Shortly after my recent self-proclaimed “Apple Day” at the Israel
Crane House, the Culinary Historians of New York (CHNY) and
the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum (MVHM) together sponsored
a program at the latter’s facility. And wouldn’t you know it,
the almighty apple was once again the focus. HUZZAH!
Of course, this meant it was time to prepare another apple dish.
So I made a Cider Cake, using my go-to receipt (recipe) from the
manuscript cookbook of Mrs. Lefferts, who lived during the early
1800s in the then-town of Flatbush, near my own neighborhood
here in Brooklyn. Incidentally, in 1918 the Lefferts family home
was re-located to Prospect Park, where it was restored to its
1820s condition and then opened in 1920 as a museum.
When I first received my copy of the Cider Cake receipt several
years ago, the manuscript was in the Lefferts House archives.
Since then, however, all of the Family’s papers, including the
cookbook, were turned over to the Brooklyn Historical Society
(BHS). In fact, the collection has been digitized, and it can be
The cookbook, which is entitled simply “Mrs. Lefferts Book,”
was most likely started in the early 1830s (more on this later).
Here’s the receipt:
2 lb of Flour 1 lb of Sugar 1/2 lb of Butter
1 lb of Raisins 1 pt of Cider 1 1/2 tea spoon
full of pearlash.
Interestingly enough, except for the ingredient amounts being
roughly doubled and the addition of raisins, the above is identical
to Mrs. Child’s receipt in her The American Frugal Housewife (12th
edition, 1833; 1st, 1832):
Cider cake is very good, to be baked
in small loaves. One pound and a half
of flour, half a pound of sugar, quarter
of a pound of butter, half a pint of cider,
one teaspoonful of pearlash; spice to your
taste. Bake till it turns easily in the pans.
I should think about half an hour.
I’m guessing, perhaps to Mrs. Lefferts, “spice to your taste”
meant adding raisins and nothing else. The call for pearlash
is another clue that she likely copied Mrs. Child’s receipt. In
addition, it means her manuscript wasn’t created until AFTER
the publication of American Frugal.
I also looked in various 18th century cookbooks for cider cake
receipts, but surprisingly found none. I then searched other
early to mid-19th century works (in addition to American Frugal)
and only found one other. It’s in The Kentucky Housewife (1839),
by Mrs. Lettice Bryan, and is quite different than the other two:
Beat together six ounces of butter, eight
ounces of sugar and two powdered nutmegs;
add six beaten eggs, a pint of sweet cider,
and enough flour to make it a thick batter.
Beat it very well, put it in a buttered pan,
and bake it in a moderate oven.
Note that the spice is specified (nutmeg) and that eggs are
used, thus enriching the batter and making it more cake-like.
Another big difference is the call for “sweet cider,” as opposed
to just simply cider, as in the previous two receipts. Of course,
the latter meant hard, fermented, alcoholic cider, as that was
the only kind available. Apple cider, once made, ferments easily
and quickly; it’s only thanks to modern methods and refrigeration
that sweet, non-alcoholic apple cider can be produced and sold.
And so a call specifically for “sweet” meant that which had just
been made, probably only hours earlier, before the natural, and
expected, process of fermentation had begun. I wonder, too,
if perhaps the call here for sweet was a result of this country’s
then-burgeoning temperance movement. At the same time,
this receipt IS from The KENTUCKY Housewife, so…maybe not!
Nevertheless, it’s rather curious.