New-Fashioned Recipe: Angel Food Cake and Nineteenth-Century Technological Innovation

By Rachel A. Snell

"The Best Angel Food Cake" from America's Test Kitchen. The ingredients and method for producing this cake from scratch are little changed from the nineteenth century original.

“The Best Angel Food Cake” from America’s Test Kitchen. The ingredients and method for producing this cake from scratch are little changed from the nineteenth century original.

When I was growing up, my mother would bake Angel Food Cake as a special summertime dessert. I remember the anticipation of seeing the freshly baked cake in its distinctive pan, precariously balanced upside down on an old bottle on the kitchen counter. Served with fresh raspberries and my great-grandmother’s lemon pudding frosting, there was something delightfully old-fashioned and elegant about Angel Food Cake. But in the late-nineteenth century, Angel Food Cake represented the latest in culinary innovation.

My previous two posts for the Recipes Project examined how changing technology and ingredients influenced women’s recipe collecting. Those transformations fostered the development of new recipes, like Angel Food Cake.

Angel Food Cake or Angel Cake is a sponge cake developed in the United States, likely in the 1860s and 1870s. The recipe first appeared in print in the 1880s and was included in both Lincoln and Farmer’s editions of The Boston Cooking School Cookbook. Angel Food Cake was an elegant means of using up surplus egg whites.Beaten egg whites gave the cake “a texture so airy that the confection supposedly has the sublimity of angels.”[1] With its name, Angel Food Cake joined a long tradition of bestowing celestial or religious names on baked goods and sweetmeats. Angel Food Cake remained a classic and popular dessert throughout the twentieth century–Eleanor Roosevelt, for example, served it at the White House–but its popularity was truly cemented by the introduction of a reliable prepackaged baking mix in the 1940s.

“Angel Cake” The Boston Cooking School Cookbook (1896), 418.

“Angel Cake” The Boston Cooking School Cookbook (1896), 418.

The introduction of Angel Food Cake and its opposite, Devil’s Food Cake, followed earlier trends of highlighting the contrasting appearance of cakes for dramatic effect on the dessert table. At mid-century, Lady Cake (a delicate white cake made with egg whites and flavored with bitter almonds or peach kernels) and Gold Cake (a deep yellow cake made with egg yolks and flavored with citrus) were popular pairings for dessert tables where the contrast in their coloring was on display. Caroline B. King in her cake-based memoirs remembered her sister’s Angel Food Cake as “snowy white and airy” and her sister’s explanation that her new recipe for Devil’s Food Cake would look “lovely in a cake basket with Angel Cake; first a slice of the chocolate, then one of the white.”[2]

This advertisement for household items from The Boston Cooking School Cookbook hints at the remarkable variety of mass produced goods available in the late nineteenth century.

This advertisement for household items from The Boston Cooking School Cookbook hints at the remarkable variety of mass produced goods available in the late nineteenth century.

These new-fashioned recipes also revealed the technological advancements of the last century. While Angel Food Cake relied mainly on whipped egg whites as a leavening agent, like early sponge cakes, this cake owed its existence to technological advancements of the nineteenth century.

Women eagerly embraced laborsaving devices in the kitchen, the popularity of the eggbeater is no surprise considering that early nineteenth century cake recipes require hours of beating. Many would have agreed with Marion Harland’s assertion in Common Sense in the Household (1872) that “a good egg-beater [was] a treasure.”[3] For Angel Food Cake, eggbeaters eased the labor of whipping egg whites to stiff peaks and the addition of cream of tartar stabilized the whipped whites and prevented darkening.

The cake’s airy texture is achieved not only through the whipped egg whites, but also through the availability of commercially ground flour. The softer, refined wheat flour available at the end of the nineteenth century contributed to the cake’s light texture and cloudlike appearance; flour manufacturing techniques could produce a lighter colored flour. The cake’s white appearance was also dependent upon the availability of pure white granulated sugar, which was available thanks to advancements in the refining process and saved women the labor of grinding loaf sugar.

