Elections come and go, but there will always be cake! And what
better way to celebrate your participation in this year’s (or any
year’s, for that matter) electoral process, then by voting and
afterwards enjoying some “Election Cake.” So whether your
candidate wins or loses, at least you’ll have a tasty treat!

In our nation’s early years, there were two receipts for this
dish. One could be found in Mrs. Child’s The American Frugal
(originally published 1832):

Old-fashioned election cake is made
of four pounds of flour; three quarters
of a pound of butter; four eggs; one
pound of sugar; one pound of currants,
or raisins if you choose; half a pint of
good yeast; wet it with milk as soft as
it can be and be moulded on a board.
Set to rise over night in winter; in warm
weather, three hours is usually enough
for it to rise. A loaf, the size of common
flour bread, should bake three quarters
of an hour.

I find it interesting (and a bit humorous!) that Mrs. Child refers
to this Cake as “old-fashioned,” despite the fact that, at the time,
such cakes had been around less than 50 years! Yep, Election
Cakes are strictly an American “invention,” just as is our whole

electoral process. And thus, you’ll not find a single receipt for it
in earlier cookbooks. In fact, there’s only one other, prior to the
publication of American Frugal, and it’s in American Cookery (1796),
by Amelia Simmons. As you’ll see below, Simmons’ receipt is similar
and yet different. Of course, most notable is the vast quantities
of each ingredient, even though they’re basically the same (at
least in part). But what I found intriguing was the inclusion of
not only a few spices, but also wine AND brandy. Hmmmm, eat
several slices of Simmons’ Cake and perhaps be easily persuaded
to change your vote?!

At the same time, an Election Cake really isn’t all that different
from many other cakes, particularly those that include raisins
and/or currants. It’s probably because, when someone (who
was most likely a woman) had the brilliant idea to bake a cake
for an upcoming election, she didn’t make up an entirely new
receipt; she merely selected an already-familiar one. In a way,
it’s similar to what the early settlers in this country did; they
took an unknown New World ingredient (such as corn), mixed
it with an Old World receipt, and thus created a “new” dish.
In this case, an oft-used receipt (possibly one for a good
ol’ British plumb cake) was selected, re-named, and given
a new function and new status.

Back to Amelia Simmons’ receipt:

Election Cake.
Thirty quarts flour, 10 pound butter,
14 pound sugar, 12 pound raisins,
3 doz eggs, one pint wine, one quart
brandy, 4 ounces cinnamon, 4 ounces
fine colander seed, 3 ounces ground
allspice; wet the flour with milk to
the consistence of bread over night,
adding one quart yeast; the next
morning work the butter and sugar
together for half an hour, which will
render the cake much lighter and
whiter; when it has rise light work
in every other ingredient except
the plumbs, which work in when
going into the oven.

Interestingly, the above receipt is only in the second edition
of Simmons’ work. Although it was published in the same year
as the first (1796), it was done so in a different city.

When I made this at The Israel Crane House for the Big Election
two years ago, I used Child’s receipt, as it was a bit simpler, at
least ingredient-wise. And I made it even easier by quartering
the proportions (starting with just one pound of flour and so on).
Working with yeast was challenging at the time, as most cakes
I’d made before then (using historical receipts) hadn’t called
for it. It can be tricky knowing how much to use and how long
to let the mixture rise. Nevertheless, it turned out fine back
then, and it proved to be a delicious success.

So, it’s another year, another round of elections, and yes, that
means…cake. “Election Cake,” that is! HUZZAH!


[NOTE: this is an edited and partially re-written version of a post from 2012]

Earlier this month, I presented another ‘straight-talk’ version
of my “Cook Like a Soldier” program to a group of lovely
ladies who make up the Fortnightly Club in Summit, NJ.


The Club is a women’s social and philanthropic organization
dedicated to community service and outreach, which also
sponsors social activities for members and their families.
It meets regularly at the historic Twin Maples Mansion,
a spacious landmarked early 20th century former home.
Which, incidentally, was designed by an architect who
resided at the time in Israel Crane territory, otherwise
known as Montclair, NJ.

