Twelfth Night in Colonial Albany.. It’s All about the Cake

2 (2)

In early January, if you lived in colonial Albany in early 1700s what we would think of as December festivities- St Nicholas Eve, Christmas and New Year’s festivities would be winding down. But wait, there’s more – what we have come to know as Twelfth Night. Its origins are in a Roman festival called Saturnalia surrounding the winter solstice. In the Christian era the 12th day after Christmas was designated as the date of the arrival of the three wise men in Bethlehem bearing gifts for the Christ child. But over time, and due in large part to the Protestant Reformation, January 6th became more of a secular holiday.. more than a bit of a blowout.. it was off the hook.

Curiously, there’s no documentation of the celebrations in the early New York colony, although there are passing references to the holiday. But many historians think that keeping traditions would have been very important for people who crossed the Atlantic and came to a new world.

So the colonists of Albany, whether Dutch, Walloon (Protestant French emigres) or German or English or Scandinavian would have all whooped it up. The English called it Twelfth Night, the other colonists would have referred to it as variation of “Three Kings Day”. In some cultures the festivities started the eve of Epiphany (January 5) and in others Epiphany Day (January 6).

Whenever the celebrations started it was a rollicking bout of good cheer, with much food and drink ..lots of drink. All sorts of treats piled the tables of Albany homes and taverns (in Dutch homes they would have included doughnuts, cookies, waffles, and pancakes), but the cake was the thing. If you had come from England, a bean might have been inserted into one side of the cake and pea on the other side. The male who got the slice with the bean became king for a day, the female the queen. If you were Dutch there probably was only one bean, and that person became the king. There might be a designated “fool” or jester whose job it was to amuse and entertain. There would have been games and drinking (if only they had known about beer pong) and often music.

Paintings of The Three Kings celebration in the Netherlands in the 17th century, were a favorite subject during the “Golden Age” of Dutch painting. It was wild and crazy.. mischief and mayhem.

There was no single Twelfth Night cake recipe – but most of them were a version of a fruit cake. One food historian has concluded that by the mid-1700s the most often used Twelfth night cake recipe was also used for a “Bride’s Cake” – another cake recipe designed to serve a large crowd. In fact, George and Martha Washington were married on Twelfth Night and her anniversary cake did double duty. (Google “Martha Washington anniversary cake” for updated versions). However the French emigres took a different approach and made a “Gallette des Rois” (cake of the kings”) – a large rough puff pastry filled with almond cream.

10

12

359375eb-e177-4c1e-82c6-de17a0220fb8

The celebration of Twelfth Night died out in America by the 1850s, as Christmas and New Year’s took center stage. (Descriptions of lovely winter scenes in American literature in the early 1800s are often compared to the white icing and sugar decorations of Twelfth Night cakes which tell about the refinement of the cake.) But try as we might, we found no ads for bakeries or bake houses selling Twelfth Night cakes in America in the early 1830s. (We need to do more research.)

15The “Godey Lady Book” (America’s most popular woman’s magazine of the 19th century ) described Queen Victoria’s Twelfth Night Cake at Windsor Castle in 1848 – “..a miracle of confectionary skill” – 3’ in diameter and 4’ tall – with lavish sugar decorations that included a working music box and mechanical fish and figures of “Chinese persons” that beat time to the music.

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

St. Nicholas Day in Colonial Albany

If you were living in colonial Albany today in the early 1700s you and your family would probably be preparing for the arrival of St. Nicholas on December 6th.

St. Nicholas was a real person – a 4th century bishop who lived in what’s now Turkey. He provided for the poor and the sick, and became the patron saint of children (he’s also the patron saint of pawnbrokers – go figure). He was much admired and loved throughout Europe.

Over time the legend of St. Nicholas grew and his religious feast day became a celebration that extended beyond the church walls and incorporated regional pagan myths. Each country (and regions within countries) developed their own St. Nicholas traditions, but there are 2 commonalities – St. Nicholas arriving the night before before his feast day, leaving presents for the children (usually left in their shoes) and the women of the house in a baking frenzy- special treats for this festive and special day.

3

In some areas St. Nicholas arrived by boat from Spain (much of the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and Germany was under Spanish rule in the 16th and 17th centuries). In other mostly Germanic regions he flies on a white horse; in some places he comes into town riding a horse or walking beside a donkey carrying a load of gifts. Scandinavians had mythical little creatures “tomte” or “nisse” (suspiciously like elves) that assisted with December festivities. (And in pagan tradition, there’s often a creature called a Krampus – part Devil/part goat – that punishes bad children and sometimes leaves coal instead of gifts.)

shirt_livkrampus__79108.1386328844.1280.1280

There’s no documentation of exactly how the Feast of St. Nicholas was celebrated in colonial Albany (although cookbooks yield some interesting info), but there is historical documentation for the same time period for the countries from which the citizens of Albany emigrated. Some scholars think the people who came here abandoned their traditions in the New World. We know that in the earliest days of the New Netherlands Colony, Peter Stuyvesant, the Governor, was quite straight laced and adhered to his own sense of the Dutch Reformed dogma – basically old peg leg was a bit of a religious fanatic. But after the early 1670s, when the colony was finally in the hands of the British, people were free to celebrate as they wished (more or less).

So we theorize the traditions would have been more important for people so far from “home”, but what did happen was probably a mixing of cultural traditions. There were Germans, Scots, Swedes, and Walloons and Huguenots (French Protestants), English and Norwegians. They lived next to one another and they intermarried * and traditions melded as cultures blended.

