Friday, March 21, 2014

86. Temperance Cake, No. 1.

I was flipping through my little cookbook to find my next receipt for testing, and I came across this recipe for a temperance cake.  There was more than one recipe for temperance cake, but this one seemed to make the smallest cake, thus making it perfect for my test.  Why is it called a temperance cake?  Well, to be honest, I'm not sure.  I suspect that this might be a cake served during temperance meetings that were usually held by women in their homes during the temperance movement of the mid-1800s.  In doing a search online, I came up with no technical definition of a temperance cake, but at temperance meetings I've seen reenacted, it usually involved a group of women talking about temperance while drinking tea or coffee and eating baked goods, which is why I suspect that it's a common recipe to serve during said meetings.

In the 1830s and 1840s, temperance was a social movement here in the United States aimed at steering men away from drinking.  Alcohol was a common drink in households, because it was easy to make and keep, didn't need special storage, and really was one of the better beverage options of the time--water was iffy and easily contaminated, milk didn't keep very long, fruit juices were not used for drinking (with the exception of apple juice, because apple trees can grow almost everywhere), and pop/soda did not exist.   However, then, as today, alcoholism was a big problem in society.  Here's a common illustration that circulated around 1845:

This image, a lithograph by Nathanial Currier, later of the Currier & Ives fame, depicts the stages of alcoholism that young men could eventually experience.  You can see how the young man starts out as a seemingly innocent participant in a common social activity (far left), and works his way through the steps to eventually blowing out his brains (far right), leaving his wife and child, depicted virtuously under the bridge, to manage on their own in disgrace.  So very sad.

Now, with that cheerful, uplifting background, I present to you: Temperance Cake, No. 1.  

The recipe:
"Three eggs, two cups of sugar, one cup of milk, one tea-spoonful of saleratus, nutmeg, flour enough to make it pour into the pan, bake it about twenty minutes.  Allspice and raisins, instead of nutmeg, make a good plum cake."

Wow, that seems like a lot of sugar.

I started by preheating the oven to 350 degrees, a common temp for baking cakes, and buttering a 9 x 9 baking dish.
Then, I mixed the wet ingredients (the eggs and milk) together.

Next, I added the sugar and baking soda to a large mixing bowl, and I decided to use nutmeg and allspice as my spices.  I did use the whole two cups of sugar, even though it seemed like a large amount.  I'm not a huge fan of raisins in baked goods and omitted them.  I whisked these ingredients together.

I added the liquid to the dry.
At this point, I remember thinking, 'Aah, finally!  Enough liquid in this recipe!'

Then, starting with half a cup of flour, I added a little at a time until I got a batter-type consistency.  It took about 1-1/4 cups to get it to a batter consistency.  At this point I tasted the batter.

Holy sugar, Batman!  It was incredibly sweet.  So sweet that I added two teaspoons of salt and it didn't seem to make any dent in the sweetness!

I just shrugged it off, poured it into my prepared pan and popped it into the oven, setting my timer to check it in 15 minutes.  All total, it took 50 minutes for a toothpick to come out clean.  And, after I cut into it, I still don't think it was quite done.  It had the consistency of a bread pudding, and an unbearable sweetness with all of the sugar.  I admit, this recipe won, and I lost.
I think part of the issue was the amount of sugar--two cups of white sugar would have been a bit pricey back then, and it was just too overwhelming.  It created a sugary crust in the center (the part that looks like the Elephant Man), and I think I developed two cavities just by sampling a piece.  The cake around the center was spongy, and the bottom was almost slimy in consistency, like a jelly. 
Possibly I didn't add enough flour, but I was thinking of the consistency of cake batters today when I was adding the flour.  I could have probably added another half a cup and still been okay, in retrospect.  Possibly the oven temp was too high or too low.  I really don't know.

My opinion?  Pretty bad.  I can't even come up with a modern-day recipe for this that I would feel comfortable offering to the public.  I hate when a recipe doesn't turn out and I've used up good ingredients, so I can't say that I'm feeling brave enough at the moment to try and convert it to modern-day. 

So very sad.  I think I need a drink.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sorry For The Delay...

I'm sorry for not getting back to this blog until now!  It's been a busy three months.  I'll be back to trying these old recipes again soon, including cakes, cookies, breads and rolls.  While I was leafing through the cookbook, I discovered a couple of recipes for homemade yeast.  How neat is that??  I thought I'd share it with you, so here's a little history lesson on making yeast back in the 1840s!

Just a little background: 
Commercially-produced yeast became readily available during the 1860s, according to various sources.  Dates vary, but in general, before this time women had to make their own yeast for baking purposes.  Yeast is actually in the air we breathe every day, but capturing it and creating a useable form of yeast is another matter entirely.  It would take several days to try and capture the yeast, and sometimes it didn't work.  However, when it was captured, it was used over and over again (think Amish friendship bread starter).  To make it keep for longer amounts of time, people started to form the captured yeast into cakes that could be shaved off and measured.   There are a few websites that I've come across that give a little more information on capturing yeast, and some instructions on trying to capture it today.  Their methods are not much different from those of the past:
Chickens in the Road
The Fresh Loaf
Backyard Renaissance

Now, here are the recipes from my 1845 book:

30.  Yeast.
Boil one pound of good flour, a quarter of a pound of brown sugar, and a little salt, in two gallons of water, for one hour.  When milk-warm, bottle it and cork it close, and it will be fit for use in twenty-four hours.  One pint of the yeast will make eighteen lbs. of bread.

29.  Yeast Cakes.
    To have good yeast in summer is a desirable object with every housewife.  She may have such, by the following simple process: ---
    Boil a single handful of hops (which every farmer can and ought to raise, to the extent of household wants) in two or three quarts of water; strain and thicken the liquor, when hot, with rye flour; then add two or three small yeast cakes, to set the mass.  If this is done at evening, it will be fit for use early next morning.  Reserve a pint of this yeast, which thicken with Indian meal, make into small cakes the size of crackers, and dry them in the shade for future use.  In this way the yeast is always fresh and active.  Yeast cakes kept a long time are apt to become rancid, and lose their virtues.  The fresher the cakes, the better the yeast.

While I don't plan to try to make the yeast or cakes from scratch at this time, I might attempt it in the future.  If anyone out there tries this and has success, I'd love to hear about it!