Friday, April 27, 2018

A Rich Cake by Amelia Simmons, C. 1796

A Delicious and Historic Cake!

About the Recipe

This is a sweet and flavorful yeast-risen cake. It was first published in 1796 in the first American cookbook ever to be  published that was written by an American, as opposed to American reprints of  British cookbooks. American Cookery by Amelia Simmons contains a very good example of a typical 18th c. type of cake that was yeast-risen and contains the essential flavorings of the time period: raisins, cinnamon, white wine, brandy, and rosewater. 

The Recipe: A Rich Cake
American Cookery by Amelia Simmons, 1796

Rub 2 pound of butter into 5 pound of flour, add 15 eggs (not much beaten) 1 pint of emptins [a form of yeast], 1 pint of wine, kneed up stiff like biscuit, cover well and put by and let rise over night.

To 2 and a half pound raisins, add 1 gill brandy, to soak over night, or if new half an hour in the morning, add them with 1 gill rose-water and 2 and half pound of loaf sugar, 1 ounce cinnamon, work well and bake as loaf cake.

Modern Recipe Adaptation: A Rich Cake


  • ½ pound raisins
  • ½ cup brandy
  • 1 package (1/4 ounce) Active Dry Yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water (about 110°F)
  • ½ pound of butter (2 sticks), softened
  • 1 ½ cups granulated sugar
  • ½ cup sweet white wine
  • 2 Tbsp rosewater (you can order this online or it can be found at Lebanese or Indian markets or restaurants)
  • 4 eggs
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp cinnamon

  1. Heat the brandy in a saucepan and then add the raisins when it starts to simmer.  Remove from the heat and let cool.
  2. Sprinkle the yeast into the warm water.  Let it rest for at least 5 minutes until it gets foamy.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter and sugar.  Add the white wine and the rosewater.  Then add the eggs.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour and the cinnamon.
  5. Add the flour and yeast mixture, alternately.
  6. Drain the raisins and then add to the dough. 
  7.  Place dough in a greased bowl and cover.  Let the dough rest (about 1-2 hours; the longer the better).  It will not rise a lot (that’s normal).  
  8. Heat oven to 375° F and grease a large tube pan. 
  9. Turn dough into the greased tube pan. 
  10. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until a stick inserted in the center comes out clean.  
  11. You can cover the baked cake in a lemon or almond flavored royal icing, or just dust with powdered sugar.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Puffets: 19th c. Maryland Small Cakes

The Original Recipe

Recipe Provenance
This recipe comes from The Sarah D. Griffen, Clyde Griffen, and Margaret Thibault Collection of Goldsborough Family Papers at the Maryland State Archives. It dates to the mid-19th century.

Recipe Transcription
2 pints of flour, 1 pint of milk, 2 eggs, a piece of butter the size of an egg, 1 teaspoon of soda in the milk, two of cream of tartar in the flour.  Beat the butter and eggs together, add the milk and flour.

About the Recipe
For some reason, I have been drawn to recipes that puff lately. Maybe it's because I enjoy science in the kitchen. The name of this recipe, puffets, indicates that these small cakes were meant to puff up during the baking process, and they do thanks to chemical leavening agents which revolutionized baking in the 19th century. 

An early version of baking powder (where the acid and the alkaline are mixed together in one product) is represented in this recipe by the inclusion of baking soda (the alkaline) and cream of tartar (the acid). An early version of this type of chemical leavening agent combination was sold in sets of the ingredients and were called "yeast powders." These sets were accompanied by instructions for how to use them. Interestingly, in these recipes, the soda is mixed with the milk. This is a carry-over from the days when pearlash and saleratus, the potassium-based alkaline products that preceded sodium-based alkaline products, were required to be mixed with the milk to reduce their bitterness. When using sodium bicarbonate, this step can be skipped and the soda can be whisked into the flour; however, I kept the recipe as is.

