Do you ever leaf through those old cookbooks and booklets at junk stores, the ones that look like they've had lives of their own? I do, and I wonder about who owned them, the home, the family, and the memories that were made over a good, home-cooked meal. Which recipe was the talk of the church potluck? How many fallen cakes were cried upon, mediocre casseroles suffered through, and angel food successes celebrated?
Some of these cookbooks are true food comedy--and a hot vintage commodity these days--with the uneven fading of colors rendering every pineapple glazed ham a horror story, the perplexing frankfurter centered luau appetizer plates, and the endless array of gelatin desserts. And salads. And main courses.
Many look like they've never been used; I suppose that's bound to happen with titles like "Tested Recipes for your Hamilton Beach Food Mixer" (1948); "New Edition: the Calumet Baking Book" (1931). But "Dishes Your Mother Used to Make" (1942) is in mint condition, and I'd like to know why. Who did not want to know whats Mother used to make?
The cookbooks compiled by churches and ladies groups can be a treasure of fine recipes, but since they often contain advertisements from local business, they also often reveal details about daily life that is now very foreign to our own. I bought a copy of the San Juan and Orcas Islands Rebekah Lodge Cookbook from 1941 because of the advertisement on page 4: "Cook With Electricity" it reads. "Do away with guesswork on oven temperature... No ashes or soot to clean out". I repeat:. NO ASHES OR SOOT. Just let that sink in.
This is an old recipe, and there are a few things "missing" that the average, 1940s home baker would not have needed instruction on but that most of today's bakers would. For example (ironically), oven temperature. And cake pan size. I used a 9" x 9" square pan, based on my own nostalgia for a square spice cake my sister and I and our English friend up the street would make for teatime when we were kids. In fact, the original recipe entirely omits instructions on putting the batter into a pan and baking it. I encourage you to forsake nostalgia at this point and add this step. I have included it below.
Some ingredients and instructions will seem odd, like the use of cake flour, all the sifting, and the use of shortening in the cake, and a raw yolk in the frosting. I substituted butter. If you do not have cake flour, you will probably be fine with a substitution of all-purpose flour, but may lose some tenderness. As for the yolk, you could substitute some egg replacer (follow instructions on the box) or just increase the amount of liquids to make a smooth frosting.
You'll also find this is not a "dump and mix" recipe, but it is an easy method, and the extra steps will make a difference in your product. For fun, I did it the old way, with a bowl, a spatula and a whisk; none of which plug into a wall. Enjoy!
1/2 t salt
2 cups brown sugar
1/2 t nutmeg
1/2 t cloves
1 t cinnamon
1 t vanilla extract
3 egg yolks
2 cups cake flour
1/2 baking powder
1 t baking soda
1 cup sour cream
3 egg whites
Cream the butter and salt and sugar thoroughly. Add the yolks. Sift the flour, measure, then add the bakiing powder, soda, and spices and sift again. Add the flour and sour cream alternately in three additions. Beat the egg whites until stiff, and fold into the batter until well blended. Pour the batter into a buttered 9"x9" pan. Bake in a moderate oven (350) for about 30 minutes, or until the center springs back when touched, and edges are just beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan.
Orange Butter Frosting
1 T grated orange zest
4 T orange juice
3 T butter
1/2 grated lemon zest
2 t lemon juice
1 egg yolk
1/8 t salt
3 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted
Cream butter and sugar, then add egg yolk and salt. Add 1/4 of the sugar alternately with 1/3 of the juice, beginning and ending on the sugar. Beat until smooth.
Frost cake once cooled.
Not included in the instructions are to cut, serve, and eat, which we did. Delicious!
Makes 16 servings