But Albany was still predominantly Dutch in the early 1700s. So most of the children would be waiting for “Sinterklaas” (the Dutch name for St. Nicholas) on St. Nicholas eve called “Sinterklaasavond”. Then all the children, giddy with excitement, would put out their wooden shoes (wooden shoes, except for the very rich – were a cultural thing in most of western Europe and Scandinavia – sabots among the French, clogs in the Norse countries land, klomp and Klompen among the Dutch and Germans.

The toys would be homemade in anticipation of just this night – wood or cornhusk dolls, tops, hockey sticks, whistles, stick horses, ninepin and balls, ice skates – lovingly crafted by parents. In addition to the toys, there would sweets and chocolate and maybe a coin. And probably an orange – the global trade of the Dutch had made exotic fruits like oranges high prized special delicacies (orange is the color of the Royal Dutch family – the House of Orange). An old Dutch poem about St. Nicholas even mentions oranges specifically.

“Saint Nicholas, good holy man!
Put on the Tabard, best you can,
Go, therewith, to Amsterdam,
From Amsterdam to Spain,
Where apples bright of Orange,
And likewise those granate surnam’d,
Roll through the streets, all free unclaim’d”

The women of the families in each ethnic group would bake their specialties. For the Dutch that meant a cookie call a Speculaas – a highly spiced shortbread (it’s still probably the national cookie of the Netherlands), crunchy little cookies called Kruidnuten (sometimes called Ginger Nuts – mini-speculaas)** and Peppernoten (Pepper Nuts) – small, chewy and also made with exotic spices. The lucrative East Indies spice trade had a dramatic impact on Dutch (and other European baking and cooking) and used spices that could only come from Southeast Asia in the “Spice islands”. The cookies would be rolled and dough placed in special forms.***The forms were usually made of wood, intricately carved and passed down through generations.

Fast running sloops would bring the spices, sugar, cacao, molasses and oranges up the Hudson to Albany to the docks about where Madison Ave. meets Quay St. today. They would have been off-loaded from larger ships in New York harbor, bringing the cargo from Asia, the British and Dutch Islands in the Caribbean and the colonies of British Honduras (now Belize) and Surinam, which was owned by the Dutch, in Central America.

German women would have made Stutenkerl (also called Nikolaus) – sweetened dough shaped into the form of St. Nicholas (with the Reformation, the dough men looked less bishop- like). And Scandinavian women would have made Pepparkakor – crisp ginger cookies cut in shapes of stars and hearts.

(I’m of the opinion that a German Haufrau was visiting a Swedish Hemmafrau and decided she would make a ginger cookie St. Nicholas (or visa versa) and that was the origin of the gingerbread man.)

Meanwhile Brits and the Scots brought little to the table. The religious wars in Scotland and England for over a century ended with a Protestant ban on saint day celebrations. And Christmas (save for a church service) was a no no. Except for religious services, Holiday traditions had taken a huge nose dive. So, they took to it like duck to water and by the early 1770s Sinterklaas is now Santa Claus and associated with Christmas.

As you’ve been reading along you can see how the Feast of St. Nicholas evolved into American Christmas, but that’s a whole other story we’ll save for another time.

*My Dutch 10th great grandmother married an English soldier and her daughter married a Swede (by way of Holland) who was a ship captain – all within 40 years of the family settling in New Netherlands in the 1650s. And my Walloon ancestors quickly married Germans and Dutch.

** Ginger nuts are still featured in Albany bakery ads of the 1850s.

***Speculaas are still made (in the Nertherlands you buy a Speculaas spice mix – rather than the individual spices) and the windmill cookies you like are actually speculaas.

8

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Albany Cakes for Christmas? So Many Kinds -So Little Time

‘Tis the season for baking and what better than an Albany Cake? But which Albany Cake? The pudding? The cookies? Or an actual cake?

From the early 1800s to the early 1900s Albany Cake was a thing. Well, actually, many things. English cookbooks equate Albany cakes to “Dutch Pudding” in 1810. In the 1840s-1860s it appears Albany Cake was really a large soft cookie.. more like tea cakes. We found Albany newspaper ads for bakeries in 1841 – Albany Cakes are sold alongside “Lafayette Jumbles” – jam filled small sponge cakes and “Jackson Snaps” – crisp, thin lemon cookies, Plum Pudding and Dutch New Year’s Cake – caraway seed cookies.

1841 albany cake.JPG

1841 b

As we looked through old books and newspapers from the 19th and early 20th century for Albany Cake we found at least a dozen different recipes for pudding, cookies and cakes.

Here are four – from 1810 to 1922

“Dutch Pudding, or Albany Cake”
Mix 2 lbs. or less of good flour with a lb. of butter melted in ½ pint of milk. Add to this 6 eggs, separately well beaten, ½ lb. of fine sifted sugar, 1 lb. of cleaned currants and a few chopped almonds, or a little candied orange peel, chopped fine. Put into it 4 spoonfuls of yeast. Cover it up for an hour or two, and bake for an hour in a wide flattish dish. When cold it eats well as cake (“New London Cookery”, Esther Copley, London 1810)

1810

1865

Albany Cake
1 ½ lbs. of flour, ½ lb. of powdered sugar, ½ lb. butter, ½ pint black molasses, ¼ pint sweet milk, ½ teacup brandy, ½ yeast cake, cinnamon, cloves, ½ lb. of raisins, ½ lb. currants. This cake demands rather a long baking in a moderate oven. If iced it will keep for weeks. (“Harper’s Bazaar” 1905)

Albany Cakes
1 lb. sugar, ½ lb. butter and lard mixed, 1 egg, ½ pint sour cream. ½ tsp. soda and 1 ¼ lb. flour. Let stand in ice box overnight. In the morning roll in long pieces and twist around to form a cookie. Sprinkle top with granulated sugar. (“The All-American Cookbook”, 1922)

Luckily, a young food blogger recently converted an 1840 recipe (from a Canadian author) for Albany Cake to a contemporary form so you can try it out for the Holidays – icing and sprinkles would be very festive. (The Canadian author lived just west of Buffalo in Ontario.)

