Election day special: "Fermez la Bush" cakes

Filed in Gather Food Essential by on November 4, 2008 0 Comments

November 4th, 2008! My first and most emphatic statement of the day is the following:

As is customary at my Elementary-school polling place, this morning the PTA had set up a rousing bake sale to fortify voters waiting in the long lines. This tradition lends the election activity that charming homegrown civic feel that recalls the grassroots ideal of a true democracy (I will leave the question of whether the U.S. is in fact a true democracy to other types of blogs . . . ). Ah, the bake sale, a staple of American civil society.

It made me wonder: are there other ways elections and baking are connected? Surely election days have played a role within the vast history of baking. Any public event where people come together for a common purpose must — because people love to eat, especially with each other! — have its special food traditions.

I discovered that there is in fact a certain type of cake with deep roots in New England known as “election cake.” How I wish I had discovered this on Friday so I could have tried my hand at baking it and brought one to the bake sale this morning. I dug up some 19th century historical accounts describing the role of this cake:

From History of the Colony of New Haven Before and After the Union with Connecticut by Edward Rodolphus Lambert, 1838:
Election in old times was a great day when it was customary to make a large quanity of cake which was called election cake The freemen of the colony mostly went to the seat of government to vote and took with them a large sup ply of the cake for provision This was probably the object for which it was at first made and it being found very convenient it soon became an established custom It was cus tomary when a family moved into a new house to make an entertainment to which the neighbors were invited which was called house

From History of the Colony of New Haven to Its Absorption Into Connecticut by Edward Elias Atwater, 1881:
Election days were also occasions when the people left their homes and came together The meeting of a plantation court did not indeed bring out the wives and daughters of the planters as a general training did but when the annual election for the jurisdiction took place the pillion was fastened behind the saddle and the goodwife rode with her goodman to the seat of government to truck some of the yarn she had been spinning for ribbons and other foreign goods as well as to gather up the gossip of the year On such occasions a store of cake was provided beforehand and election cake is consequently one of the institutions received from our forefathers

For anyone who wants to bring something with historical importance to your returns-watching party tonight, try your hand at one of these recipes:

From White House Cook Book by Fanny Lemira Gillette and James B. Herndon, 1889:
ELECTION CAKE Three cups milk two cups sugar one cup yeast stir to a batter and let stand over night in the morning add two cups sugar two cups butter three eggs half a nutmeg one tablespoonful cinnamon one pound raisins a gill of brandy Brown sugar is much better than white for this kind of cake and it is improved by dissolving a half teaspoonful of soda in a tablespoonful of milk in the morning It should stand in the greased pans and rise some time until quite light before baking

From Aunt Mary’s New England Cook Book by a New England Mother, 1881:
OLD FASHIONED ELECTION CAKE Mix a batter same as for bread with yeast flour and milk add one cup butter and two cups sugar creamed together two eggs yolks and whites beaten separately one teaspoonful cloves one teaspoonful cinnamon one grated nutmeg half teaspoonful of soda and little salt add flour to make it the consistency of cake raisins if desired let it rise in the pans before baking

From The Modern Flour Confectioner by Robert Wells, 1891:

216 Election Cake 4 Ibs of flour Ib of butter i Ib of sugar 4 eggs i Ib of raisins 2 ozs of compressed yeast Dissolve the yeast in milk sufficient to make the flour into a stiff sponge When the sponge is ripe mix in all the other ingredients let it prove for an hour divide into sizes place on greased tins prove and bake in a sound oven

Or, best of all, a recipe from a grandmother’s cookbook:

From American Cookery, a publication of Mass Boston Cooki
ng School, 1921:
MHB Pittsfield Maine May 13 1920 EDITOR OF AMERICAN COOKERY DEAR MADAM Within the last two or three years you have printed in AMERICAN COOKERY a recipe for Old fashioned Election Cake and I have thought several times that I would write and send you the genuine old recipe as the one you have printed is but a quick cake substitute for the real article Having been brought up a Connecticut Yankee and had this cake every fall and winter I know what the real thing is and would like to pass along our family recipe which is more than sixty years old since I copied it from my grandmother

New England Election Cake Sometimes Called Loaf Cake

1 quart milk 1 tumbler yeast 2 Ibs 6 oz flour If Ibs sugar 11 oz butter 8 02 lard 1 grated lemon peel 3 eggs nutmeg mace 1 cup raisins 1 cup citron shaved in tiny pieces Beat the eggs add the creamed shortening sugar and lemon Warm milk and flour mix together with yeast Put in one half of the eggs and sugar etc when wetting up the cake at noon Cover and set in a warm place until early evening beat down and add the rest of the shortening and egg at night also the nutmeg and mace Put back in a warm place and let rise over night In the morning add raisins and citron also two tablespoonfuls of lemon juice Brandy was generally used When this is thoroughly beaten put in round loaf cake tins which have been buttered and papered let rise slowly to double its bulk Bake slowly and carefully an hour or more

Perhaps this is not what these recipes produce, but just the same, this is my kind of election cake, from megpi on flickr:

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"like one drop, like one grape, like the sea"- Pablo Neruda, Tower of Light

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