Angel Food Cake Pan (Wikipedia)

Angel Food Cake Pan (Wikipedia)

The mass production of cooking implements after the Civil War provided the Angel Food Cake Pan, necessary for producing such a tall cake. The batter could slowly climb up the cake pan during the cooking process. It’s no coincidence that recipes for Angel Food Cake became popular once the pan necessary for its shape and texture was being mass produced.

And so by the end of the nineteenth century, the combined forces of technological innovation and improved ingredients resulted in a remarkable variety of cakes that were easier to produce at home, including Angel Food Cake. While the ease of prepackaged cake mixes was still several decades away, cake baking remained a difficult and time-consuming task–but significantly less so than even twenty-five years previously.

The increased accessibility of cake baking, both in terms of affordability and labor, resulted in the creation of elaborate new recipes. During this period, baker ingenuity resulted in an explosion of new confections such as White Mountain Cake, Devil’s Food,  Moonshine Cake, Chocolate Marshmallow Cake, Boston Cream Pie, Mocha Cake, and, of course, Angel Food Cake. Thus, women not only collected cake recipes for the practical reason that technology and ingredients had changed, but also because they were so many new and exciting options for cake baking.

 

[1] John F. Mariani, Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink (New York: Bloomsbury, 2013), 35.

[2] Caroline B. King, Victorian Cakes: A Reminiscence with Recipes (Berkeley, CA: Aris Books, 1986), 34.

[3] Marion Harland, Common Sense in the Household (New York: Scribner, Armstrong & Co., 1873), 20.

Was there a recipe for Korean ginseng?

By Daniel Trambaiolo

Ginseng_in_KoreaGinseng, one of the best known drugs of the East Asian herbal tradition, can be purchased today almost anywhere in the world, but in the early modern period its availability was much more limited. The roots of Panax ginseng could be harvested only from its natural ecological range, in a region stretching across Manchuria, Siberia, and the Korean peninsula. In countries like Japan, where doctors relied on Chinese styles of herbal therapy but did not have direct access to herbal drugs that grew only on the continent, the roots had to be imported at high cost.

The cost of Korean ginseng became a source of concern in Japan during the final years of the seventeenth century, as the need to pay for the drug contributed to a steady outflow of Japanese silver that was used to pay for foreign products. During the early eighteenth century, the Japanese shogunal government encouraged doctors and herbalists to develop a domestic substitute, either by finding a native plant with similar medicinal properties or by discovering a way to cultivate Korean ginseng plants on Japanese soil.

Panax ginseng did not grow natively in Japan, but the related species Panax japonicus appeared similar and promised to have similar medicinal properties. However, the roots of the native Japanese species had a distinctive segmented appearance that led to Japanese doctors calling it “bamboo-segment ginseng”; their flavour was also more bitter and less sweet than the imported Korean product–a concern for many doctors, who believed that flavor was closely related to therapeutic efficacy. Some drug sellers claimed to possess secret methods that could transform the native herb into an equivalent of the imported drug, but how could these claims be evaluated?

Korean doctors were one obvious source of authoritative information on ginseng, but it was difficult to discuss the matter with them because the shogunal government had enacted strict policies limiting the movement of foreigners into Japan. Among the rare exceptions were the Koreans who travelled to Japan on diplomatic missions. Starting in 1682, these missions included a “medical expert” (K. yangǔi, J. ryōi 良醫) whose functions were to provide medical care for the members of the embassy and to allow Japanese doctors the benefit of Korean medical knowledge.

"KoreanEmbassy1655KanoTounYasunobu" by I, PHGCOM. Licensed under CC 表示-継承 3.0 via ウィキメディア・コモンズ - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:KoreanEmbassy1655KanoTounYasunobu.jpg#/media/File:KoreanEmbassy1655KanoTounYasunobu.jpg

An early modern Korean embassy to Japan.

