris said. “Then we soak them in a syrup sauce that has the rum in it.”

Harris said that the cakes are essentially “pickled,” and not only can they stay out at room temperature, they freeze well.

With his health declining, Sukarochana has to care for both himself and his wife, who has Alzheimer's disease.

“I want to take care of myself, too,” Sukarochana said, “so I can live a long, comfortable life.”

In recent years, Sukarochana has been coming later and later to the baking days, but he will continue to show up and check on the volunteers, he said.

“He'll (Dr. Kam) stop in and buy cakes, even when he's not here making them,” Harris said. “So I'm sure we'll be seeing him, but we'll miss him when he stops.”

Melanie Donahoo is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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