Now, as you may know, particularly if you’ve ever perused my
Portable Historic Programs page, this talk deals with soldier’s
fare during the American War for Independence. I discuss what
foods the troops ate, how they were prepared and cooked, who
did the cooking, how the rations were delivered, and so on. And
in an effort to not only tell the audience what specific food items
a soldier received on a daily and weekly (hopefully!) basis, but
to also show people what what they were, I have bags of each
on display. So, for instance, I set out a whole pound of flour,


a pound of hard bisket, and three pints of peas. But what I’ve
struggled with is, how do I exhibit the flesh-y side of things?
As in the meat? The beef and the pork? Or the fish? Sure, I can
bring samples of each, and I have done that (taken a slab of salt
pork and made my own salt cod), but it’s a bit tricky, especially
if it’s a hot or warm day. It can get rather messy…and smelly!
And then, what do I do with them afterwards? Eat ‘em? Well,
after it’s been dragged many miles and then man-handled by
various people, even I don’t care to do that!

Finally, I decided I would set out pictures of each ration meat.
Or rather, the source of it. Of course, I had to find some images,
and they had to be ones that’re period-appropriate for the Rev
War years. Then it hit me: use copies of 18th century woodcuts!
One for each animal! So I got out my copy of “Catchpenny Prints,”
and I found fantastic ones for the beef (a cow), the pork (a pig),


and the fish (a, er, a fish!). I enlarged each one, then cut it out
and glued it to card stock. So now, each meat ration is represented
nicely on my table of soldier’s fare. I have it all, from the beef and
fish to the bread and peas to all the others. I think it looks pretty
good, yes?! HUZZAH!


Kitchen Pepper

During a Revolutionary War encampment a few months ago,
I began assisting a fellow hearth cook with demonstrations
of the use of spices in the 18th century. Now at this point,
I’m not exactly sure how, when, or why I became involved,
other than the fact that, like my friend, I’d been searching
for an alternative to doing, or even just helping with, any
cooking at these events. Well, one thing led to another,
and soon I was not only plying my skills with my trusty
mortar & pestle, but I had also suggested we make good
use of all that grating, grinding, and pounding by producing
a centuries-old spice combination known as Kitchen Pepper.

Each time we demonstrate the creation of this spice mixture,
we follow the instructions that are found in The Receipt Book
of Harriott Pinckney Horry
,* of Charleston, S.C., which dates
from 1770:

Kitchen Pepper.
One ounce of Ginger—pepper cinnamon cloves
and Nutmeg half an ounce of each—6 ounces
of salt Mix it well keep it dry. its excellent in all
brown Sauces.

In addition to “all brown Sauces,” Kitchen Pepper would’ve also
added flavoring to meats, soups, pottages, and other dishes. It’s
been around since at least Medieval times, and it was eventually
often sold, pre-mixed, at mercantiles. Of course, the spicy combo
could also be concocted in any era by a cook at home.

Interestingly, Horry’s receipt has been the only one from the 18th
century that I’ve found, thusfar (I’ll keep looking!). There are two
others, but both, however, are from the 19th century. One is in
A New System of Domestic Cookery, by A Lady (aka Maria Eliza
Ketelby Rundell), which was first published in London, England,
in 1806. And the other is in Mrs. Lettice Bryan’s The Kentucky
, published in 1839, in Cincinatti, Ohio. As is often
the case, all three are somewhat alike and yet, they’re a bit
different. All of them contain ginger, black pepper, cinnamon,
cloves, and nutmeg. Two contain salt, one does not. And finally,
one alone calls for Jamaica pepper, while the one that has no
salt, instead includes white pepper, red pepper, and mace.


Making our Kitchen Pepper during the encampment out on Long Island
at Old Bethpage Village:




And here’s our Kitchen Pepper operation at Raynham Hall, in Oyster Bay:







*The Receipt Book of Harriott Pinckney Horry was a personal cookbook
that was written in Charleston, S.C., in 1770. It was eventually published
in 1984 as
A Colonial Plantation Cookbook, edited by Richard J. Hooker,
in Columbia, S.C.

