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)

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.

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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.

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