Julia Baird – Cloud 9 Cookery – Albany Cake

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Yay Yay It’s National Waffle Day!

waffle 11 4

Why? Today in 1869 Cornelius Swartout, then working in Troy, patented the waffle iron. Swartout came from an old Dutch family that settled in the New Netherlands in the mid 1600s. It appears they first came to New Amsterdam, and then wended their way up the Hudson to Kingston. By the 1700s we find most of Cornelius’ family living in the Hilltowns of Westerlo and Berne. By the 1800s many, including Cornelius and some of his siblings, become Flatlanders and make their way to Albany.

waffle 4We can thank the Dutch for Waffles. They were probably invented in the 1400s. They were so yummy there is evidence that they had already been adopted by the English and references appear in the early days of Plymouth colony in Massachusetts. But they are a Dutch thing. Wafel (sic) irons are among the staples you find in inventories of New Netherland households in the 1600s. They continue to appear regularly in store ads in newspapers in Albany well into the 1800s.

waffle 1832

Making waffles is labor intensive, so they were treats. But they always made appearances on St. Nicholas Day and other holidays as integral part of those feasts. They were so special that by 1744 there is a surviving letter from a young woman in which she describes her attendance at a “Waffle Frolic”!

waffle 1

No self-respecting Dutch housewife was without a “Wafle” recipe. We’ve included 2 from about 1800. The first is from the Lefferts family, Dutch settlers in Flatbush around the 1680s. The other is from Alida Bogert, who was born in the mid-1700s in Albany and lived on N Pearl, probably near Maiden Lane with her husband Barent and her many children.

waffles 7

waffles 2

So.. the Dutch gave us not only donuts and cookies, but waffles as well! AWESOME!!!

Another thing Albany needs to add to its event list – the Annual Albany Frolic

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Stay Calm and Bake Cake- Make America Cake Again! Election Cake.. an Albany Tradition?

Presidential elections in America have always been a big deal – the day for voting was merely the culmination of a “national crisis’. In 1831 Alexis de Toqueville traveled across America; upon his return to France he wrote: “A presidential election in the United States may be looked upon as a time of national crisis…” “Long before the date arrives, the election becomes everyone’s major, not to say sole, preoccupation. The ardor of the various factions intensifies, and whatever artificial passions the imagination can create in a happy and tranquil country make their presence felt. . . . As the election draws near, intrigues intensify, and agitation increases and spreads. The citizens divide into several camps, each behind its candidate. A fever grips the entire nation. The election becomes the daily grist of the public papers, the subject of private conversations, the aim of all activity.”

And when voting day arrived, it was time of celebration. Voting is a strenuous business and requires feasting and drinking. Time for cake! Election Cake!

An 1886 book says that, “Election cake was served in private homes and sold outside polling places, so it was frequently made in large batches” . “Mothers sat up all night to watch the batch of twelve or twenty loaves, or called their daughters long before cock-crowing to make investigations; nay, some were known to faint from fatigue while mixing the materials.”

The first recipe for Election Cake fittingly appears in the first uniquely American cookbook published in this country – “American Cookery” by Amelia Simmons in 1796 in Hartford, CT. The cookbook was a huge success. A follow-up edition was published the same year since “the call has been so great, and the sales [of American Cookery] so rapid that [the author] finds herself not only encouraged but under a necessity of publishing a second edition.”

This second edition, larger than the first with many additional recipes, was published by the Webster Brothers, George and Charles, of Albany. Their printing shop was on the northwest corner of State and Pearl – the “old Elm tree” corner. (A Citizen’s Bank is located there today.) It was the largest printing establishment in Albany.

The Albany edition appears to be the definitive edition because contains a statement that the person Amelia employed to prepare the first edition omitted essential recipes and included others without her consent. One of recipes omitted was Election Cake, featured prominently in the 2nd edition.

For years it was assumed that Amelia was from Connecticut (the cake recipe is often referred to as the “Hartford Election Cake”) and its genesis was the “muster cakes” prepared for the annual colonial militia musters in Connecticut. But some historians have concluded Amelia was probably from the Hudson Valley, very possibly Albany. Amelia uses the leavening agent pearl ash (a precursor to baking soda) in many of her recipes, which is derived from leaching large amounts of wood. In the late 1700s, the Albany area was a center for the production of potash, i.e., the unrefined source of the pearl ash. Additionally Amelia includes, for the first time in America, recipes for cookies. The word cookie is derived from the Dutch “koekje” – a staple in the Dutch baking. She also included the frst recipe for “slaw” koolsla – Dutch for cabbage salad. Albany Election Cake? Maybe. .

In the 1850’s ads for Election Cake can be found at Mrs. LaGrange’s Tea Cake Bakery on Steuben St. In a nod to Prohibition, the recipe for Election Cake in a 1920 Albany Evening Journal says to substitute lemon juice for booze.

