Lucy and I made Miss E. B. Plympton’s (of Woborn, MA–a town nine miles north of Boston today, but probably farther in 1886) Welcome Cake for our first recipe from the Woman Suffrage Cookbook. The recipe goes like this:
Beat together one and one-half cups of sugar and one-half cupful of butter; add in three well beaten eggs and three small cupfuls of flour in which a teaspoon cream of tartar and a half teaspoon of soda have been sifted; beat in a half cupful of milk and a cupful of currants or seeded raisins.
In order to be as true to the recipe as possible, I left my Kitchen Aid mixer sitting in the corner of the counter, and went at it with a bowl, a wooden spoon, and a fork. Some of the recipes in this book use standard measurements, some don’t. This one did–except for the “small cups” of flour–we’ll come back to this.
As for the ingredients, it took me a minute to try to figure out what type of flour and sugar to use. By the 1880s flour was being processed similar to today (thanks to Minneapolis milling!) but no one bleached flour yet. So I used unbleached white flour (I avoid bleached flour anyway). The sugar was a little tricker. The process of separating the sugar from molasses was invented in 1852, so presumably a somewhat affluent woman in Massachusetts would have probably used white sugar. Apparently brown sugar was unpopular at the time, but I also wasn’t sure how pure white the white sugar would have been. I am not a sugar historian. In the end I used one cup white sugar and half a cup of light brown sugar.
The eggs, soda, and cream of tartar were all self-explanatory. I then added the 1/2 cup whole milk.
Now to the “small cups” of flour. This certainly isn’t any sort of standard way to measure flour, so I wasn’t sure how much to add. So what I did was put three cups of flour in small bowl and added flour to the cake mixture until it looked like a normal cake batter. This ended up being about ten ounces of flour–which equals a little more than two cups of flour.
Then I stirred in a cup of dried currents that I had been soaking in hot water to plump up again. I had picked these up at the co-op, but I know you can find these at some grocery stores as well (but probably not places like Target).
I figured a metal cake pan would be the most historically accurate. So I poured the batter into a nine-inch metal cake pan which I had coated in melted butter then coated in flour.
There of course were no oven temps or baking time. I popped it in the oven at 350 for about an hour (I was checking it pretty consistently for the last twenty minutes). Also my oven tends to be a little cool, so it might cook faster for you.
The cake was actually pretty good! It had a consistency similar to a coffee cake. I liked the currents. The kids loved the cake. It is a nice simple cake–good for serving with afternoon tea with visitors.
How the cake was rated:
Alec gave it 8/10
Lucy gave it 8/10
Jennie gave it a 7/10
Emory ate some and threw a bunch of the floor.
So here is my modernized cooking instructions:
2 sticks butter–room temp.
1 cup white sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 t. cream of tartar
1/2 t. baking soda
2-1/4 cups unbleached white flour
1/2 cup whole milk
1 cup dried currents soaked in water
Preheat oven to 350.
Pour some boiling water over the dried currents, let soak while putting together the rest of the cake.
Mix together flour, soda, and cream of tartar. Set aside.
Cream together butter and sugar. Mix in the three beaten eggs. Add in both the flour mixture and the milk, alternating until both absorbed.
Mix in the drained currents.
Pour into a 9 inch metal cake pan which has been either sprayed with baking spray or coated in butter and flour.
Bake 50-60 minutes until golden brown.
Serve warm if you can–its really tasty right out of the oven.
As I was eating it, I thought a little orange zest would compliment the flavor of the cake well.
My next post will be more historical in nature. So look forward to reading more about the nineteenth-century fight for suffrage and the people who put together this particular cookbook.