Sometimes a recipe harkens to a specific time or event, such as "Watergate Cake", a pistachio cake so called because it was first made while the infamous Watergate scandal in the 1970s was on going. And sometimes a recipe was developed because of economic conditions or shortages of ingredients, like "Mock Apple Pie" that is not made with apples but rather Ritz Crackers.
All of these scenarios allow us to develop a deeper connection to our past and to the lives of our ancestors on a personal level. They allow us to have a glimpse into their world and grant us the opportunity to remember and honor them. Most of all, it allows them to live on through the food we eat.
The recipes that follow hearken back to the 19th and 20th centuries. They connect me with my family but also with two distinct periods of time that they lived through.
One branch of my family, the Kale Family, has been in the United States since before the Revolution. my great great great grandfather, Richard Stockton Kale I, was born in 1808. His parents, William and Mary Kale are mentioned in Burlington County, New Jersey, deeds as early as 1801.
In 1835, Richard married Anna Sever. Known as "Gramma Kale", Anna's recipe for Applesauce Cake dates back to 1850 and is the oldest recipe in our family.
The Kales were farmers in Burlington County. The Applesauce Cake, and an Eggless Devil Cake, were developed because there were times when the chickens on the farm did not lay eggs. Even as recently as the 20th Century, "if the chickens weren't laying eggs, we didn't go to the store to buy them. We made the applesauce cake and Devil's Food Cake because they didn't use any eggs. So, we always were able to have cake."
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
- 1 cup raisins
- 1 teaspoon baking soda in 2 cups flour
- Handful of cranberries and nuts
- 2 cups brown sugar
- 1/2 cup cocoa
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1 cup sour milk (butter milk)
- 2 1/2 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 cup hot water
- Vanilla (to taste, about 1 teaspoon)
In my great grandmother's cookbook is a fritter recipe. Fritters are simply pieces of dough that are sometimes plain and sometimes filled with meat, fruit or vegetables and then fried. A note in the margin, "Dad loves these", indicates that they are named after my great grandfather, William H. "Dad" Kale.
Figure 3 Recipe for "William's Fritters"
- 1 quart flour
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- small piece of lard
- a little salt
No one knows why the family stopped baking College Cake, however it may not be much of a coincidence that, in 1947, the first Betty Crocker Cake Mix hit the shelves, followed by Pillsbury in 1948 and Duncan Hines in 1951. The era of baking cakes from scratch - especially one as time consuming as College Cake - was quickly coming to an end.
The College Cake was last mentioned in a letter written February 20, 1948 by my grandmother, Julia Kale, to her mother and father-in-law. Julia was living in Germany at the time with my grandfather, Major Samuel S. Kale and their children while he was stationed in Würzburg with the Army of Occupation. Julia wrote her in-laws about dinner the previous Christmas, in 1947:
cookies, a cake, a fruit jello (without whipped cream or ice
cream) and fruitcake. No fruit but oranges & apples...We
seemed to have plenty of cookies and I made several new
kinds. We couldn't get chocolate chips, walnuts or fresh
coconut -- but we did have Nestle bars to cut up for cookies
& dehydrated coconut. Why I even made a college cake
and the marshmallows coming in as they did allowed us to
have sweet potato & marshmallow casserole. Thanks for
- 1/4 cup butter
- 1 cup sugar, divided
- 2 eggs, separated
- 2 ounces bitter chocolate, melted
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 1/4 cups flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (sifted with the flour)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
Cream 1/2 cup sugar and the yolks of 2 eggs.
Mix each until thick and creamy and then combine the two.
Add melted butter chocolate.
Add milk and mix.
Add flour and baking powder and mix.
Whip egg whites just until frothy and add to mixture.
Line the bottom of an 8-inch round pan with parchment or waxed paper. Pour batter into prepared pan and bake at 350*F for 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Let the cake cool completely in pan before turning out. Frost with boiled icing and once that sets cover with melted bitter chocolate.
Boiled Icing is an old fashioned, quintessentially American icing from the "turn of the century". It is reminiscent of marshmallows and is surprisingly very easy to make.
- 1 cup superfine sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
- 2 egg whites
- 1 teaspoon Vanilla
In a separate mixing bowl, whip the egg whites until they are stiff and hold a peak. Set aside.
Bring the sugar mixture to a boil and then continue to boil until it reaches 238*F [some recipes say it should go as high as 260].
Pour the hot syrup over the egg whites in a steady thin stream, beating constantly.
Add the vanilla and beat until cool and of spreading consistency. If the icing does not seem stiff enough, beat in 2 or 3 tablespoons of confectioners sugar 1 tablespoon at a time until it is stiff enough to hold its shape. Spread over the cake and let set.
- 2 cups milk
- 4 cups flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 4 tablespoons of fat or butter (shortenings)
- 1 pound (about) of bacon
- 1 onion
- Peppers (that's a matter of taste)
Cut the bacon into small pieces, cut very small the onion, then mix with the bacon, onion and ground peppers.
Then take the risen dough, make it thin, put on about a teaspoon from the bacon, cover the bacon with the other side of the dough, take a glass and cut out. Put on a pan, let rise a little. Glaze with beaten egg with a brush, put into a hot stove and bake until they are yellow-brown, about 18-20 minutes.
1 Neva Bainbridge. Interview with the author. 10 February 2012.
2 Some of these images are from my great grandmother, Mary Grace Kale's "first cookbook", a handwritten collection of recipes that range from cakes to cures for colds. It was given to me for safe keeping by my cousin Momi Naughton. It has been digitized and is available to anyone in the family who wishes a CD copy.
3 Most of the recipes in my great grandmother's cookbook only list the ingredients and don't tell you what to do with them once they're all mixed together! It was assumed that the person using the cookbook already knew the basics of how to bake a cake.
4 http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodcakes.html#aboutcakemixes (as of 14 February 2012). Thanks to my sister, Beth Larkin, for first suggesting that this could be the reason for the cake no longer being made.
5 Mark Falzini. "Letters Home: The Story of An American Military Family in Occupied Germany 1946-1949." iUniverse, 2004, pages 134-135.
6 ibid., page 10.
7 Barbara K. Falzini. Interview with the author. 10 February 2012.