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Old Hartford Election Day Cake

November 5, 2018

Campaigns for political office are frothy and combative.   But Election Night should be fun.

Every two years I gather true politicos–some from my days at the statehouse and others from more recent years–for an Election Watch party.  More often then not in this home on such occasions we serve Grandma’s Old Country Jam Cake.  From scratch all the spices and sugars one can imagine are mixed in a huge bowl.  Then at the end of the process a large amount of fresh preserves are folded in.  This year it will be strawberry.    Add copious amounts of real whipped cream when serving and all that is left to be done is cheer for the winners.

There are traditions, such as the one above, taking place all over the nation tomorrow.  And it all is staked in long and grand traditions.

In Colonial Times the casting and counting of ballots was a very big occasion.  Especially for those in the New England colonies who were heavily influenced by Puritanism.  Since many holidays, like Christmas, were frowned upon by the Puritans, Election Day was a chance for colonists to celebrate and enjoy the festivities of the holiday.

Hartford, Connecticut is often called the birthplace of the Election Cake. Connecticut was a colony that had the right to elect its own Governor, and Election Day had become a big holiday there by the early 18th century. A central focus of this celebration was the Election Cake.

The old-fashioned recipe comes from Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book, a cookbook published in 1850.

According to Miss Beecher’s book, this recipe was supposed to be 100 years old as of the writing of the cookbook in 1850 which would date it to around 1750 – if Miss Beecher’s sources were correct.  The recipe could have been passed down by word-of-mouth or altered a bit, though, by the time it was printed in 1850.

HISTORIC VERSION OF THE RECIPE:

This is the version of the recipe printed on page 146 of the book in the section labeled “Rich Cakes.”

  • Five pounds of dried and sifted flour
  • Two pounds of butter
  • Two pounds of sugar
  • Three gills of distillery yeast, or twice the quantity of home-brewed.
  • Four eggs.
  • A gill of wine and a gill of brandy.
  • Half an ounce of nutmegs, and two pounds of fruit.
  • A quart of milk.

“Rub the butter very fine into the flour, add half the sugar, then the yeast, then half the milk, hot in winter, and blood warm in summer, then the eggs well beaten, the wine, and the remainder of the milk. Beat it well, and let it stand to rise all night. Beat it well in the morning, adding the brandy, the sugar, and the spice. Let it rise three or fours hours, till very light. When you put the wood into the oven, put the cake in buttered pans, and put in the fruit as directed previously. If you wish it richer, add a pound of citron.”

There are of course modern versions of this recipe.   But why would you not want to make a cake that could feed a barn-raising crowd?

One Comment leave one →
  1. Leo Marvin permalink
    November 5, 2018 1:24 PM

    I’d keep an eye on James…the recipe calls for a single gill of wine, but how many gills will he have while baking this festive cake?

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