Neither the Japanese nor the Koreans could speak each others’ languages, so they communicated by writing down questions and answers in classical Chinese, a form of conversation known as “brush talks” (K. p’ildam, J. hitsudan 筆談). The records of these conversations were often preserved in manuscripts or books printed for wider dissemination, and they can offer us insights into the styles of cross-cultural communication that these embassies facilitated–as well as into the ways Korean and Japanese doctors tried to derive benefits from each other without giving away too much in return.

The following exchange on ginseng took place between the Japanese doctor Kawamura Harutsune and the Korean doctor Cho Hwalam during the Korean embassy of 1748. (The translation is based on the published version of their conversations, which was distributed by the prominent Edo bookseller Suwaraya Mohei.)

Kawamura: In our country there is a type of ginseng whose stem, leaves, flowers and berries are just as described in the Materia Medica; its roots are similar in shape to what Zhang [Zhicong] calls “bamboo-segment ginseng.” It is very bitter in flavor and unsuitable for use, so people customarily boil it with licorice root or process it with honey water. But although the bitter flavor departs and a sweet flavor emerges, it is not the original flavor.

However, my father found a processing method that is quite acceptable; it does not rely on the flavors of other drugs, but the bitter flavor departs and a sweet flavor emerges. When my father consumed [imported] ginseng, he would always see blood in his phlegm. When he consumed the ginseng that he had processed himself, he would also see blood in his phlegm. Looking at it this way, is its efficacy similar to the ginseng from your country?

Cho: While I was in Osaka, I already heard people talk about your country’s ginseng. Although when you see the stem and leaves it looks similar, after tasting its flavor and inspecting its form it is clearly not genuine. You can perform all sorts of marvelous transformations to alter its bitter flavor, but how could you use it? There is no method for processing ginseng: you should use it just as it is naturally. Don’t be confused about this!

Kawamura: Your explanation is sufficient to dispel doubts. However, among several pounds of ginseng from your country, some roots have a burnt yellow color and seem to have undergone processing. Moreover, during [the embassy of] 1711 the Korean doctor Ki Tumun transmitted a processing method to a disciple of my grandfather. However, the paper has been eaten by insects and is now difficult to read. I will briefly write it down here, but I beg you to enlighten me further.

[Thereupon, he told me the method for processing ginseng. It is marvelous, and I have submitted it to the authorities. I do not record it here, but I have recorded it elsewhere and keep it in my home.]

Unfortunately, there are no surviving records of what Cho transmitted to Kawamura, so it is impossible to know whether it was a genuine recipe used by Koreans for processing ginseng or merely one he invented on the spot to deflect Kawamura’s questioning. Kawamura may have decided to omit the recipe from the published version of the brush talks in order to profit by selling ginseng processed according to a “secret Korean recipe.” However, his opportunities for doing so would probably have been quite limited. A few years before the meeting between Cho and Kawamura took place, a different group of Japanese herbalists succeeded in cultivating Korean ginseng from seedlings smuggled into Japan from Korea. As this new source of cultivated ginseng became commercially viable, the demand for “processed” ginseng dwindled rapidly and the recipes for such processing were gradually forgotten.

Spa Culture, Recipes, and Eighteenth-Century Elite Healthcare

By Katherine Allen

Earlier this month I took a day off from my thesis (or so I thought) and went to the spa at Bath. While relaxing in the rooftop pool I couldn’t help but imagine myself as an eighteenth-century elite woman, floating around in my sodden gowns with servants towing japanned bowls of sweets in my wake. This got me thinking about what my experience would have been like as an eighteenth-century visitor in pursuit of health.

