Well we’re on our journey to bake our way through American history with American Cake by Anne Byrn. So far we covered 1650 to 1799 with the American Gingerbread Cake, Harriott Horry’s Water Cake, the New Orleans King Cake and the Moravian Sugar Cake. Then we started 1800-1869 with the Cowboy Cake and the Boston Cream Pie. But after all of these, we’ve honestly had some mixed results from the recipes. I’ve really enjoyed learning about the history and how cake making progressed but we haven’t always enjoyed the results of our baking efforts. So we’re going to try a slightly different approach. I’m still going to share some of the history of different time periods – and fun facts – but instead of baking 4-6 cakes per time period, we’re just going to make one per era. So with that in mind, I wanted to share a few more of the interesting historical tidbits from 1800-1869 before we move on!
- Some of the earliest cookbooks in the United States targeted housewives and taught them how to bake/entertain well. Three of the most famous were “The Virginia House-wife” by Mary Randolph (1924), “The Kentucky Housewife” by Lettice Bryan (1839) and “The Carolina Housewife” by Sarah Rutledge (1847).
- Nuts were inextricably linked with baking and early Americans often focused on locally available nuts including hickory nuts and black walnuts.
- Coconut also became a more popular ingredient in baking during this time period, due in large part to increased imports from the Caribbean. Coconut was used in candy making by Dutch and French confectioners in the 1700s but then started being used in baking around the turn of the century.
- I also found the history of citrus fruits in America interesting – although we often associate oranges with California (or at least I do…). However, both lemons and oranges grew along the southern Atlantic coast since the mid 1700s. And though citrus did grow in the United States, they’ve always been subject to the whims of the weather and therefore scarce – making them a prized ingredient and reserved for special occasions – like birthdays.
- Strawberry Shortcake also popped up during this time period (yum!) when they found wild strawberries. Originally the cake parts of strawberry shortcakes were based on a biscuit dough – first unleavened and then leaved with baking soda, cream of tartar or, later, baking powder. I LOVE strawberry shortcake.
- The “modern” iceboxes also came to the United States during this time period – basically boxes cooled by large chunks of ice from the Great Lakes or glaciers, with some sort of insulation that helped the ice last longer. Iceboxes became popular and almost standard in American households by the mid to late 1800s.
Now, one of the most interesting historical cake ideas that Byrn brings up in this chapter is the idea of “mother cakes” or a group of core cakes that are the foundations of most modern cakes. The mother cakes are the pound cake, fruitcake, spice cake, sponge cake and angel food cake!
As we move forward, I’ll try to tie back some of the future cakes to these mother cakes!
So that’s it for the fun historical baking facts from 1800-1869. Next week I’ll delve into 1870-1899, featuring the 1-2-3-4 cake!