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Cooking (and Contemplating) New England

An Election Baking Selection

Elect to Celebrate Elections

With this bitter election campaign dragging along to its conclusion, we thought we would try to sweeten the experience of the final couple of weeks before November 8th by reminding our readers of an earlier post of ours: Election Cake. We're moved to do this partly because of a recent post about Election Cake on the NPR website, brought to our attention by Tony Stavely: A History of Election Cake.

This NPR "history" of the famous cake is unfortunately  Read More 
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"Election Cake," from Lydia Maria Child's American Frugal Housewife (1833)

Democracy, 1829 Style

Let Them Vote and Eat Cake
Believe it or not in our time of bitterly partisan politics, but Election Day used to be a holiday. In Massachusetts, for instance, in the colonial and early national periods, it took place in May, and, used as an occasion for the standing order to assert social dominance, it was planned to coincide with the Harvard Commencement and the annual meeting of the ministers of the Commonwealth's established churches. Grand processions, formal ceremonies such as the Election Sermon, an official counting of the vote, sumptuous dinners, and elegant afternoon and evening balls were highlights of the occasion. Read More 
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"Gingerbread Cakes"—another offering from Amelia Simmons’s “first American cookbook” (1796)

Amelia’s “veddy English” Gingerbread Cakes, enjoyed with a “nice cuppa”


Gingerbread: The History
Simmons’s recipe is closely based on one in an English cookbook, Hannah Glasse’s Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy (see our blog post on her chowder recipe). Indeed gingerbread had a long history in England before it crossed the Atlantic. The earliest gingerbreads were made with grated crumbs from the finest type of wheat bread, the manchet (see our blog post thereon), were sweetened with honey rather than sugar or molasses, and were often dyed red, violet, or yellow. In the course of the seventeenth century, flour began to replace the manchet crumbs and sugar or treacle (molasses to us Yanks) the honey, while the garish coloring gradually faded away.  Read More 

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“Plumb Cake," from Amelia Simmons’s American Cookery (1796)

A yeasted "Plumb Cake" from the first American cookbook


In New England, Christmas didn't become an important holiday until about the middle of the nineteenth century. The Puritans distinctly objected to Christmas celebrations. In time, they became less strict about some of their beliefs, but not their hostility to Christmas. But the Puritans and their descendants weren't nearly as consistent as they liked to think they were. In the eighteenth century, when Thanksgiving began to develop as the most important regional holiday, New Englanders began sneaking Christmas in by the back door, featuring traditional English Christmas foods in their Thanksgiving feasts. That's how turkey became the centerpiece of the American Thanksgiving dinner. It's also how several traditional English Christmas desserts like mince pie and plum pudding found their way onto the festive New England board. The recipe we're going to tell you about in this post, for "Plumb Cake," is an example of an English treat that became popular in New England for Thanksgiving and, later on, for Christmas. Read More 

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