October 20, 2008

Food for the Times

by DiAnn Mills

“Hey, Ma, what’s for supper?”

“Why are you asking me at noon?”

“Cause it takes that long for you to fix it.”

I may have exaggerated the above a little, but not by much. Cooking for the 19th century family took a lot of time and effort. If you didn’t raise it or kill it, you basically did without. Families raised gardens designed to feed them through the lean months of winter. Smoke houses and root cellars were a part of rural life. Women calculated how much food was needed to feed her ever increasing family—and extra for rainy days and those less fortunate.

As towns sprang up, flour, sugar, salt, beans, coffee, and other staple items became more available. And as civilization grew closer to the west, canned items added to the family’s nutrition. The industrial revolution caused the growth of flour and grain mills, meat packing plants, and breweries. Railroads help to transport much needed items all over the country.

The 19th century woman advanced from cooking over an open hearth to the modern convenience of a wood-fed stove. My grandmother, born in 1883, preferred her cast iron stove until the day she died. A true cook knew how much wood to add and just how hot her oven needed to be for perfectly browned biscuits and tempting pies and cakes.

One of my favorite books is Food in History by Reay Tannahill. This reference book gives the reader and writer an overview of what foods were available and how they were preserved, including some information that I would have rather not known!

America is known as a melting pot, and that means every ethnic group establishing a home on American soil brought food traditions, unique recipes, and ways to make food preservation a little easier. Old cookbooks, journals, and letters often show methods of measurement and what kind of pans to use. The cookbook featured below is a research item published for junior age children.

The following came from my sister in Ohio. She gave me the recipe along with this explanation. “Stack Cakes were a traditional pioneer wedding cake. These were made ahead of time and put together right at the wedding celebration. Each guest brought a layer of cake. Applesauce made from either fresh or dried apples (depending on the time of year) was spread on each cake layer and the layers were stacked. The bride’s popularity could be measured by the number of stacks she had and by the number of layers in each stack. Since guests were apt to bring different types of cake, the stacks were often varicolored and flavored. This recipe is typical for that time.”

For those of you who want a breath of days gone by, I invite you to try the following! Don’t use any modern tools of the cooking trade, just muscle power. J

Stack Cake

1 cup of butter or margarine

1 cup sugar

l cup molasses

3 eggs

4 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

l cup milk

2 16 1/2 ounce jars chunky-style spice applesauce

Whipped cream

Chopped nuts

Cream together butter and sugar till light. Stir in molasses: add eggs, one at a time beating after each. Stir together flour soda, and salt, add to creamed mixture alternately with milk, beating after each addition. Grease and flour three 8x1 1/2-inch round baking pans. Pour 1-1/3 cups of batter into each pan. Bake at 375 till done, about 15 minutes. Cool 5 minutes, remove from pans and cool on rack. Wash pans, grease and flour. Repeat with remaining batter. Spread applesauce between layers. Spread whipped cream atop, sprinkle with nuts. Makes 24 servings.

DiAnn Mills



Vickie McDonough said...

We don't know how easy we have it these days. Thanks for sharing this interesting recipe, DiAnn. I'd never heard of Stack cakes before.

I've already ordered the cookbook you mentioned.


Lena Nelson Dooley said...

Interesting post.

I ordered the book, too. They should give you a discount.

Tiff (Amber Miller) Stockton said...

Oh, yum! Sounds scrumptious...even if it's a lot of work. LOL! Yeah, we have no idea how easy we have it. That's why it's fun writing historical stories where we can live vicariously without having to actually endure things. :)

DiAnn Mills said...

Vickie, Lena, and Tiff, I'm so glad you liked the blog. I'm all for cooking, but I prefer all the modern technology!

brendalottakamaggiebrendan said...

Neat post, DiAnn. I've never heard of stacks cakes. Very interesting. That looks like a book I'd like to have.

DiAnn Mills said...

My sister is thrilled that I mentioned her recipe. She's made the cake. I found it interesting that the more stacks, the more popular the bride. Sure glad we don't do that anymore!

Kathleen Y'Barbo said...

Can I get the microwave directions? :D

Molly Noble Bull said...

Diann, I'm not much of a cook but love to eat. You stuff sounds great.