The Comforts of Bath, 1798. Thomas Rowlandson. Image Credit: Wikigallery.org

The Comforts of Bath, 1798. Thomas Rowlandson. Image Credit: Wikigallery.org

Bath was an epicentre of elite culture in the Georgian period, and spa visits were an integral part of the social calendar. The savvy spa-goer could build patronage networks, discuss business and politics, peruse marriage prospects, attend parties, and hear all the latest gossip. More central to my research interests, Bath lay at the heart of eighteenth-century elite healthcare. The spa was touted as a space to recover and to preserve good health. Bathing and drinking the mineral water were two of several bathing-centred regimens, with sea bathing and cold water bathing also gaining popularity as therapeutic treatments championed by individuals like John Wesley and William Buchan. While visiting Bath, one could seek the medical advice of physicians, purchase drugs from apothecaries and proprietors like booksellers, and exchange medical knowledge with fellow spa-users. In this post I discuss one aspect of eighteenth-century recipe books that is linked to spa culture, the acquisition of medicinal recipes at Bath.

In eighteenth-century recipe books, there are a number of recipes citing Bath, or from a person associated with the spa town. Recipes were exchanged between friends and acquaintances as part of a social obligation to share knowledge and establish patronage connections through networking. In one collection, a Mrs Wright of Bath is cited alongside a purge ‘that may be taken when with child’ (ambiguously either a safe medicine, or an abortifacient).[1] In the Arscott family recipe book (from Devon), Mrs Ball of Hamilton, Lancashire provided recipes for deafness and for the itch.[2] Another remedy from a Mrs Ball is cited as being from Bath in the Arundell family’s recipe book (from Wiltshire).[3] This is suggestive that she is the same Mrs Ball who visited Bath and communicated recipes to both the Arscotts and Arundells while at the spa, since the town is near both estates.

Roman Baths. Image Credit: Katherine Allen

Roman Baths. Image Credit: Katherine Allen

Recipe books are littered with evidence that proprietary medicine was purchased by elites while visiting Bath. A Mr Moore of Bath provided advice on curing warts to the Arscotts and a Miss Moore of Bath provided a recipe for deafness to the Arundells, which supposedly cured Mrs Seymor from Hendford, Somerset.[4] Both citations to the Moores are likely referencing eighteenth-century apothecary, John Moore.

Recipes and medical advice were also frequently associated with physicians at Bath. Royal gardener Henry Wise consulted Dr George Cheyne regularly for his medical complaints, including indigestion. These regimens were subsequently recorded in the family recipe books. The first recorded instance of Cheyne providing advice was for Henry’s ‘Distemper being a Cholick from Superfluous Nourishment’. Cheyne recommended rhubarb pills as a laxative. If this remedy proved too aggressive, Henry was to try was an infusion of gentian, zedoary, orange and cinnamon mixed with rhubarb in Mountain wine. In a subsequent letter, Cheyne claimed that the rhubarb brandy may be ‘too hot’ and that ‘The Cassia Chocolate you must needs lay aside because your Bowels being sluggish and Tight’.

Dr Cheyne’s prescription for Henry Wise. Photo Credit: Warwickshire CRO

Dr Cheyne’s prescription for Henry Wise. Photo Credit: Warwickshire CRO

Henry’s regimens also mention the use of drinking spa mineral waters for health. Interestingly, Cheyne first states that ‘The Bristol waters will be of no use to you, but to increase your Costiveness. If any Waters, Germain, Spa, and Pyremont are the Best.’ Yet, in another prescription for Henry dated 23 October Cheyne wrote ‘I would have you get Bristol water and Drink them with Red wine to your Meals constantly; only after your Chocolate if you could bear it’. [5]

As records of domestic medicine, recipe books reveal through their citations that visiting the spa at Bath was an important means of gaining and exchanging medical advice such as domestic remedies. We can view recipes and manuscript collections as documentation of elite healthcare activities beyond the home, and as testaments of the fashions and methods of attaining health used by elites, which were central elements of culture in Georgian England.

[1] Wellcome, WMS 4646, f. 47r.

[2] Wellcome, WMS 981, ff. 64; 79.

[3] Wiltshire and Swindon CRO, 2667/12/40, ff. 32, 33.