I’ve thought alot about what I’d post for today, the 13th anniversary
of the horrific attacks here in New York City and elsewhere. My plan
was to hopefully find something different than what I posted in years
past. But, alas…

Gets to me every time.

Time for more of the receipts that were used to make chocolate
dishes during Deb Peterson’s workshop at the 2014 Mid-Atlantic
regional ALHFAM conference, which was held this past spring
at the Peter Wentz Farmstead.


Let’s start with a receipt from Frederick Nutt’s The Complete
Confectioner, or, the Whole Art of Confectionary


No. 51. Chocolate Drops.
Take one pound and a half of chocolate,
put it on your pewter sheet or plate,
and put it in the oven just to warm
the chocolate; then put it into a copper
stewpan, with three quarters of a pound
of powdered sugar, mix it well over the
fire, take it off, and roll it in size of small
marbles, put them on white paper, and
when they are all on, take the sheet
of paper by each corner, and lift it up
and down, so that the paper may touch
the table each time, and by that means
you will see the drops come quite flat,
about the size of sixpence; put some
sugar nonpareils over them, and cover
all that is on the paper, and then shake
them off, and you will see all the chocolate
drops are covered with the sugar nonpareils;
let them stand till cold, and they will come
off well, and then put them in your box papered.


We made the tasty treats above using a receipt from E. Smith’s
The Compleat Housewife (originally published in 1727):

To make Chocolate Almonds.
Take a pound of chocolate finely grated,
and a pound and half of the best sugar
finely sifted; then soak gum dragant
in orange-flower water, and work them
into what form you please; the past[e]
must be stiff; dry them in a stove.

There’s also a receipt for these in Mrs. Mary Eales’ Receipts,
by Mary Eales (1733; first edition, 1718). It’s a bit different
than the above, as it calls for several spices. Note, also, that
the instructions for drying them are the complete opposite
of those in Smith’s receipt:

To make Chocolate-Almonds.
Take two Pound of fine sifted Sugar,
half a Pound of Chocolate grated,
and sifted thro’ an Hair Sieve,
a Grain of Musk, a Grain of Amber,
and two Spoonfuls of Ben; make this
up to a stiff Paste with Gum-Dragon
steep’d well in Orange-Flower-Water;
beat it well in a Mortar; make it
in a Mould like Almonds; lay them
to dry on Papers, but not in a Stove.

Hmmm, so what the heck is “Ben”?! Not to mention, you need
“two Spoonfuls” of him, er, it. Unfortunately, my Oxford English
(OED) is buried deep inside my dead computer. dagnabit
I do, however, have my hard-bound facsimile of Noah Webster’s
1828 American Dictionary of the English Language. Here’s what
it offers:

BEN or BEN-NUT, n. A purgative fruit
or nut, the largest of which resembles
a filbert, yielding an oil used in pharmacy.

Interesting! Even more so is the idea of adding it to a dish made
with chocolate. I looked further online and discovered the Ben-nut
comes from the Moringa, which is:

(botany) A genus of trees of Southern India
and Northern Africa. One species (Moringa
pterygosperma) is the horse-radish tree,
and its seeds…are known in commerce
as ben or ben nuts, and yield the oil
called oil of ben.*

So, “two Spoonfuls of Ben” means two measures of the oil made
from the nuts of the Moringa tree, which is similar to olive oil,
albeit a bit lighter. Learn something new every day, yes?!

Let’s get back to our “chocolate-as-food” receipts. Here’s the last
one from the workshop, which is also in Nutt’s book:

No. 18. Chocolate Biscuits.
Take a quarter of a pound of chocolate,
and put it on a tin, over a stove to make
it warm, then put a pound of powdered
sugar in a bason, and when the chocolate
is quite warm and soft, put it in with the
sugar, and mix it well with about eight
whites of eggs, if you find it too thin,
mix more powdered sugar with it just
to bring it to a paste, so that you can
roll it in lumps as big as walnuts: let
your oven be moderate, put three
papers under them, let the oven just
raise them and make them crisp and
firm, and let them be quite cold before
you take them off the paper.


