Archive for February, 2012

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A few weeks ago, I began considering
what dish to prepare during the annual
Presidents’ Day festivities held this past
Monday at the Israel Crane House. Before
long, it hit me: a Washington Cake! It’s
perfect for a day that celebrates, at least
in part, the birthday of the man who led
us to victory in the War for Independence
and who was the very first President of
our brand new nation: namely, George Washington. Nothing
could be better! HUZZAH!

Now, I’ve made a few Washington Cakes before, including
one during a Fireside Feasts session years ago at Brooklyn’s
Wyckoff Farmhouse Museum. At that time, we used the receipt
given below, which is one of two for such cakes in Catharine
Rapelye Wyckoff’s (of Flatlands, Long Island, NY) manuscript
cookbook. As I recall, it turned out well, was quite tasty, and
every last crumb disappeared quickly:

Washington Cake
1/2 lb of butter 3/4 lb of Sugar
1 lb of flour 4 Eggs coffee cup
Cream pearlash. Spice. fruit

However, I wanted to try another receipt this time. Besides,
there’s a slight problem with the Wyckoff manuscript receipts:
both are circa 1855, which is later than I’d like. So, I began
to do some research, to see if I could find any earlier versions.

Of course, Washington Cakes are strictly of the 19th century.
They began to appear at some point after our First President’s
death (1799), when someone apparently thought it’d be a good
idea to honor him by either taking an already tried ‘n true cake,
or creating an entirely new one, and naming it after him. Based
on the make-up of the various receipts I found, I tend to think
it’s most likely the former, because it’s similar to the so-called
“Great Cakes” of past centuries. In fact, with its standard cake
ingredients, fruit, and assorted spices, most Washington Cakes
are highly reminiscent of your basic everyday, run-of-the-mill
cakes of the Medieval era. What’s even more interesting is that

not only do these cakes hark back to Medieval times, but they’re
also very similar to receipts, particularly those for Great Cakes,
in Martha Washington’s own manuscript cookery book. A work,
as you may know, whose origins are medieval! And so, I have
to wonder, were the creators of the Washington Cakes aware
of that? Did they make a deliberate and conscious decision
to devise just such medieval-like cakes? Surely, it can’t just
be a coincidence. Or can it? But…how? I tell you, I wish I had
the answers to all these questions!

However, there’s a slight glitch in my theory. You see, I did
find several other Washington Cake receipts, including three
in published sources and three in manuscript cookbooks. All
but two* contained fruit and spices, and often specific ones.
Two exceptions to this were, surprisingly, the printed versions!
I was a bit puzzled by this. Did the manuscript writers insert
the spices and fruit on their own? Did they copy the similar
fruit ‘n spice printed versions? Or did they possibly refer to
a printed receipt that I have yet to find? Once again, all are
intriguing, and at this point, unanswered, questions.

Lastly, there is one specific ingredient in all of these cakes
that sets them apart from those of more ancient times. It’s
one that makes them truly “modern” confections of the 19th
century. And that one ingredient is what was then a relatively
new “invention”: the chemical leavener known as pearl-ash.
Technically known was potassium carbonate, it was also
called pot-ash and was the forerunner of today’s common
baking soda.

So, when all was said and done, which receipt did I use this
past Monday? I chose that of a woman who lived essentially
in my neighborhood, in my own backyard, back in the 1800s.
I made my Washington Cake from the following receipt from
the handwritten household book of Mrs. Lefferts of Flatbush,
Long Island, NY (circa 1838?):

Washington Cake
19. 1 lb of Flour 1lb of Sugar ¾ lb butter
4 Eggs 2 lb raisins half a pint of milk
a teaspoon of pearlash one glass of wine
one of Brandy two nutmegs two
spoonsfull of cinamon and one of cloves

And it was mighty good! HUZZAH!


*The two published cookbooks with Washington Cake receipts
that do NOT contain fruit or spices were Eliza Leslie’s
for Cookery, in all its Various Branches, (1837/1840) and Lettice
The Kentucky Housewife (1839). In addition, Mrs. Bryan
uses the possessive form in the title of hers, as in “Washington’s
Cake,” as opposed to just the “Washington Cake” of the others.

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Read an update on this dish. Apparently, we’ve all been had!


As we’ve seen in the past few posts,
a wide array of dishes was offered
to those who visited The Israel Crane
House during the 2011 annual Essex
County (NJ) Historic Holiday House Tour.
So far, we’ve reviewed everything from
Apees to Gingerbread Cakes to a Minced
Pie. Now, to complete our culinary tour,
we come to what was most likely the
highlight of this festive feast: the Potato Pumpkin.

An excellent dish for the holiday season, that time when fall
gives way to winter, a Potato Pumpkin offers a unique, and
self-contained, all-in-one meal. Of course, it IS also a fairly
difficult and time-consuming dish, so I prepared and cooked
it entirely at home. Nevertheless, it is also highly appropriate
for the Crane household, as it requires a brick bake oven (due
largely to its height), just like the one in the Crane kitchen.

