The Man who Brought Christmas to Albany – Santa Claus and the First U.S. Christmas Card

Christmas in Albany? Not so much.

The Dutch who settled in Albany celebrated St. Nicholas Day (St Nicholas was also known as Sinterklaas) with feasting and frolics in early December. Sinterklaas was a kindly religious figure in a red robe who brought presents and went down a chimney to fill stockings with presents. But the Dutch reserved Christmas for religious observances and then raised the roof on New Year’s Day, with much merry making and exchanging of gifts. The Protestant Germans who settled here in the 18th century did have a tradition of celebrating St. Nicholas Day and sometimes Christmas as well (the Germans pretty much rocked the whole month of December); such festivities were private –not for public display. BUT the English “Yankees” who came to Albany from New England in the 1700s were not big on Christmas revelry; that was hangover from the Puritans and the Mayflower who actually banned Christmas in the 1600s. At best a pagan ritual; worst case .. celebrating Christmas was blasphemy.

Even after the Revolutionary War, Albany didn’t really have its Christmas groove. But the idea of Christmas was catching on. By 1813 a few ads appear in newspapers for Albany stores selling Christmas as well as New Year’s gifts.

Washington Irving Wins the War on Christmas

Enter Washington Irving, author of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”. In the early 1820’s Irving published five very popular stories about what Christmas was like in Merry Olde England (the English, at least in the Mother Country had transcended their aversion to Christmas). The stories describe holiday customs and traditions: feasting, gifts, mistletoe, music, family games, Yule logs and candles that resound with joy and merriment. Irving’s Christmas Eve is magical. In one of the stories, he makes an actual pitch for Christmas; the traditions are too beautiful to lose and winter is a cruel season – we NEED Christmas. Washington sealed the deal;. his descriptions were enticing and seductive- his descriptions flawless. Who didn’t want to celebrate Christmas? By 1822, the Troy Sentinel publishes “A Visit from St. Nicholas” (a/k/a “The Night before Christmas”) by Clement Moore, an Episcopalian clergyman from Rhinebeck. Christmas is now officially a thing. But we still don’t have a Santa.

Irving had also done a splendid job of describing St, Nicholas Day in his first work, “A History of New York” in 1809; there were other pamphlets and books that told the St. Nicholas story. Over the next decade or so there are more stories about Christmas and St. Nicholas Day until the 2 holidays sort of merge into one. The merging is more of a process, rather than an event. The Dutch edge towards Christmas from St. Nicholas celebrations; the Yankees get the idea it’s ok to have fun on Christmas.. and the Germans, well, it was all good and Gemütlichkeit; Germans never need a reason to party.

The “Yankees” of Albany and New York appropriated the fun Dutch traditions for Christmas. Sinterklaas becomes Santa Claus; he’s described as a decidedly more English Falstaff-like guy.. his clerical robes are exchanged for a red suit and he becomes positively roly-poly. But we still don’t know what he looks like- there are no good pictures to accompany the written descriptions.

Enter Richard H. Pease
dRichard Pease was born in Connecticut in 1813. By the mid 1830’s he’d moved to Albany. Pease was a talented lithographer and engraver; also an amazing entrepreneur. In the late 1830s he established Pease’s Great Variety Store at 50 Broadway in Albany. If you wanted it, the Great Variety Store appeared to have it, especially as the “holydays” (holidays) of Christmas and New Year’s came around. Pease was a salesman, and he used his lithography skills to sell his merchandise. In 1842 the first image of Santa Claus as we know him today (almost) is printed in one of Pease’s ads. Pease clearly has read Santa descriptions from the previous decade; the Pease Santa is chunky, with a beard (not yet white) and suit. In his store ad, Santa is ready to climb down a chimney and there is a reindeer on the roof. His bishop’s miter had been traded for a peeked hat.


Over the next decades other images of Santa emerge, some very creepy, but Pease’s image gets wide circulation in newspapers across the country for many years. His talent and imagination created the basis for an enduring image of Santa. Thomas Nast, the political cartoonist, creates the next iconic Santa for “Harper’s Weekly” (1880s), drawing on the Pease Santa. The Nast image is finally replaced as the official Santa in the 1930s when Coca-Cola creates a genius ad campaign in the 1930s Depression, designed to get people to drink more soda in the winter. Coke.. it’s not just for summer.






Pease Strikes Again – the first American Christmas Card



The Great Variety Store thrives. By the mid -1840s, Pease moves to a new building at 516 Broadway and opens The Temple of Fancy. Just the name makes you want to shop. It’s basically the ‘Emporium of Everything”. Still a marketing genius, in 1849, he decides to make a special card for Christmas, which is the first Christmas card produced in the Unites States. (The first card ever was created in England in 1843. Alas, Christmas cards don’t really catch on until Boston-based printer Louis Prang started selling color cards in 1875.


