Old Hartford Election Day Cake

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?

GOP To Ease Restrictions On Processed Goods In House Farm Bill For School Children

Who needs fresh produce when there is so much charming taste in processed canned goods!  

Are they kidding?

As the House GOP wrestles with whether to overhaul the food stamp program and tie it to work in the new farm bill that passed the Agriculture Committee in April, other small changes to the previous law stand out that could markedly affect longstanding federal nutrition programs.

Some lawmakers want to add frozen, canned, pureed and dried produce to the menus of the U.S. Agriculture Department’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program for schoolchildren.

It’s a proposal Maine GOP Rep. Bruce Poliquin says will help American children “be able to eat healthy all year round with nutritious products from across the country,” according to The Associated Press.

Democrats are already pushing back on the proposal to open the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, which grants public schools money to purchase fresh produce to provide as snacks for its students free of charge, to more processed goods.

“Once you start whittling away at it, it’s no longer a Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program,” former Iowa Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, who initiated the program in 2002, told the AP.

Harkin is dubious of frozen fruits and vegetables because of the sugar and chemicals added to keep them from rotting too quickly. It’d be better to skip freezing and packaging blueberries and instead send fresh bushels straight to the schools, he said.

Lobster Shortage?

This is not good news for lovres of Maine’s favorite export.

It’s no shell game: As the price per pound has skyrocketed over the last few months, the costs of lobster dishes on restaurant menus across the city have been off the charts as chefs have been looking to claw back some of the margins. A combination of lousy weather, international demand, and iced-over Canadian fisheries has created a shortage that has driven whole hard-shell lobster prices to as high as $15 a pound this spring, up from about $8 a pound last year.

For chefs buying pre-shucked lobster meat for their rolls, the price has been hovering at $40 a pound, or about $8 more than a year ago, several said.

Hats Off To Kerrygold Butter

We really enjoy at our home the Irish butter brand Kerrygold, which is made by Ireland’s largest agri-food cooperative.

I read today that they are having a big business moment.  Last year, the company sold 23,000 pounds of butter in the U.S. and a billion dollars worth of butter worldwide.  Kerrygold has overtaken every other butter brand except Land-O-Lakes in the mere 20 years since it launched in the U.S., and Land-O-Lakes had an 80-year head start.

That is most worthy of the business pages of the newspapers.

Senate Bean Soup Was More Tradition Than Tasty

For decades I have read stories about the famed Senate Bean Soup.  I had pictured the dining room of the United States Senate with famous men in suits having lunch with other famous people. Perhaps even some noteworthy constituents  from ‘back home’ might be at the table.  In my thoughts I was seated with a bowl of this much talked about soup and eating it while political stories were told around the table.

It will not come as a shock that often the fantasy is better than reality.  So is was with the U.S. Senate Bean Soup.

Having a bowl of this soup was one of the very long list of things James and I planned to do while visiting Washington, D.C.  (We live right on the edge!)  Having spent time on a tour of the Capitol and being perplexed how the guide was into vamping her way about as opposed to giving solid information makes one wonder about such things as lunch.  I was very much paying attention to the sights and taking it all in but had to tune out the guide who was trying to gloss over the dreadful ways native peoples of this land were treated.  Her presentation made me wish for silence.  History was not her strong suit.

So it was later that day when James and I went to the public cafeteria to eat that I ordered a bowl of the famed soup.  I ordered garlic bread and some fruit and was most excited about being close to my first mouthful of what I had long read about.

The soup is made with navy beans, ham hocks, and onion. So far so good.  I had read that the original version included celery, garlic, parsley, and mashed potatoes as well.  I suggest they might want to heed the ideas contained in that long-ago recipe as the soup was very weak on flavor.

While the soup started out as a tradition in the early part of last century the genesis of it is murky.   The day of our meal at the Capitol it was noted that on September 14, 1943, rationing was underway due to World War II.  The kitchen in the senate dining room was facing the same hardships as many homes did around the country.  Newspapers at the time  reported on the shortage of navy beans and through some public-relations maneuver beans were found and the senate kitchen was able to make soup.  That soup tradition continues today.

Dear reader, do not get me wrong about having this opportunity to have this soup for our lunch.  Tradition matters in my code of life, and it was grand to eat the soup.  But spices are also grand. Perhaps the soup tastes better with a senator at the table.

