Plum Puddings and Fruit Cakes for the Holidays

This is the first article in December of the School for Housewives 1906 series published on December 2, 1906, and is a discussion on puddings and cakes for the holidays.

Transcribed from the Sunday edition of Boston Sunday Post.

Plum Puddings and Fruit Cakes for the Holidays

HE who doubts that fashions come and fashions go in the culinary world as truly, if not as fast, as the modes of gowns and hats in another sphere, should read up in cookbooks the history of cakes for the last half century.

As the nominal chaperon of a small granddaughter, I was permitted to attend a children’s lawn party last summer. While the babies of assorted sizes were regaled with sponge cake and ice cream upon the turf below us, we seniors, sitting on the veranda, sipped “afternoon tea” and were served with cake adjudged to be too rich for young stomachs. It was as yellow as gold; it was tender, yet firm; it was as sweet as honey and yet so spicy that it was fragrant.

The Rapture of Reminiscence

As the palate appreciated the ineffable deliciousness of the dainty, two of us uttered in delight not far removed from ecstasy—

“Real poundcake!”

Both of the speakers were grandmothers. Women of the second generation shared our pleasure, but not the rapture of reminiscence. When one granddame sighed, “I do not think I have eaten genuine poundcake before in thirty years,” the juniors confessed that they had never tasted it before.

It transpired, presently, that the mother of the hostess, a Southern woman, had compounded the delicacy, assisted by her colored maid.

Like the “venerable men” eulogized by Webster at the inauguration of Bunker Hill Monument, it had “come down to us from a former generation”—a generation that had time to take pains in whatever it undertook. A pound of loaf sugar, crushed and sifted through muslin; three quarters of a pound of washed butter; a pound of flour dried in the oven; a pound of eggs; one nutmeg, grated; a teaspoonful of mace, and a glass of pure old brandy went into that peerless loaf. The mixing was done as carefully as the weighing. Then came half an hour of steady beating (think of that, ye hustlers of the twentieth century!) that left it velvety in consistency and in color like molten gold.

This sounds like bathos to our up-to-date cook. I forgive her, if she has never known real poundcake.

“Snowball” Sponge Cake

I spoke, just now, of the sponge cake served to the children. I did not see it or taste it. I am, nevertheless, as sure as if I had done both that it was as little like the “snowballs” that were the joy of my childhood as cup cake resembles the luscious pound loaf I have described but feebly. Sponge cake (the real thing) was guiltless of butter. So is the modern plagiarism. I could run over the original recipe backward—so familiar was it to my charmed ears:

Twelve eggs; the weight of the eggs in sugar, half their weight in flour; one lemon—juice and rind. Beat yolks and whites separately and very light, the sugar into the yolks when they are perfectly smooth: next the juice and grated lemon peel, then the stiffened whites; lastly the sifted flour, very lightly and rapidly.

As with the poundcake, the rest was skill.

The perfect product was never tough. It melted in the mouth like butter, never sticking to the teeth, and although most delicious when freshly baked, did not desiccate into sweetish dust when cold.

What might be called “the sponge cake of commerce”—most often sold in the shape of lady fingers (save the mark!) and jumbles—better befitting the name—is coaxed into lightness by ammonia and baking powders. It is always either tough or sawdusty.

In all the changes and chances, the downfalls and upheavals, in the realm of cake-making, the queen holds her own. Fruit cake has never been superseded by angel or by devil cake, by any of the countless varieties of cup or layer cake. She smiles serene indifference upon Lady Baltimore, while French, lady, marble, caramel, Washington, Lincoln and Lee “win no regard from her calm eyes.” She is empress, and her dynasty is perpetual. Two hundred years ago fruit cake was an indispensable feature in every feast of note. The reveler of today holds it in equal esteem with his great-great-grandfather.

“Indigestible,” say our diet dictators. “Horribly expensive!” cry frugal housewives. All the same, children cry for it, and the four-dollars-a-week housemother pinches in here and overruns there to have that on Christmas Day which will set the younglings to singing—

“Some gave them white bread, some gave them brown;
Some gave them plum cake and sent them out of town.”

To the maker of the immemorial ballad “plum cake” stood for the most costly bribe in the gift of the harassed townspeople. Before coming to recipes for the royal loaf, let me remind the maker thereof of a few important preliminaries to the ceremony.

