Sunday, May 24, 2009

Let Them Eat Cake

Lest you think that the Mormon pioneers ate nothing but bread...

I was at the DUP archives in SLC the other day, and came across a scrap of paper curiously referred to as "The Shoe Maker's Ledger." On the back side of the paper are some credit notations as you would expect to find in a ledger book from a shoe maker. So much owed for re-soles, one new pair at $2, etc. The date on the ledger is 1835. Then curiously scrawled between the credit notations and on the other side are a few recipies. Some of them don't seem to make any sense.

"Ginger Bread
1/2 a galen of molasses
3/4 Pound of Lard"

Where's the ginger? How much flour?

"Tea Cake
3 cups of sugar~ 3 eggs one cup of Butter one cup of milk a small lump of Butter." Hmmm... two different butter amounts. No flour. Do you just add "enough" flour until it has the right consistency? What's the leaven? Do you just beat the eggs hard to get it to rise, and fold the other ingredients gently into the whipped egg? Or did they forget to mention how much pearlash?

The most promising was this for "Loaf Cake"
"2 pounds of flour 2 of suggar 3 quarters of a pounds of lard and the same quantity of Butter~ one pint of yeast 8 eggs one quart of milk. Add the sugar~ in flour~ add the raisins and spice after~ the first raising."

Hmmm... lots of questions here eh? A yeast-leavened cake. A pint of yeast suggests that we're using yeast in a starch base. As we noted earlier, many pioneers kept their own yeast cultures by feeding live fresh yeast with weekly starches such as mashed potatoes or flour gruel. This meant that they used an increased volume of yeast since a large portion of the "yeast" culture was potatoes, not yeast. And what about "raisins and spice"? How much spice? what kind of spice?

So this is what passes for a recipe in the 1830s? No real standardized measurements, no baking temperature; actually more of a process than a formula. There seems to be a lot of inherent understanding assumed. The other small problem with this "shoe maker's ledger" is that we don't know for certain what the date is. While the shoemaker's ledger dates 1835, perhaps the recipes date later after the shoemaker was using it for scrap paper. You wouldn't imagine a shoemaker would jot down recipes between business entries. The recipes do seem to have commonality to the cookery styles of that early era however. Mostly, this document seems to raise lots of questions with very few answers. I probably won't be able to use it in my book because of the dating issues. Hope it was useful to you though...