Apparently, these biscuits were rather popular, as I found receipts
for them in four other 18th century cookbooks. The earliest is
in John Nott’s 1723 work, The Cooks and Confectioners Dictionary.
And, as with the Chocolate Tart of the previous post, his version
is similar to the above. Which means, of course, that Nutt copied
Nott (think I got that right; dang similar names! but yes, John Nott
came before Frederick Nutt). Some food historians, however, think
that Nott plagiarized, er, I mean, “borrowed” heavily from other,
earlier authors, too, so…well, perhaps turn-about IS fair play?

Nevertheless, receipts for Chocolate Biscuits can also be found
in both the work of Spanish author Juan de La Mata, entitled
Arte de reposteria (1747), and The French Family Cook: Being
a Complete System of French Cookery
, by Menon (translated
1793 into English from the French of 1747). Interestingly, all
four receipts are largely similar, save for a few minor details.
The biggest difference is that Menon’s calls for the use of flour,
which may make them more of a bread-type biscuit, as opposed
to a small cake (aka cookie) or even a meringue. Oddly enough,
we added flour (albeit rice flour) to ours during the workshop.
Then there’s the fifth receipt, which also resembles the others,
and yet, it differs from them in one respect: it uses almonds. It’s
in The Court and Country Confectioner (1770), by a Mr. Borella.
Based on the contents of his receipt, the end-result will definitely
be more of a flat, small cake (aka cookie) or cracker.

It’d be an interesting experiment to try out all five of the above
Chocolate Biscuit receipts. Perhaps, some day. And if anyone out
there gets to it before I do, I hope you’ll share your experiences!



* Definition found online HERE. Interestingly, you can buy moringa oils
online, even
from amazon.com. Whether the products shown are for use
in food, though, is a whole other matter. Oh, wait! Here’s
edible moringa
(aka ben) oil
. Wow! You can purchase it by the barrel. Whodathunk?!

I’ve had several requests for the receipts that were used to create
the chocolate dishes presented in my previous posting. All of them
were compiled by Deb Peterson, the workshop’s instructor, and they
came from an assortment of 18th century cookbooks.

Let’s start with the most-awesome Chocolate Tart.


We used the following receipt from John Nott’s The Cooks and
Confectioners Dictionary
, which was first published in 1723:

132. To make a Chocolate Tart.
Mix a little Milk, the Yolks of ten Eggs,
with two Spoonfuls of Rice-flour, and
a little Salt; then add a Quart of Cream,
and Sugar to your Palate; make it boil,
but take care it do not curdle; then grate
Chocolate into a Plate; dry it at the Fire;
and having taken off your Cream, mix
your Chocolate with it, stirring it well in,
and set it by to cool. Then sheet a Tart-pan,
put in your Mixture, bake it. When it comes
out of the Oven, glaze it with powder’d Sugar
and a red hot Shovel.

Note there’s no mention of the crust with which to “sheet your
tart-pan.” I imagine any would do, but Deb choose to have us
make the one below, which is found in the cookbook Bradshaw’s
Valuable Family Jewel
(1751), by Mrs. Penelope Bradshaw:

To make proper Paste for Tarts.
Take three Quarters of a Pound of Butter
mixed well with a Pound of Flour. Or thus:
Take equal Quantities of Flour, Butter, and
Sugar mixed well; beat it with a rolling Pin,
and roll it then.

Interestingly, the above tart receipt is also in The Court and
Country Confectioner
(1770), by a Mr. Borella. His version,
however, is ever so slightly re-worded, and the quantities
of all the ingredients have been cut in half. I suppose that’s
one way to avoid claims of plagiarism, ay, Mr. B.?!

Ahh, well…

In addition, I found a fun video the other day wherein a similar
tart is prepared. It was filmed as part of the 2012 long-awaited
opening of the newly-renovated Royal Kitchens of London’s Kew
. Unfortunately, no clue is given as to what receipt the cook
was using, and it’s been modernized/adapted, but it sounds very
similar to the one above. Even his process matches (somewhat)
what we did during our workshop. And, dagnabit, I think his
comment dealing with the “is chocolate a food or a beverage?”
debate is still a bit off, albeit he’s closer than some others. I’m
beginning to think that, in some ways, it’s all in how it’s stated.
But even if by 1789, a Chocolate Tart receipt had been floating
around since at least 1723 (nearly 70 years! almost a century!),
surely somebody had to’ve been whipping it up now and then,
so just how “unusual” was it?! Particularly for the “better sort”!

