Monday, November 07, 2005


A habit I picked up from my chef ex is reading cookbooks like novels. They're incredible social documents; I collect vintage ones, ranging from the early 1900s to right around the Kennedy assassination...but that's a handy essay for another time. Today, I was doing a little half-assed Google research for my novel-in-progress: would one of my characters have been likely to receive a birthday cake, in late 1920s rural North Dakota? What would it look like? Would there be candles?

I didn't find precisely what I wanted...but this description of an 1851 pioneer child's birthday cake, deep in the wilds of Texas, made me tear up a little:

This recipe was used to make a birthday cake for a small girl eighty-five years ago. There was no flour to be had, and corn was ground on a handmill. The meal was carefully emptied from one sack to another, and fine meal dust clinging to the sack was carefully shaken out on paper; the sack was again emptied and shaken, and the process was repeated labouriously time after time until two cupsful of meal dust was obtained. The rest of the ingredients were as follows: 1/2 cup of wild honey, 1 wild turkey egg, 1 teaspoonful of homemade soda, 1 scant cupful of sour milk and a very small amount of butter, to all of which was added the meal dust. The batter was poured into a skillet with a lid, and placed over the open fire in the yard, the skillet lid being heaped with coals. To a little girl's childish taste the cake was very fine, but looking back through the years, the honoree said relfectively, "It was none too sweet." ---Cooking Recipes of the Pioneer, Bandera Library Association [Frontier Times:Bandera TX] 1936 (p. 23)

From I could read this stuff all day...

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