Posts Tagged ‘American Cookery (1796)’

It’s here! Today is the Big Election. So to celebrate this day while
at The Israel Crane House this past Sunday, I made the perfect
dish: an Election Cake. HUZZAH!

I used the following receipt (recipe) from Mrs. Child’s The American
Frugal Housewife
(12th edition, 1833; 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.

Now you see why I chose to use Child’s receipt! It was, indeed,
a bit simpler, at least ingredient-wise. I also made it even easier
(I think!) by quartering the proportions (starting with just one
pound of flour and so on). Working with yeast was challenging,
as most of the cakes I’ve made using historical receipts haven’t
called for it. I probably should’ve let it rise longer. Or started it
at home and finished it at Crane’s. Or something. The problem
with that is, I didn’t know for sure I’d even be going there, due
to Hurricane Sandy issues, until Saturday. However, the good
news is, it didn’t really seem to matter, as the final product
turned out well and was quite tasty! Visitors greatly enjoyed
it, as did staff members. Some even had several slices! So,
by and large, I’d say it was a delicious success. HUZZAH!

As usual, I wasn’t able to get many photos, but here are a few:

While the cake was rising and then later baking, I also cut up
and strung a few apples to hang on the mantel for drying:

Overall, it was a fantastic day! HUZZAH!


ADDENDUM: I failed to note above that the above Election Cake receipt
is from the second edition of Amelia Simmons’ American Cookery, which
was published in Albany, NY, in 1796. This receipt was NOT in her first
edition, which was published in Hartford, CT, also in 1796. My apologies!

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Now that I’ve gotten a bit o’ rest after a busy week and have
done things like cleaned up kitchen messes and organized
my photos, I can now get back to blogging. HUZZAH!

Besides, a report on my most recent hearth cooking adventures is
long overdue. And there were several during the week of March 26
to April 1. Three, to be exact; well, four, if you count making a dish
for the Culinary Historians of New York’s (CHNY) program. In any
event, it began with Homeschool Day at the Israel Crane House,
followed by CHNY, then a Teachers Professional Development
Workshop at the Queens County Farm Museum, and finally,
it ended with a return to the Crane House. Whew!

My Big Week was filled with varied and numerous preparations,
as well. It seemed that I was constantly slicing, mixing, mashing,
cooking, and/or baking something. Not to mention all the planning
that’d been done days, even weeks, previously, including deciding
what dishes to make, selecting the receipts (recipes) to be used,
and developing the menus for each particular hearth cooking
session. Then throw in all the scurrying from one grocery store
to another to yet another, as I attempted to procure the required
ingredients for most of the dishes. Ahh, what a life: keeps me busy
and outta trouble. Besides, I absolutely love it! HUZZAH!

Okay. Onward. Let the hearth cooking adventures begin!

First up, I headed to the Crane House on Tuesday for the semi-annual
Homeschool Day. I had a fantastic time with all the young’uns, as we
learned the secrets of hearth cooking (with a few chores thrown in,

just for good measure, of course). We made toast and ate it with
pre-churned butter on top, as we churned some new. Then we fried
up a bit o’ salt pork, which greased the pan for lots of subsequent
Indian Slapjacks, made according to a receipt from Amelia Simmons’
American Cookery (1796) (it follows the photos, below).


Here is the receipt from Simmons’ American Cookery (1796):

Indian Slapjack.
One quart milk, 1 pint of Indian meal,
4 eggs, 4 spoons of flour, little salt,
beat together, baked on griddles, or
fry in a dry pan, or baked in a pan
which has been rub’d with suet,
lard or butter.

NEXT: Seed Cakes and Carrot Puddings

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From American Cookery (1796), by Amelia Simmons:

Shrewsbury Cake.
Half pound butter, three quarters
of a pound sugar, a little mace,
four eggs mixed and beat with
your hand, till very light, put
the composition to one pound
flour, roll into small cakes—bake
with a light oven.

N.B. In all cases where spices are
named, it is supposed that they
be pounded fine and sifted; sugar
must be dried and rolled fine; flour,
dried in an oven; eggs well beat
or whipped into a raging foam.


I just love that last line: “…eggs…whipped into a raging foam.”
What language! Such imagery! HUZZAH!

In any case, this is the receipt (recipe) that I followed when
making Shrewsbury Cakes for use at the Israel Crane House
this past December. Of course, as you know by now, there
are literally dozens of these out there, and I could’ve used
any one of them. So then, why did I choose Amelia’s?

Well, there were several reasons. Although, I must say, none
were earth shattering! So, let’s see, there were minor things,
such as the fact that American Cookery was published in 1796,
which is the same year that the Crane House was built. That
means, too, her version is appropriate for the early 1800s,
the time period we interpret. The receipt also contains all
the basic Shrewsbury components, without too many extras
thrown in. At the top of the list, however, was that Amelia’s
receipt has very manageable proportions. Yep, it was simple
as that. For instance, her receipt called for just one pound

of flour, as opposed to, say, Eliza Smith’s or Hannah Wolley’s,
which specify three and four, respectively. Thus, there are less
of the other ingredients, as well. So, I could do that. I could
figure it all out. No halving or third-i-fying or whatever all the
quantities. Besides, I knew any receipt, even Amelia’s, would
most likely result in a boat-load of little cakes (and it did), so
why make thousands when you just need hundreds?!

At the same time, I was influenced by all those other receipts.
As you see (above), on the spice front, Amelia’s receipt calls
for mace ONLY. No nutmeg or cinnamon. Not even rosewater.
So I mixed up the batter as written and baked about half of it.
Then I added those other two spices and finished the baking.
I also heeded several of the receipts that instruct the cook
to “prick them before they go into the oven.”

Overall, it was a bit of work, but great fun to do. They were a big
hit with all the visitors to the Crane House that December weekend,
as well.

Incidentally, during the course of my Shrewsbury research, I noticed
that, although these delectable little cakes have a centuries-old history,
they seem to have dropped out of favor by the mid-1800s. I think that’s
a shame. They’re not only delicious, but easy to make, as well. Thus,
I say, let’s join together and start a campaign to bring them back to
the American table. HUZZAH for Shrewsbury Cake!


UP NEXT: Ginger-Bread Cakes.

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