Election Cake was an annual staple in this country until it fell out of fashion in the 1960s, but this year it has been re-discovered and is all the rage.Since we can make a good case for it as another Albany cake, we thought we would jump on the election year cake wagon.

ORIGINAL RECIPE FOR ELECTION CAKE – Amelia Simmons
Thirty quarts of flour
10 pound butter
14 pound sugar
12 pound raisins
3 doz eggs
one pint wine
one quart brandy
4 ounces cinnamon
4 ounces fine colander seed
3 ounces ground allspice
Wet flour with milk to the consistence of bread overnight, adding one quart yeast; the next morning work the butter and sugar together for half an hour, which will render the cake much lighter and whiter; when it has rise light work in every other ingredient except the plumbs, which work in when going into the oven.

Updated recipe for Election Day Cake from the Cooking Channel (We selected this one because others exclude the booze.. we like tradition.)
Two .25-ounce envelopes dry active yeast
1 cup warm, but not hot, water (about 105 degrees F)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing the pan
1 cup mixed dried fruit, such as golden raisins, cranberries and pitted prunes, chopped if large
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup American whiskey, bourbon or rye
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons milk
Sprinkle the yeast over the warm water in a medium bowl. Stir a few times and let stand to allow the yeast to dissolve and begin bubbling, 1 to 2 minutes. Sift 1 1/2 cups of the flour into the bowl and stir until mostly smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in a warm place for about 30 minutes. The mixture will expand, loosen in texture and will have large bubbles on the surface.

While that sits, generously butter a 12-cup Bundt pan and set aside. Place the dried fruit, 2 tablespoons of the brown sugar and all of the whiskey in a microwave-safe bowl. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Heat in the microwave until hot and bubbling, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir and set aside to cool. In a medium bowl, whisk the remaining 1 1/2 cups flour with the cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and salt.

Beat the butter with the remaining 1/2 cup brown and the granulated sugar with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until combined (the mixture may look slightly curdled at this stage), and then add 1 teaspoon of the vanilla. Beat in the yeast mixture and then reduce the speed to medium-low and gradually beat in the flour mixture. Add the plumped dried fruit with any remaining liquid and beat on medium speed until the fruit is well blended. The dough should be soft and elastic at this point.

Transfer the dough to the prepared Bundt pan and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until the dough fills the pan about three-quarters of the way, about 2 hours. When is the cake is almost done rising, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Bake the cake until golden brown and a skewer inserted comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool for 30 minutes in the pan on a wire rack. Loosen the sides with a small metal spatula and turn onto the wire rack to cool completely.

Before serving, stir the confectioners’ sugar with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon vanilla and 1 tablespoon milk. Gradually add as much as needed of the second tablespoon of milk to make a thick glaze that will just gently run. Spoon over the top of the cake, allowing the glaze to slowly run down the outside and inside of the cake.

Note: Some of this material came from online article in the Hartford Courant by Leeanne Griffin (2016) and a blog post “Biography of America’s Earliest Cookbook Author – Amelia Simmons” by Barbara Wells Sarudy.(September 2014)

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Thanksgiving in New Netherlands? Not so much.

Although some historians allege the first Thanksgiving actually has Dutch links, and is a tradition the Pilgrims picked up during their sojourn in Leiden, Holland, after fleeing from England before setting off to America, there is little evidence to support the theory.

The colonial Dutch in Albany celebrated religious holidays with much joy and gusto, like Christmas, New Year’s and Easter (celebrations of which Puritans did not approve), but not Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving was basically a New England colonial tradition, that didn’t start making its way to New York until the early to mid-1700’s, when the Yankees started to move west into New York.

By the 1770s, the concept of a national day of Thanksgiving took hold – the Continental Congress declared a day of Thanksgiving after the Battle of Saratoga in 1777 for all 13 colonies. Albany MUST have rocked that one.. having escaped a near brush with the British Army. Congress declared another Thanksgiving Day in 1782 and in 1789 President Washington issued a proclamation for a national Thanksgiving Day from the seat of government – New York City.

By the early 1800s local newspapers begin to reference Thanksgiving, so it’s quite clear the idea caught on, and an annual Thanksgiving celebration was an Albany “thing”, even before it was proclaimed a national holiday by President Lincoln in 1863.

So it’s pretty safe to assume that by the time the definitive edition of the first truly American cookbook was printed in Albany in 1796 by the Webster brothers print shop (corner of State and Pearl) these recipes from Amelia Simmons’ “American Cookery” would have been in use on Thanksgiving in Albany for quite some time.

(Note 1: if you want to see a real Dutch colonial kitchen, take a trip to Rensselaer, just across the river to the NYS Crailo Historic Site. The building was erected in the early 1700s by Kiliean Van Rensselaer’s (THE Patroon) grandson, when the area was considered to be part of Beverwyck. (As it would before several centuries- until the late 1800s it was still known as East Albany.)

Note 2: Just in case you are cooking a turtle, I’ve included Amelia’s recipe for turtle; it’s quite laborious.. so you might want to consider it for Christmas, to give yourself ample time.)