Collect and weigh all the ingredients before you begin to mix the cake. Appropriate a table of fair size and settle yourself in a corner where you are not likely to be interrupted. Neglect not the least detail of spoon, or spice sifter, or grater. Pay especial attention to the fruit. The currants may be labeled “Cleaned.” See that you wash them in three waters. The third may be clear. The first and second will justify my caution and your obedience. Drain and dry them when they are clean, drying in the open oven and in a heated colander lest they should sweat. Rinse the raisins in clear water, and dry them. Do not chop nuts if they are to go into the cake. Cut them small with a sharp knife, or shave them thin with the same.

All must be perfectly dry when they are dredged or the fruit will make the cake heavy. Shred the citron fine with keen clean scissors.

Thirty odd years ago I italicized a sentence in a paper upon this subject, which I shall now set up in capitals:

“THERE IS NO ROYAL ROAD TO SUCCESS IN CAKE-MAKING.”

Every step must be as carefully taken as if upon it depended the fate of the undertaking.

Pound Fruit Cake.

One pound of butter; one pound of powdered sugar; one pound of flour; one pound of seeded raisins; one pound of currants; half a pound of shredded citron; twelve eggs; one even teaspoonful of cinnamon; two teaspoonfuls of nutmeg; one teaspoonful of cloves; one wineglass of best brandy. (Cooking brandy will not do.)

Rub the butter and sugar to a smooth cream; heat in the whipped eggs and stir hard for two whole minutes before adding half of the flour. Beat the flour in with long, even strokes; add the spices, and when these are well incorporated with the other ingredients “fold in” the whites, i.e., with long, almost horizontal, sweeps of the spoon, alternately with there served flour. The brandy goes in last, and this must be with as few strokes as will suffice to blend it completely with the batter.

This is a large quantity. For a family of ordinary size half as much of each ingredient will do.

The whole will make two large loaves. Cover with thick paper when you put it into a steady oven, and do not remove the paper under an hour. It will require nearly, if not quite, two hours’ baking.

The novice would best commit the baking to an experienced cook.

A Cup Fruit Cake.

One cupful of washed butter; two cupfuls of powdered sugar; two and a half cupfuls of sifted flour; half a pound each of currants and seeded raisins; a quarter of a pound of shredded citron; a teaspoonful each of cinnamon and grated nutmeg; six eggs.

Cream butter and sugar, add the beaten yolks of the eggs, next the flour and the well-dredged fruit and citron, the spices, and whip upward for one minute before adding the whites of the eggs whipped to a standing froth. Fold them in lightly and quickly.

Half-Pound Christmas Cake.

Half a pound of butter and the same of sugar; half a pound each of currants, raisins and shredded nuts; a quarter pound of clipped citron; one teaspoonful each of powdered nutmeg, mace and cinnamon; one heaping cupful of flour; seven eggs, whites and yolks whipped separately.

Mix as directed in the preceding recipe, being careful to dredge the fruit well. A pleasant flavor is imparted to the cake by mixing a tablespoonful of rosewater with the nuts while mincing them.

Raised Fruit Cake.

Set aside on baking day a cupful of dough that has had the second rising. Work it into a cream made by stirring together a cupful of butter with one of brown sugar. Have at hand half a cupful of raisins and currants dredged with flour and an equal quantity of shredded citron. Mix through the half cupful of fruit half a teaspoonful of cinnamon and half as much powdered mace, and work it well into the dough. This done, beat two eggs very light, yolks and whites together, and knead them into the mass until it is very light. Five minutes should be enough. Finally, mould in to two loaves, throw a cloth over them and set in a rather warm place for twenty minutes before baking.

This is a popular cake with English children, and is sometimes called “Twelfth Night Cake.”

White Fruit Cake.

The following formula for an excellent white fruit cake was contributed by a member of the Exchange:

Put three-quarters of a pound of fresh butter into a basin, and beat until white and creamy. Add by degrees three-quarters of a pound of sifted powdered sugar and beat this mixture for a few minutes. Separate the yolks from the whites of eight eggs; add yolks to butter and sugar and beat again ten minutes. Then stir in half a pound of sultanas, half a pound of raisins seeded and cut into halves; six ounces of glace cherries and candied pineapple, also cut in pieces; a quarter of a pound of almonds (sweet), blanched and baked to a golden brown; the grated rind of a lemon; a saltspoonful of cinnamon (ground) or a wineglassful of brandy.