Madison Based Fuegos Restaurant Made Bad PR Move With Newspaper Interview

Since Fuegos is not yet open for a true food critic’s review the write-up in Sunday’s Wisconsin State Journal offered another perspective on the owners and investors of this establishment.   I am in no way judging the way Samara Derby wrote the story.   I know her to be a solid writer and reporter and think of her as a real asset to the newspaper.  Her dining page is one that I always turn to each weekend.

Rather I am wondering if this type of background offered by the owners and operators of an eatery is the best way to promote a restaurant–a type of business that is one of the hardest to make succeed.  Many struggle to make it past the first year of operating.  The food–once this place is opened–might be phenomenal.   But the PR move with this interview to a newspaper reporter was not the most suave way to make an entrance.  In fact, it was most bumbling.

One of the reasons (for) opening the restaurant is to help his family heal after a pair of tragedies in 2013 and 2014, when he lost two of his sons.

His son, Alfredo Emilio, was 18 and living in Janesville when he was killed by a Walworth County sheriff’s deputy in 2013 at a hospital in what police called an escape attempt. Villarreal said his son was shot five times.

Officials said Alfredo, who was an inmate under guard at a town of Geneva hospital, where he was getting tests done, punched and kicked the deputy in the face multiple times. The deputy used a stun gun on Alfredo, which failed to stop him, police said in a news report.

The next year, Villarreal’s 22-year-old son, Pablo, died in a car crash with his best friend. They rolled their truck in Rock County while out celebrating. 

The loss of his two sons left five children fatherless, Villarreal said, and that is the mission behind the restaurant. “This is what’s driving me here everyday,” he said. “When these kids get older and they don’t have their fathers there to give them the opportunities that they would have,” he wants them to have the restaurant.

President Obama’s Last White House Thanksgiving Menu, And Ours In Madison

On his last Thanksgiving in office, President Obama and the first family enjoyed a three-course Thanksgiving dinner.  The menu is as follows:

Hors d’oeuvres included mini BLT’s, chicken satay with peanut chili dip, mini crab cakes, pizza bites, fresh veggies and hummus and pigs in the blanket.

The dinner buffet included thyme-roasted turkey with garlic jus and cranberry-orange relish, a honey-baked ham with apricot-mustard glaze, prime rib and creamed horseradish with shallot marmalade, and fried chicken wings.

Side dishes included classics like cornbread stuffing with a twist of chorizo and roasted peppers, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, and bread rolls. Other sides of oyster stuffing, braised winter greens, macaroni and cheese, sweet potato gratin, and fresh greens and kale caesar salad are also on the menu.

Finally, dessert consisted of six pies: banana cream, coconut cream, pumpkin, apple, pecan and cherry.

Meanwhile in Madison where James makes our house a home the menu consisted of turkey, ham, candied yams, spelt with wild mushrooms, sage dressing, green peas, potatoes and gravy, deviled eggs, cranberry sauce, jello salad, dinner rolls followed by pumpkin pie and berry pie with vanilla cream.

Today’s Thanksgiving dinner table–so nicely prepared by James–includes the wedding china from Mom and Dad who were married in 1947. Two of mom’s sisters and their husbands were here and this is the first time these dishes will be used in our home. I wanted today to be special. I was so happy to be able to bring the china from the family home years ago. Our china hutch stores the dishes.  It was a really nice day.  I always want these days to last longer.

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Election Predictions Coming Sunday At Noon

Every four years two things happen.

First there are the predictions.  Starting in 1980 (when I was 18) and every race for the White House since I have placed my thoughts down on paper–or computer.   Those who have anything to say after the ballots are counted about my predictions are only credible if they too have such a list to share.  That is the way we roll in the shire.

The second thing that happens every four years is the Election Night gathering that takes place at our home.  It is what might happen if you added the Super Bowl, World Series, and Wimbledon finals into one huge affair.  Since I am not sports-oriented means presidential elections have always been my party to throw.  Eight years ago fireworks were even set off on the sidewalk at our home at about midnight when we first said President-elect Obama.

James and I thought of the buffet menu for a couple of weeks which this year includes lasagna, salad, French bread, and Grandmother’s Country Jam Cake–which is made from scratch and when you think all the ingredients are included you then add about two cups of raspberry preserves.  Topped with cream cheese frosting!  She knew how to do it!  Throw in some wine, coffee, tea and chocolate cookies and we are carbed and wired to watch Darrell Issa in California fall from power out in California at about 3 A.M.   (Which is probably too late for fireworks, even in this neighborhood of liberals.)