To stuff a Turkey
1.Grate a wheat loaf, one quarter of a pound butter, one quarter of a
pound salt pork- finely chopped, 2 eggs, a little sweet marjoram,
summer savory, parsley and sage, pepper and salt (if the pork be not sufficient); fill the bird and sew up.
2.One pound soft wheat bread, 3 ounces beef suet, 3 eggs, a little sweet thyme, sweet marjoram, pepper and salt, and some add a gill of wine; fill the bird therewith and sew up. Hang down to a steady solid fire,basting frequently with salt and water, and roast until a steam emits from the breast. One third of a pound of butter into the gravy, dust flour over the bird and baste with the gravy; serve up with boiled onions and cranberry-sauce, mangoes, pickles or celery.
3.Boil and mash 3 pints potatoes, wet them with butter, add sweet
herbs, pepper, salt, fill and roast as above.

French Beans
Take your beans and string them, cut in two and then across, when you have done them all, sprinkle them over with salt and stir them together. As soon as your water boils put them in and make them boil up quick, they will be soon done and they will look of a better green than when growing in the garden if; they are very young, only break off the ends, them break in two and dress them in the same manner.

Biscuit: One pound flour, one ounce butter, one egg, wet with milk and break while oven is heating, and in the same proportion.

Pies:
Apple Pie: Stew and strain the apples; to every three pints, grate the peal of a fresh lemon, add cinnamon, mace, rose-water and sugar to your taste. Bake in paste No. 3.
Minced Pie of Beef: Four pound boiled beef, chopped fine; and salted; six pound of raw apple chopped also, one pound beef suet, one quart of Wine or rich sweet cyder, one ounce mace, and cinnamon, a nutmeg, two pounds raisins.. Bake in paste No. 3, three fourths of an hour.
Pompkin:
1.One quart stewed and strained, 3 pints cream, 9 beaten eggs, sugar, mace, nutmeg and ginger, laid into paste No. 7 or 3, and with a dough spur (Note: anyone know what a dough spur is.. please message us), cross and chequer it, and baked in dishes three quarters of an hour.
2.One quart of milk, 1 pint pompkin, 4 eggs, molasses, allspice and ginger in a crust, bake 1 hour.

Puff Pastes for Tarts (6 recipes.. no wonder Pillsbury has cornered the market.).
No. 1. Rub one pound of butter into one pound of flour, whip 2 whites and add with cold water and one yolk; make into paste, roll in in six or seven times one pound of butter, flowring it each roll. This is
good for any small thing.
No. 2. Rub six pound of butter into fourteen pound of flour, eight
eggs, add cold water, make a stiff paste.
No. 3. To any quantity of flour, rub in three fourths of it’s weight
of butter, (twelve eggs to a peck) rub in one third or half, and roll
in the rest.
No. 4. Into two quarts flour (salted) and wet stiff with cold water roll in, in nine or ten times one and half pound of butter.
No. 5. One pound flour, three fourths of a pound of butter, beat well.
No. 6. To one pound of flour rub in one fourth of a pound of butter wet with three eggs and rolled in a half pound of butter.

To Dress a Turtle
Fill a boiler or kettle, with a quantity of water sufficient to scald the callapach and Callapee, the fins, &c. and about 9 o’clock hang up your Turtle by the hind fins, cut of the head and save the blood, take a sharp pointed knife and separate the callapach from the callapee, or the back from the belly part, down to the shoulders, so as to come at the entrails which take out, and clean them, as you would those of any other animal, and throw them into a tub of clean water, taking great care not to break the gall, but to cut it off from the liver and throw it away, then separate each distinctly and put the guts into another vessel, open them with a small pen-knife end to end, wash them clean, and draw them through a woolen cloth, in warm water, to clear away the slime and then put them in clean cold water till they are used with the other part of the entrails, which must be cut up small to be mixed in the baking dishes with the meat; this done, separate the back and belly pieces, entirely cutting away the fore fins by the upper joint, which scald; peal off the loose skin and cut them into small pieces, laying them by themselves, either in another vessel, or on the table, ready to be seasoned; then cut off the meat from the belly part, and clean the back from the lungs, kidneys, &c. and that meat cut into pieces as small as a walnut, laying it likewise by itself; after this you are to scald the back, and belly pieces, pulling off the shell from the back, and the yellow skin from the belly, when all will be white and clean, and with the kitchen cleaver cut those up likewise into pieces about the bigness or breadth of a card; put those pieces into clean cold water, wash them and place them in a heap on the table, so that each part may lay by itself; the meat being thus prepared and laid separate for seasoning; mix two third parts of salt or rather more, and one third part of cayenne pepper, black pepper, and a nutmeg, and mace pounded fine, and mixt all together; the quantity, to be proportioned to the size of the Turtle, so that in each dish there may be about three spoonfuls of seasoning to every twelve pound of meat; your meat being thus seasoned, get some sweet herbs, such as thyme, savory, &c. let them be dryed an rub’d fine, and having provided some deep dishes to bake it in, which should be of the common brown ware, put in the coarsest part of the meat, put a quarter pound of butter at the bottom of each dish, and then put some of each of the several parcels of meat, so that the dishes may be all alike and have equal portions of the different parts of the Turtle, and between each laying of meat strew a little of the mixture of sweet herbs, fill your dishes within an inch an half, or two inches of the top; boil the blood of the Turtle, and put into it, then lay on forcemeat balls made of veal, highly seasoned with the same seasoning as the Turtle; put in each dish a gill of Madeira Wine, and as much water as it will conveniently hold, then break over it five or six eggs to keep the meat from scorching at the top, and over that shake a handful of shread parsley, to make it look green, when done put your dishes into an oven made hot enough to bake bread, and in an hour and half, or two hours (according to the size of the dishes) it will be sufficiently cooked.