What Happened to Albany’s Marketing Genius?

The Temple of Fancy thrives and Pease creates a number of wildly popular children’s books and games. The Temple closes about 1853 when Pease moves on to another successful enterprise. In 1854 Pease purchases the Albany Agricultural Works, and operates it as the Excelsior Agricultural Works with his son Charles, who previously owned a similar business in Tivoli Hollow. It looks like they were quite successful and we are on the trail of a potential Pease patent for a potato planter.



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.)


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.

Happy 260th Birthday to Eliza Schuyler Hamilton

Happy 260th Birthday to Eliza Schuyler Hamilton

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz20638402_1395903533791238_6113372414879897798_nShe was born August 9 in Albany in 1757 on the southeast corner of State and Pearl, in the heart of the City to General Philip Schuyler and Catherine Van Rensselaer Schuyler, in the ancestral home that had been built 100 years prior.



zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz20746107_1395903553791236_3537085446982887756_oThe family moved into a new house, the Schuyler Mansion in the Pastures, at the south end of the City limits when she was about 8.



zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz20729076_1395903600457898_2562277596429461261_oIn early 1780, while on a visit to her aunt in Morristown , N.J. she and Alexander Hamilton became a “thing”.





zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz20643251_1395903680457890_5642000104105953377_oAfter a swift and intense courtship, they married later that year when she was 23 In December in the parlor of the Mansion.




Although Hamilton was killed tragically in the duel with Burr in 1804 Elizabeth lived another 50 years, devoted to charitable works and preserving her husband’s legacy.

The 1806 Eclipse in Albany NY

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz21032395_1406845769363681_2920036139142033724_nThe Eclipse in Albany – June 16, 1806; commenced about 11 am and the total eclipse lasted about 5 minutes in duration.

“Then came the great eclipse of 1806 which clearly announced the fall and final end of the Dutch Dynasty.”  from “Random Recollections of Albany from 1800 to 1808” by Gorham A. Worth

There was a painting made by Albany artist Ezra Ames, (alas the painting appears to have be “lost”) based on a much discussed description by Simeon De Witt, Surveyor General of New York State (and designer of the street grids for Albany and New York City).

“The edge of the moon was strongly illuminated, and had the brilliancy of polished silver. No common colors could express this. I therefore directed it to be attempted by a raised silver rim. No verbal description can give anything like a true idea of this sublime spectacle, with which man is so rarely gratified. In order to have a proper conception of what is intended to be represented, you must transfer your ideas to the heavens and imagine, at the departure of the last ray of the Sun, in his retreat behind the Moon, an awful gloom in an instant diffused over the face of nature, and around a dark circle near the south, an immense radiated glory, like a new creation, bursting on the sight, and for some minutes fixing the gaze of man in silent amazement.
As no verbal description can give any thing like a true idea of this sublime spectacle, with which mani is so rarely gratified, I thought this painting would not be an unwelcome present to the Society, or an improper article to be preserved among its collection of subjects for philosophical speculation. But, in order to have a proper conception of what is intended to be represented, you must transfer your ideas to the heavens, and imagine, at the departure of the last ray of the sun, in its retreat behind the moon, an awful gloom immediately diffused over the face of nature; and round a dark circle, near the zenith, an immense radiated glory, like a new creation, in a moment bursting on the sight, and for several minutes fixing the gaze of man in silent amazement.
The luminotus circle on the edge of the moon, as well as the rays which were darted from her, were remarkably pale, and had that bluish tint, which distinguishes the colour of quicksilver from a dead white.”

The Un-Dutching of Albany

“Albany was indeed Dutch, in all its moods and tenses; thoroughly and inveterately Dutch.”

But even the dogs changed their accents.

The following is from “Random Recollections of Albany: From 1800 to 1808” (published in 1866).. It was written by Gorham A. Worth, a banker who had lived here during his 20s and then went on to make a lot of money and impart upon the world his recollections of multiple places, including Hudson and Cincinnati.