This delightful dish is basically just a pared and cored pumpkin
that is filled with forcemeat (or what we call today stuffing or
dressing, but with meat), which is then cooked altogether.
Specifically, I followed Mary Randolph’s Potato Pumpkin receipt,
and then for the filing, I employed Hannah Glasse’s instructions
for Forcemeat Balls (the two receipts follow the photos, below).
As expected, it made for quite an awe-inspiring dish during the
recent House Tour and was a major hit with the weekend’s visitors.


My Potato Pumpkin, from start to glorious finish:


Here are the two receipts I used. First, from Mary Randolph’s
The Virginia Housewife (1836; first published 1824):


Get one of a good colour, and seven or
eight inches in diameter; cut a piece off
the top, take out all the seeds, wash and
wipe the cavity, pare the rind off, and fill
the hollow with good forcemeat—put the
top on, and set it in a deep pan, to protect
the sides; bake it in a moderate oven, put
it carefully in the dish without breaking, and
it will look like a handsome mould. Another
way of cooking potato pumpkin is to cut it
in slices, pare off the rind, and make a puree
as directed for turnips.

And from The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy, by Hannah
Glasse (1747); of course, I just made this forcemeat for use
as a filing and not as a garnish or a side dish, so I ignored
the last few sentences:

To make Force-Meat Balls.
Now you are to observe, that Force-Meat
Balls are a great Addition to all Made-Dishes,
made thus: Take Half a Pound of Veal, and
Half a Pound of Sewet, cut fine, and beat
in a Marble Mortar or Wooden Bowl; have
a few Sweet Herbs shred fine, a little Mace
dry’d and beat fine, a small Nutmeg grated,
or Half a large one, a little Lemon-peel cut
very fine, a little Pepper and Salt, and the
Yolks of two Eggs; mix all these well together,
then roll them in little round Balls, and some
in little long Balls; roll them in Flour, and fry
them Brown. If they are for any Thing of White
Sauce, put a little Water on in a Sauce-pan,
and when the Water boils put them in, and
let them boil for a few Minutes, but never
fry them for White Sauce.

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In addition to a tasty store-bought smoked ham,
we had two other historic meat dishes on hand
to share with visitors to The Israel Crane House
during this past December’s Essex County (NJ)
Historic Holiday House Tour. Naturally, they were
two of my favorites: a Minced (meat) Pie; and
a Potato Pumpkin. I’ll deal first with the pie.

Once again, I used a receipt (recipe) which most
likely dates from the 17th century. Namely, one
found in Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery.

I made the filing and the pie crust at home, and then assembled
and cooked it at the Crane House during the Tour. And yes, THIS
time I made my own crust, thank you very much. None of that
grocery store refrigerated dough like last year! No way! Of course,
as in the past, my minced pie was definitely a big hit with visitors.



Here’s the receipt, from Martha Washington’s Booke of Cookery,
transcribed by Karen Hess (1981, 1995). The book is described
as “a Family Manuscript, curiously copied by an unknown Hand
sometime in the seventeenth century, which was in her [Martha’s]
keeping from 1749…to 1799, at which time she gave it to…her
granddaughter, on the occasion of her Marriage….”

Take to 4 pound of the flesh of a legg
of veale, or neats tongues, 4 pound
of beefe suet, 2 pound of raysons
stoned & shread, 3 pound of currans,
halfe a pound or more of sugar,
3 quarters of an ounce of cloves,
mace, nutmegg, & cinnamon,
beaten, halfe a dosin apples shread,
some rosewater, a quarter of a pinte
o[f] muskadine or sack, some candied
orringe, leamon & citron pill minced.
shread your meat & suet very fine,
& mingle all togethe[r]. for plaine
mincd pies, leave out the fruit & put
in blanchd almond minced small.

BTW this receipt makes alotta filing. So I cut the proportions
by four. That way I’m using one pound of veal, one of suet,
and so forth. Makes for just one nicely-over-stuffed pie!


NEXT: the simply marvelous Potato Pumpkin

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Several dishes that I made for use this past
December at The Israel Crane House during
the annual Essex County (NJ) Historic Holiday
House Tour were “repeats” from the previous
year. They included mulled cider, Pounded
Cheese, and of course, a visitor favorite,
Gingerbread Cakes.

As with last year, I used Hannah Glasse’s
receipt from her book, The Art of Cookery,
made Plain and Easy
(1747). They were fairly easy to do, and
they turned out quite well. However, there was one very slight
difference in this year’s batch: I was forced to use molasses
instead of treacle. dagnabit. As you may recall, in 2010 I was
extremely eager to follow Glasse’s receipt largely because it
called for the use of treacle. Those Cakes were a huge hit, so
I wanted to make them again. Alas, when I went to the grocery
store that usually sells treacle, there was not a can to be found.
Not a one! I even checked back THREE separate times. It was
highly disappointing, to say the least. And so, I had to substitute
molasses for the treacle. dagnabit. It was mighty painful to do so.
Sure, they were fine; everyone who stopped to visit me in the Crane
kitchen loved them; but, still…. And believe me, there IS a difference
in the taste. They seemed just a bit more bland. At least, to me.

Ahh, well…maybe next year. One thing is certain: if I see any cans
of treacle at that store between now and then, I’m buying up several!



NEXT: those “unique” meat dishes

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