1

4

5

7

 

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

It’s National Cookie Day! Yay!

You can’t talk about cookies without the Dutch and New Netherlands and you can’t talk about New Netherlands without talking about Albany.

By now you all know that the word cookie comes from the Dutch “koekje” (little cakes). As the Dutch adopted English customs, recipes of some Albany women refers to “cakes” and “wafers”, the English terms for cookie-like things, but you also see use of the words koeks (cakes) and koejkes sometimes interchangeably. A famous example is the “dood koeks”.. dead cakes, which were actually cookies served at New Netherlands Dutch funerals.

In some Albany Dutch family recipe collections (Maria Schuyler Van Rensselaer- sister of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton) by the late 1700s koekjes becomes “coekjes”. The first time the word “cookie” appears in publication is in Amelia Simmons “American Cookery” (the definitive second edition was published in Albany in 1796) as cookies and cookery. But the term cookie doesn’t seem to catch on right away.. (I know.. so not possible.. but true). In the “Frugal Housewife” in 1829 (Lydia Maria Child) perhaps the most well-known of the early 19th century cookbooks, there is nary a cookie to be found. But there are little cakes and jumbles, and we know by the recipes that these are actually what we think of as cookies.

And then we have a cookie explosion after the Civil War.(I’m thinking those New York boys spread the word about the glory of the cookie all across the North and South.) By 1880, there is not a single cookbook that doesn’t include cookie recipes.

So to celebrate the fact that today is Cookie Day (which really SHOULD be an Albany holiday) we’ve included a collection of old Albany cookie recipes, with some updates by the brilliant New Netherlands food historian, Peter Rose, and some newer (100 year old ) recipes that you can make today without pounds of flour, hog lard, pearl ash and a dozen eggs.

b

 

d

f

gi

kc.jpg

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

Celebrating the New Year in Old Albany- Dutch Cake, Guns and Beer

New Year’s Day was a day of religious observance for the Dutch in Albany, as it was with for Puritans who settled in Plymouth. But for the Dutch, the rest of the day was dedicated to celebration and revelry. There was beer.. LOTS of beer; there was cake.. LOTS of cake – eating of cake and giving of cake; there was visiting among friends and family; and discharging of weapons in honor of the New Year. LOTS of big bangs. One legend persists – that the bullet hole in the rooster weathervane that currently sits atop of the First Reformed Church on N. Pearl St. occurred during one of those New Year celebrations. (Yup, that rooster is that old.)

z2

Over a hundred years later New Year’s customs appear to have changed very little. A French Marquis in Albany in the early 1780s describes being awaked throughout the night on New Year’s Eve by the sound of musket fire. He writes “In the morning . . . I met nothing but drunken people in the streets, but what astonished me the most was to see them not only walk, but run upon the ice without falling, or making a false step, whilst it was with the utmost difficulty I kept upon my legs.” Finally, in 1785 NYS laws banned the firing of guns on certain days, including New Year’s. There was hefty fine for violators; this tradition ended.

But the tradition of visiting all and sundry on New Year’s Day continued. In 1790 President George Washington became acquainted with it, when on a New Year’s afternoon in New York City a stream of visitors appeared to visit the Washingtons. (The house in which the President was living was on the corner of Cherry and Pearl – the site is now under the Brooklyn Bridge.) Upon learning that the New Year’s visit was an old Dutch custom, he was said to have remarked. “The highly favored situation of New York will, in the process of the years, attract numerous immigrants who will gradually change its ancient customs and manners; but whatever change takes place they will never forget the cordial cheerful observance of New Year’s Day.”

The tradition of cake continued; special Dutch New Year’s cake flavored with caraway seeds. It was made in large batches to feed the hordes of visitors and give as New Year’s tokens. Sometimes it was in the form of single cake, made in elaborate molds – the centerpiece of the table; other times it was in form of little cakes, the Dutch koekjes (cookies), stamped with all sorts of fanciful designs. A recipe printed in Albany in 1796 for New Year’s Cake calls for:

“..14 pounds of flour, to which add one pint milk, and one court yeast, put these together overnight, and let it lie in the sponge till morning, 5 pound sugar and 4 pound butter, dissolve these together, 6 eggs well beat and caraway seed, put the whole together and when light bake in cakes, similar to aa breakfast biscuit, for 20 minutes.”

Housewives competed to produce the best New Year’s Cake; some recipes called for orange zest or lemon zest or rosewater.

The tradition of visiting continued well into the late 19th century in Albany. Huybertie Pruyn, a member of Albany’s high society who lived on Millionaires Row on Elk St., recalled, “A New Year’s Day in Albany [as elsewhere] was a happy, but very exhausting one for the women, especially the lady of the house.” The best china and heirloom silver were brought out. There was a buffet on a grand scale,available from late morning until 10 pm, to serve between 200-300 male callers. “An extra man was stationed in the hall as doorkeeper, and messenger boys, newsboys with calendars, postmen, policemen and many others rang the bell. Each, man was handed a paper bag with 4 large New Year’s cookies, stamped with flowers, figures, or the State seal, as well as a dime.

For lesser mortals the tradition of Dutch New Year’s Cake continued through the 1800s as well. It was so important, that for years costs for New Year’s Cake appear in expenditure reports for the poor souls housed in NYS run institutions. While many Albany women still baked their own, using special heirloom molds, there are ads for “Genuine Dutch New Year’s Cake” offered by the City’s bakers throughout the 1800s. Tradesmen bought the cakes in bulk to give to their customers.