While the puffets are very rich and moist, they could use a little flavoring. You can add any spice or flavoring, such as lemon zest, to give them a more interesting flavor. Or, make them as is and serve them warm with lots of butter, jam, or honey. 

Modern Recipe Adaptation: Puffets
Yield: 24 Cakes

  • 16 Ounces Stone-Ground Whole Wheat Flour or Any Cake Flour, About 3½ Cups
  • 2 Teaspoons Cream of Tartar
  • 2 Cups Milk
  • 1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 4 Ounces Salted Butter, Melted
  • 2 Eggs
  • Grated Zest from 1 Lemon, Optional 

  1. Heat oven to 375º F.
  2. Grease two 12-cup muffin pans.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour and cream of tartar.
  4. In another bowl, mix together the milk and baking soda, and then add the melted butter, eggs and lemon zest.
  5. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin pans.
  6. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean when removed.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Creamy Corn Muffins from a c.1897 Maryland Recipe

The Recipe
I found this recipe for Corn Muffins in The Up-to-Date Cook Book published in 1897 by St. John's Church, Montgomery County, Maryland. Though up-to-date in 1897, this recipe still passes muster. The batter is creamy and smooth, and the texture follows suit. I always use organic stone-ground fine-grained cornmeal for recipes like this; I especially like to use locally milled cornmeal from Wye Mills or even from out-of-state Anson Mills in South Carolina. These types of cornmeal are more nutritious and have a more flavorful taste, very much like what they would have had prior to the introduction of roller mills in the mid-19th century. Period recipes for corn muffins that do not contain sugar are meant to be made with naturally more flavorful stone-ground cornmeal; sugar started to be added when roller-milled cornmeal was used to add back flavor that was depleted by the roller milling process that creates flavor-dulling heat and strips the naturally tasty germ and bran from the corn kernels.

Modern Recipe Adaptation: Creamy Corn Muffins
Yield: 24 Muffins

  • 5 1/2 Cups Stone-Ground Cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 3/4 Teaspoon Salt
  • 2 Cups Buttermilk or Soured Milk (Scant 2 Cups Whole Milk with 1 Teaspoon Distilled Vinegar)
  • 3/4 Cup Heavy Cream
  • 4 Tablespoons Salted Butter, Melted
  • 3 Large Eggs

  1. Heat the oven to 400º F.
  2. Grease two regular-size muffin tins.
  3. In a medium mixing bowl, which together the cornmeal, soda, and salt. Set aside.
  4. In a larger mixing bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, cream, melted butter, and eggs.
  5. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients.
  6. Pour batter into each muffin cavity until about 2/3 filled.
  7. Bake 13-15 minutes, or until golden and firm.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Puff Puddings: An Early 19th c. Maryland Recipe for a Sweet Entremet

Puff Puddings: An Early 19th c. Maryland Recipe

The Recipe: Puff Puddings
This recipe is a type of batter pudding. Of course, as was typical with historic recipes, the ingredient amounts to be used are vague, so I had to use experience and estimation to get a good balance of ingredients that actually made the pudding puff. 

This type of pudding was designed to be eaten as a sweet because it states is should be served with butter, sugar and nutmeg, which works very well. I also experimented with honey and cinnamon-sugar, which is very tasty, too. 

In the early 19th c., this type of dish would have been known as a sweet entremet and would have been served typically in the second course of a French service meal (where 2-3 broad courses of multiple dishes were served family-style). Entremets were less important dishes, or smaller versions of entrees, designed to surround the more central entrees and releves (usually roasts). Importantly, sweet entremets were often served with savory dishes and not relegated to the final dessert course, as they are now.

This manuscript recipe can be found at the Maryland State Archives in the Griffen/Goldsborough Collection of Family Papers. It dates to c. 1832.