Whisk the whites of the eight eggs to a stiff froth and mix lightly with the other ingredients. Have ready a pound of flour, sifted, and two teaspoonfuls of baking powder added to it. Scatter it in by degrees, stirring in one handful before the next is added. Bake in a paper lined, buttered tin from two and a half to three hours. Cover the cake with boiled icing. It may be made quite fanciful by pipings of colored icing, glace cherries or other fruit to correspond with the colors used.

T. V. (Lockport, N. Y.).

We are indebted to another—a Massachusetts housemother—for a tested family recipe for what may be ranked as a cousin-german of our empress—to wit, PLUM PUDDING.

Christmas Plum Pudding.

One pound of butter; one pound of suet freed from string and chopped fine; one pound of sugar; two and a half pounds of flour; two pounds of currants, picked over carefully after they are washed; two pounds of raisins seeded, chopped and dredged with flour; one quarter of a pound of citron shredded fine; twelve eggs, whites and yolks beaten separately; one pint of milk; one cup of brandy; one ounce of cloves, one-half ounce of mace; two grated nutmegs. Cream butter and sugar, beat in the yolks when you have whipped them smooth and light; next, put in the milk, then the flour, alternately with the beaten whites; then the brandy and spices; lastly the fruit well dredged with flour.

Mix all thoroughly, wring out your pudding cloth in hot water, flour well inside, pour in the mixture and boil five hours.

MRS. J.O.D. (Hyde Park, Mass.).

After a long vacation the Private Secretary is heard from again, and with a baker’s dozen of practical household hints. Although he persists in calling himself “ a mere man,” it is obvious that he has sowed beside all waters to which housemothers do resort.

Quere: Does his wife prompt him?

“Do you know—

1. That if you will make a strong suds of silicon and very hot water, and wash your silver in it, then pass through another pan of boiling water, and wipe piece by piece, you need never scrub it with powders, that / will, eventually, wear it thin?

2. That if the inside of a silver teapot is darkened by much brewing of mixed tea (it’s the green that does the mischief), you may clean it by putting a teaspoon fill of baking soda into it, filling it with boiling water, and setting it over the fire in a pan of boiling water for five or ten minutes—you may wipe it out clean and bright?

3. That you may clean the pewter-ware bequeathed to you by your great-grand aunt by washing it in boiling water, covering it with a thick paste of woodashes, sifted through mosquito-netting, then mixed with kerosene, and after six or eight hours polishing it with old, soft flannel?

4. That delicate stomachs that cannot digest ham, much less fresh pork, can assimilate thin slices of breakfast bacon?

5. That, while creamed coffee is rank poison to some dyspeptics, nearly everybody is the better for a small cup of black coffee taken after the heaviest meal of the day?

6. That this same black coffee, drunk as hot as one can swallow it, is a prime remedy for nausea, from whatever cause?

7. That matches should never be left in closed houses in paper boxes, since mice are passionately fond of the tips, and often play the incendiary unintentionally?

8. That bananas, peeled, dipped in egg, then rolled in cracker-dust and baked in the oven, are more palatable and far more wholesome than when they are fried in the usual way?

9. That the same may be said of croquettes?

10. That if, in putting away papers and books which are not to be used for some months, you will put camphor balls or gum camphor among them, the mice will not touch them?

11. That silver may be protected from tarnish in like manner?

12. That almost any scorch may be removed from cloths (linen or cotton) by simply washing and boiling in the usual way, and hanging in the hot sun while wet?

13. That, when the fat takes fire on the stove, it is better to sacrifice a kitchen rug by throwing it upon the flame than to try to put it out by throwing water on it? The burning grease will float farther, and blaze more fiercely from the water.

THE PRIVATE SECRETARY,
Camden, N. J.

Marion Harland

OTHER ARTICLES ALSO PUBLISHED…
Caring for Oilcloth
Decorating Closets
A Happy Solution of a Hard Problem
Recipes by Request
Sink Knowledge

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