The tradition of cake continued until the early part of the 20th century. But after World War I the custom dies out (we don’t know why) and the last ad we find is from Drislane’s Market, an upscale food emporium of N. Pearl near Maiden Lane, in the early 1920s.

We need to bring back the tradition of the Dutch New Year’s Cake in Albany; cake is good.

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor

America’s First Christmas Cookies from 1796 – Albany NY

The first Christmas cookie recipe printed in America appear in Amelia Simmons “American Cookery”. The cookbook was 1st printed in Hartford in 1796, but the second and more complete edition was printed 6 months later in Albany by the Webster Brothers, located at the corner of State and N. Pearl (the Citizens Banks is there today.) All evidence points to Amelia being a Hudson Valley (and maybe even Albany) girl.

Before 1796 what we know as cookie were called jumbles, biscuits (they still are in England today), wigs /whigs (from wedges) or wafers. But cookie comes from the Dutch word “koekje” (small cake) used in the New Netherlands to describe morsels of wonderfulness.

There’s evidence that the term “cookie “was used colloquially in speech in Albany (the Court Minutes of the 1650s describe Beverwyck bakers making cookies for trade with local Indians) for hundreds of years, but even bakeries in Albany (the most Dutch of all New Netherlands cities) were still referring to jumbles and biscuits and small cakes, not cookies, in their newspaper ads in the 1850s. It’s not until after the Civil War that the term “cookie” starts popping up in cookbooks and bakery ads with frequency, possibly because it was a term used by soldiers from New York who dominated the battlefields during the War. (NY furnished 450,000 troops – more than any other Union state.)

Amelia’s 1796 Christmas Cookie Recipe:
“To three pounds of four, sprinkle a teacup of fine powdered coriander seed, rub in one pound of butter, and one and a half pound of sugar, dissolve one teaspoonful of pearlash in a tea cup of milk, knead all well together , roll three-quarters of an inch thick, and cut or stamp into shapr or size you please. Bake slowly fifteen or 20 minutes; tho’ hard and dry at first, if put into an earthen pot, and dry cellar, or damp room, they will be finer, softer and better when 6 months old.”

Better after 6 months?? After being in the damp? (Perhaps something is lost in translation.)

In any event, here’s a modern adaptation of the Amelia’s Christmas Cookie Recipe in much smaller quantity.

(Recipe from Amanda Moniz, the Assistant Director of the National History Center of the American Historical Association, as it appeared in the Historical Cooking Project Blog, July 2014.)

1 pound (about 3¾ cups) all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
1½ tablespoons ground coriander (or more)
6 ounces (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, cold, cut into small cubes
½ pound (1 cup) sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ cup whole milk (more as needed)

Preheat the oven to 300°F.
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Combine flour, salt, and ground coriander in a food processor. Pulse a couple times.
Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.
Combine baking powder and milk. Add to the dough mixture and stir, adding more milk if it seems too dry. Press the dough together into two balls.
Put each ball on plastic wrap, flatten into a disk, and chill for a couple hours.
Roll the dough to the thinness you want (about 1/8 inch is good) and cut out in any shape you want.
Bake, rotating the baking sheets about halfway through baking, until lightly browned around the edges, about 10 minutes.

And here’s a video from Jas Townsend & Son taking a whack at the original recipe, under somewhat original conditions of the 18th century.

Copyright 2021 Julie O‘Connor

New Year’s in Old Albany – Let Them Eat Cake

In Dutch colonial Albany New Year’s Day began with ringing of church bells and shooting guns, then off to church and home again to visit with neighbors. (One legend persists – the bullet hole in the rooster weathervane that currently sits atop of the First Reformed Church on N. Pearl St. occurred during one of those New Year celebrations.) The shooting stopped; finally, in 1785 NYS laws banned the firing of guns on certain days, including New Year’s, but the friendly visiting rapidly turned into a set of a traditions that lasted almost 250 years up to the beginning of the 20th century.

The men of Albany traveled from house to house, while the ladies stayed at home, waiting for the gentlemen callers to arrive, after preparing a feast for the expected visitors. A hallmark of the feast was a special cake. The “neiuwjaarskoeken” (New Year’s cake) was a holiday tradition brought to the New World along with doughnut balls (called ollibollen), and waffle and spice cookies. Food historians surmise the latter two morphed in to what became known as “Dutch New Year’s Cake”.8.JPG

Women vied to produce the best cake; recipes were guarded and kept as a family secret, handed down to successive generations. The recipe was made in huge quantities so vast amounts of small cakes could be produced. The first recipe that appears in print was from our old friend Amelia Simmons, whose “American Cookery” was printed in Albany by the Webster Bros, whose print shop was located at the corner of State and Pearl in 1796. (A Citizen’s Bank is there today.)

Amelia’s recipe was designed to make the little New Year’s cakes in quantity:
“Take 14 pound flour, to which add one pint milk and one quart yeast, put these together over night and let it lie in the sponge until morning, 5 pound sugar and 4 pound butter, dissolve these together, 6 eggs well beat and caraway seed; put the whole together and when light bake them in cakes, similar to a breakfast biscuit. 20 minutes.”