Modern Recipe Adaptation: Puff Puddings

Batter Ingredients:

  • Butter
  • 6 Eggs
  • 6 Tablespoons Whole Milk
  • 6 Tablespoons All-Purpose Flour
  • Pinch of Salt, optional
  • Optional Toppings: Butter, Sugar & Nutmeg Sauce, or Honey, or Cinnamon-Sugar


  1. Heat oven to 400º F.
  2. Butter 6 ramekins and place them on a baking sheet.
  3. Whisk together the eggs, milk, and flour. 
  4. While the oven is still heating, place the buttered ramekins in the oven for about 4-5 minutes. Then, remove them from the oven and place about 5-6 tablespoons of the batter into each one.
  5. When the oven is fully heated to 400º, return the filled ramekins to the oven and bake for about 12-14 minutes, until the puddings are puffed up and completely firm to the touch but not dried out.
  6. Serve immediately with a sauce made with butter, sugar, and nutmeg to taste, or with honey and/or cinnamon-sugar.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Recipes from the Maryland Rural Carriers Ladies Auxiliary

About the Cookbook
I collect Maryland cookbooks. Some are more interesting than others. One of my favorites is Recipes from Maryland compiled by the Ladies Auxiliary to the Rural Letter Carriers Association (1970). This is a fantastic local cookbook for many reasons. 

First, I never knew there even was a Rural Letter Carriers Association nor that it had a Ladies Auxiliary! 

Second, the recipes span the length and breath of rural Maryland, from the Eastern Shore/Southern Maryland regions to the areas further west where Pennsylvania Germans settled in the late 18th century:

Southern Maryland/Eastern Shore:

Pennsylvania Dutch:

Third, the book is a bit tongue in cheek because it contains humorous recipes such as How to Cook a Husband and Wacky Cake:

Fourth and finally, it is chock full of platitudes, sayings, and advice such as:
  • "If you are kicking up a storm, don't expect clear sailing."
  • "Some family trees bear an enormous crop of nuts." 
  • "We treat this world of ours as though we had a spare in the trunk." 
  • "Success is relative, the more success, the more relatives."
  • And many other all too true sentiments . . .

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Springtime Strawberries at Riversdale House Museum

Springtime Dessert with a Focus on Strawberries

The spring 2018 season's dining room "tablescape" at Riversdale House Museum depicts a lavish dessert course which includes classic dessert service items such as cake, orange and lemon creams, olives, braised celery, Cheshire cheese, and an array of confections devoted to a classic springtime favorite, the strawberry (strawberry blancmange, strawberry tarts, and strawberries & cream). You can tour Riversdale on Friday's and Sunday's on the quarter hour from 12:15 pm to 3:15 pm.

Strawberry History
Strawberries have been known since ancient times in temperate climates around the world. Ancient Greeks and Romans had wild strawberries, and Romans such as Ovid, Virgil, and Pliny all referred to strawberries in there writings. Significantly, before Maryland was settled by Europeans, strawberries were known to Native Americans. Two of the main ancestors of today’s large strawberries are the fragaria Virginia, from the US eastern seaboard and the Chilean strawberry (f.chiloensis). French and English botanists of the 18th and 19th c. experimented with cross-breeding different varieties of strawberries, but it was the Englishman, Michael Keens, who first marketed a large fruit strawberry on July 3, 1806 called the Keen Seedling.

Strawberries in Maryland's History
Maryland soil produced bumper crops of strawberries, and they became a profitable market berry in the nineteenth-century. By 1840, Maryland-grown strawberries were being shipped from Baltimore to New York. In 1857, there was a very large strawberry farm near Annapolis that reportedly covered about six hundred acres, employed 1200 people per season, and utilized 42 horse-drawn wagons to travel to the steamboat landings to Baltimore and Philadelphia every day to get the seasonal crop of about 20,000 bushels to market. 

  • "Improving Maryland's Agriculture, 1840-1860" by Vivian Wiser in Maryland Historical Magazine, vol. 64, number 2 (Summer, 1969)
  • Oxford English Dictionary