Ahh, well…so it goes.


Back in April of this year, I attended an annual “foodie” conference
here in NYC at the Roger Smith Hotel. In the past it was dubbed
“The Cookbook Conference,” but it was re-named the Food-Tech
for its fourth go-round in 2014. Every year, there are
sessions on multifarious topics, the speakers and panelists (well,
most of them!) present informative talks, and the opportunities
to network with “fellow foodies” are abundant.

Now, one of the sessions I attended was entitled “Mechanizing
Cacao.” It featured a panel of three speakers, plus a moderator.
Each panelist spoke on some aspect of cacao, whether its history
or the modern chocolate-making process. However, one of these
supposed “experts” was sadly mis-informed! And oddly enough,
he just happened to be a representative of Mars, Inc., who’re
the makers of American Heritage Historic Chocolate,** and was
also one of the sponsors of this year’s Conference. Oh, dear…!

Anyway, according to Mr. Mars/American Heritage, chocolate
was consumed ONLY as a beverage during the 18th century
and NOT as a food. HA! That statement is NOT true! I know
this, definitively, because I’ve made “eat-able” dishes that
contained chocolate (remember my “Nut Bomboons”?). But
coincidentally, I’d also just participated in an historic hearth
cooking workshop the previous weekend, wherein we made
several 18th century chocolate dishes that were meant to be
eaten. Thus, I am sorry Sir, but you are incorrect! And yes,
I had intended to raise my little hand during the session-ending
Q & A, in order to share the above information about replicating
18th century chocolate as something to be eaten, but, alas, it
wasn’t meant to be. You see, after all the panelists had done
their spiels, the session rather abruptly ended, as time had run
out! Everyone then quickly disappeared, both the speakers and
the audience! I must say, it was rather bizarre. I found myself
wondering, “What just happened? Where’d everyone go? It’s
over?!?” And so, there was no Q & A, no sharing of anything.
It was officially The End.

Ahh, well…so it goes.

In any case, below are the dishes we prepared during the hearth
cooking workshop. The receipts utilized for each one were taken
from assorted 18th century cookbooks. As you’ll see, chocolate
was consumed not only as a beverage, but also as a food. Indeed,
it was enjoyed in various forms, whether in a cup or on a plate.


First up was a Chocolate Tart. We began by working on the paste
(or crust), which was beaten:




The paste was cooked first. Beans were placed on it to keep it flat:


Time to work on the cream filling:


The chocolate was grated:


Then it was added to the cream mixture and cooked:


Ready to go:


Into the bake oven it went, where any and all baking was done:


Soon the Tart was done and it was then time to caramelize the top
with a heated salamander:



TA-DA! Our mighty fine tart was completed:


Next, we worked on Chocolate Drops:


Then we made Chocolate Almonds, which, incidentally, do not
contain almonds, but are shaped like them:


All the chocolate mixtures were cooked on a brazier:


And finally, we made Chocolate Biscuits:



Our intrepid workshop leader, Deb:


It was a fantastic workshop. Lots of wonderful chocolate dishes
were made AND eaten. I’m looking forward to making them
in my own hearth cooking classes. HUZZAH!



* Names withheld to protect the innocent…and the guilty! LOL
** American Heritage Chocolate is (allegedly) a reproduction of 18th century chocolate, which has been manufactured using an “Authentic 18th Century Product Recipe and Ingredients” (to quote the copy on the box). However, well…maybe not! *sigh* More on that later.
*** The chocolate hearth cooking workshop was conducted by the talented Deborah Peterson (formerly of Deborah’s Pantry) as part of the Mid-Atlantic region of the Association for Living History, Farm and Agricultural Museum’s (ALHFAM) annual conference. The workshop took place in the historic kitchen
of the Peter Wentz Farmstead, of Montgomery County, PA.


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