The demand for New Year’s Cake became great as the Yankees who flocked to Albany after the Revolution adopted the tradition of New Year’s calling and cake. Commercial bakers got into the act into the early 1800s. Albany bakers advertised they made best and most genuine Dutch New Year’s Cakes. There were as many different recipes for Dutch New Year’s cake as there were bakers; the one thing that had in common was caraway seed. But the Dutch housewives of Albany continued to use their heirloom molds and cake board stamps for the New Year’s cake they made for their family.3 1864.JPG4.JPG

The tradition continued. In 1840 Governor William Seward (later to become Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln) was living in the Kane Mansion (there was not an official Governor’s Mansion on Eagle St. until 1879) at the intersection of Trinity Place and Westerlo St.*

3.jpg

Here’s a recollection of New Year’s Day of that year. (This is probably how the custom of an open house on New Year’s Day at the Governor’s Mansion came to be.)

“New Year’s Day 1840 opened like its predecessor in 1839, with a midnight serenade and a bountiful collation for all comers, spread in the hall of the Executive Mansion. The old Dutch customs of New Year hospitality, visits and good wishes were nowhere more carefully observed than at the State capital. Immediately after sunrise children began to perambulate the streets, to ring or a knock at each door, wishing the inmates a “happy new year” and receive in return a New Year’s cake stamped with “pictures”. Many of thrifty housewives had a basket of these standing in the hall, to supply the juvenile demands. Before noon ever lady was expected to be in her parlor, to receive gentlemen, who, making the rounds of their acquaintances, were calling in rapid succession during the day; the call consisting usually of a hasty interchange of New Year’s greetings and good-wishes, the visitors having no time to sit down. A table loaded with refreshments often sat in the back-parlor. Every visitor was invited and expected to take at least glass of wine and a New Year’s Cake. Before his peregrinations were over, if the former had not filled his head, the latter had filled his pockets or had so accumulated in his sleigh, that he could have the pleasure of sending a bagful to the Orphan asylum, or of bestowing them on the street-urchins who were ever ready for more. Though shops and stores were closed for the Holiday, the streets presented an unusual activity and animation, for the walks were thronged with pedestrians, while the jingle of the bells of the sleighs and the laughter of their occupants added to the gayety of the hour. At the Governor’s house the throng was great, those orderly and less boisterous than the year before. All passed off with a systematic arrangement. Barrels of New Year’s cakes stood at the door, to be handed out to children. The great hall and all the parlors were thrown open to accommodate the crowd.”

(In the previous year the throng had been so large that there was no room in the Mansion and hams and turkeys from the tables in the back parlor were passed through open windows to the crowd outside.)

The custom of the New Year’s Cake was so important that financial records of the superintendents of the Albany alms house and penitentiary show expenses for providing New Year’s Cake into the 20th century.

Beside bakers (one writer called it the “Greatest Day of Cake”), other Albany businesses advertised their services for New Year’s Day. Young women need to be suitably attired, young men well-turned out; engravers sold calling cards; new cake plates and new rugs were advertised. The aforementioned young men needed spiffy sleighs with all the bells. Caterers offered to handle the whole shebang – additional tables, flowers, servers and linen, besides food.

By the 1890s the custom of New Year’s calling and cake had been largely abandoned. It had resulted in inebriated young dandies careening around the streets, as the belles of society competed to see who would have the largest number of male callers on New Year’s Day. The streets were thronged and gentlemen would think nothing of calling on 50 or 60 young women in 8 hours, clogging the streets well into the night. Gas and electric lighting made it easier to hold New Year’s Eve parties; they became a “thing” and rising in time for New Year’s Day calls after a night at a ball was much less appealing.

But the tradition of the Dutch New Year’s Cake flourished, and spread across the country. By the 1840s recipes started to appear in all sorts of cook books and magazines for New Year’s cake and cookies. In Albany there came to be a special recipe, lost to time, for a cake made to the recipe of Wiliam Pruyn who lived on Lumber St. (now called Livingston Ave).

Come the 20th century even the tradition of the Dutch New Year’s cake fell out in Albany, although a large bakery, Hageman’s located on north side of Madison Ave, between Ontario and Partridge was still making New Year’s cookies in 1940.

The last known commercial bakery to make the cakes was Otto’s at 70 Third Ave. It was owned by Otto Theibe who continued the tradition in his own bakery until just before he died in 1967. The recipe was provided to food historian Peter G. Rose, by Otto’s daughter, Efrieda Textores.**

The recipe makes 12 dozen cookies; be prepared for lots of New Year’s Day callers.

1 lb. sifted light brown sugar (or use granulated brown sugar)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 egg lightly beaten
1 1/4 cups margarine
8 ½ cups flour
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons Caraway seed

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl combine sugar, baking soda, salt and egg and stir to dissolve sugar making sure no lumps remain. Set aside. In another bowl use pastry blender to cut margarine into flour until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Slowly stir milk into sugar mixtures and put through a sieve into flour and butter. Add caraway seed. Let the dough rest before rolling out. Roll dough out as thin as possible to less than 1/4 inch. Cut with 4″ oval cookie cutter or cut into 4″ rounds and place on greased baking sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes until cookies are pale.

We need to bring the tradition of the Dutch New Year’s Cake in Albany; cake is good.

* The Kane Mansion was demolished in 1864 for the Ash Grove Methodist Church. In turn, that was demolished to build School 14 in 1913. School 14 was modified in 1934 to create Philip Schuyler High School; that building now houses condos.

** “Foods of the Hudson”, Peter G. Rose, Overlook Press, Peter Mayer Publishers, Woodstock, NY, 1993.

5.45.5 (2).JPG2.JPG

Copyright 2021 Julie O’Connor