Anyway, there’s an interesting section early in Worth’s book that recalls a significant change in Albany: the shift from Dutch culture to a more English/American/Yankee culture. Spoiler: Albany wasn’t a fan of change
“The Yankees were creeping in. Every day added to their number; and the unhallowed hand of innovation was seen pointing its impertinent finger at the cherished habits and venerated customs of the ancient burgers.”
It’s a fun and interesting read, so we clipped it…
Worth’s recollection of Albany in 1800 is of a city that he regarded as a kind of backwater — but, um, in a good way. “Nothing could be more unique or picturesque to the eye, than Albany in its primitive days. Even at the period above mentioned, it struck me as peculiarly naive and beautiful. All was antique, clean and quiet.”
He continues a little later on…””Pearl street, it must be remembered, was, in those days, the west end for the town; for there the town ended, and there resided some of the most aristocratic of the ancient burgers. There, a little after sunrise, in a mild spring morning, might be seen, sitting by the side of their doors, the ancient and venerable Mynheers with their little sharp cocked hats, or red-ringed worsted caps (as the case might be), drawn tight over their heads. There they sat, like monuments of a former age, still lingering on the verge of time; or like mile-stones upon a turnpike road, solus in solo! or, in simple English, unlike anything I had ever seen before. But there they sat, smoking their pipes in that dignified silence, and with that phlegmatic gravity, which would have done honor to Sir Wonter Van Twiller, or even to Puffendorf himself. The whole line of the street, on either side, was dotted by the little clouds of smoke, that, issuing from their pipes, and, curling around their noddles, rose slowly up the antique gables, and mingled with the morning air; giving beauty to the scene, and adding an air of life to the picture. But the great charm was in the novelty of the thing. I had seen a Dutch house before, but never till then had I seen a row of Dutchmen smoking in a Dutch city.

Albany was indeed Dutch, in all its moods and tenses; thoroughly and inveterately Dutch. The buildings were Dutch–Dutch in style, in position, attitude and aspect. The people were Dutch, the horses were Dutch, and even the dogs were Dutch. If any confirmation were wanting, as to the origin and character of the place, it might be found in the old Dutch church, which was itself always to be found in the middle of State street, looking as if it had been wheeled out of line by the giants of old, and there left; or had dropped down from the clouds in a dark night, and had stuck fast where it fell.

All the old buildings in the city — and they constituted a large majority — were but one story high, with sharp peaked roofs, surmounted by a rooster, vulgarly called a weathercock. Every house, having any pretensions to dignity, was placed with its gable end to the street, and was ornamented with huge iron numericals, announcing the date of its erection; while from its eaves long wooden gutters, or spouts, projected in front some six or seven feet, so as to discharge the water from the roof, when it rained, directly over the centre of the sidewalls. This was probably contrived for the benefit of those who were compelled to be out in wet weather, as it furnished them with an extra shower-bath free of expense.
But the destined hour was drawing near. The Yankees were creeping in. Every day added to their number; and the unhallowed hand of innovation was seen pointing its impertinent finger at the cherished habits and venerated customs of the ancient burgers. These meddling eastern Saxons at length obtained a majority in the city councils; and then came an order, with a handsaw, to “cut off those spouts.” Nothing could exceed the consternation of the aforesaid burgers, upon the announcement of this order. Had it been a decree abolishing their mother tongue, it could hardly have excited greater astonishment, or greater indignation. “What!” said they, “are our own spouts, then, to be measured and graduated by a corporation standard! Are they to be cut off or foreshortened, without our knowledge or consent!” But the Dutch still retained the obstinacy, if not the valor, of their ancestors. They rallied their forces and at the next election, the principal author of the obnoxious order (my old friend Elkanah Watson), was elected a constable of the ward in which he lived! This done, they went to sleep again; and before they awoke, new swarms had arrived, and a complete and thorough revolution had taken place. The Yankees were in possession of the city! and the fate of the Dutch was sealed.

A restless, leveling, innovating spirit, now prevailed throughout the city. The detested word improvement was in every mouth, and resistance was unavailing. The stinted pines became alarmed, and gradually receded. The hills themselves gave way. New streets opened their extended lines, and the old ones grew wider. The roosters on the gable heads, that for more than a century had braved the Indians and the breeze; that had even flapped their wings and crowed in the face of Burgoyne himself, now gave it up, and came quietly down. The gables in despair soon followed, and more imposing fronts soon reared their corniced heads. The old Dutch Church itself, thought to be immortal, submitted to its fate and fell! not at the foot of Pompey’s statute, exactly, but at the foot of State street, which freed from the obstruction thenceforward became the Rialto of the city, where peddlers of stale sea-cod, and country hucksters, now do congregate.

Even the dogs now began to bark in broken English; many of them, indeed, had already caught the Yankee twang, so rapid was the progress of refinement. In the process of a few brief years, all that was venerable in the eyes of the ancient burgers disappeared. Then came the great eclipse of 1806, which clearly announced the fall and final end of the Dutch dynasty. It is hardly necessary to say, that not an iron rooster has crowed upon the gable heads, nor a civil cocked hat been seen in the ancient city of Albany, from that day to this.”

Worth then goes on to discuss the famous local families of the time, many of them with names that still echo today: Van Rensselaer, Ten Broeck, Gansevoort, Lansing, Van Schaick, Ten Eyck, Pruyn, and so on.

Excerpted from 8/24/17 All Over Albany

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.

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.*


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.

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