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.


  1. Thank you for sharing your recipe at Meal Planning Monday Recipe Link-Up last week. I hope you join us again this week. :)

  2. And who knows what they would have considered "2 cups" to be, then.

    Weren't cakes often made or soaked with alcohol back then, like fruit cake, to make it keep longer? I think we're too used to thinking of "cake" like our modern day birthday or wedding cakes. Maybe since this uses no alcohol, that's how it was named a temperance cake?

  3. Thanks so much for sharing with Adorned From Above's Link Party.
    Have a great week.
    Debi and Charly

  4. Thanks for linking up and sharing on Mostly Homemade Mondays! We're so glad you joined us, and look forward to seeing what you link up next week :)

    Kelli @ The Sustainable Couple