[4] Wellcome, WMS 981, f. 131; Wiltshire and Swindon CRO, 2667/12/40, f. 107.

[5] Warwickshire CRO, 341/300, f. 3r.; f. 108.

Serving Up Food History and Mastering the Art of Public Engagement

By Paula Johnson

 Over several wintry days in January, at a sprawling hotel in midtown Manhattan, members of the American Historical Association and affiliated societies gamely selected from a virtual cornucopia of panel discussions, roundtables, and special sessions built around the theme, “History and the Other Disciplines.” Those interested in food studies—an inherently multidisciplinary field—found relevant sessions salted throughout the schedule, reflecting the field’s growth in recent years. I participated in one of these sessions, “Serving Up Food History and Mastering the Art of Public Engagement,” a panel organized and chaired by Amanda B. Moniz, assistant director of the National History Center of the AHA. The panel brought together historians to explore the opportunities, challenges, and responsibilities of sharing food-history research with a broad public.

The first presentation deftly illustrated the intensely collaborative nature of public history work. Moniz, with historians Helen Veit, assistant professor of history at Michigan State University, and Julia Irwin, associate professor of history at the University of South Florida, discussed a multi-faceted media project that drew upon their complementary skills and expertise. With American Food Roots, a digital publication, the three historians produced content for a series of videos on how World War I changed American food and foodways. The videos feature Moniz (a former pastry chef) cooking period recipes while Veit and Irwin explain the larger historical and cultural context of food during the war. Veit showed one of the videos, which featured recipes for peanut butter soup (!) and a nut, cream cheese, and date salad, served with a mayonnaise dip.

Screenshot 2015-03-09 11.00.55Peanut Butter Soup recipe screenshot. http://www.americanfoodroots.com/features/wwi-food-shortages-changed-american-eating-habits/

Moniz, Veit, and Irwin discussed how they used the historian’s tools—and then some—to shape the video series. In addition to their research on the war itself, they scoured archival and library collections to help illustrate and expand the theme. The videos are enhanced significantly by the primary research underlying the production: period cookbooks, government posters and pamphlets, and news photographs allowed the historians to convey visually the urgency and deprivations of the war as well as the spirit of the times. The preparation of period recipes on camera also offers an accessible way for viewers to understand both the sacrifices caused by food shortages and the inventiveness of American cooks.

Rachel Hope Cleves, associate professor of history at the University of Victoria, spoke next about her blog, The Not So Innocents Abroad: Historical Ramblings on Sex, Food, and Other Bodily Pleasures, in Paris, Capri, and Beyond. Cleves noted how the blog permits a more informal voice than her academic writing, yet she grounds it in scholarly research and methods. Blogs, by their nature, are more widely and easily accessible than traditional scholarly monographs, and Cleves reported an unexpected benefit: the opportunity to engage immediately in thoughtful exchanges with people on the other side of the world, people she would not have encountered via academic channels.

Of her many intriguing food-related blog posts (e.g., “Elizabeth David & Coming Home,” and “Love’s Oven is Warm: Baking with Emily Dickinson”), Cleves spoke in depth about “Benjamin Franklin’s Apple Pudding” . While trying to follow Franklin’s instructions, she discovered they lacked adequate detail about quantities and ingredients. Perhaps eighteenth-century cooks familiar with the dish didn’t need such guidance, but a twenty-first century cook had questions—lots of them—and, like inquiries that drive academic research, Cleves’ questions underlie the structure and tone of the post. Finding the instruction to boil the apple-filled pastry for three hours difficult to reconcile, Cleves boiled it as directed and served the resulting putty-colored blob to guests. They, like readers of the blog, surely learned something new about the culinary milieu of Benjamin Franklin.

I wrapped up the session with a presentation about my work in food history at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. As project director and co-curator of the exhibition, FOOD: Transforming the American Table, 1950-2000, I addressed some of the curatorial decisions the team made in shaping an exhibition that presents the myriad—and often contradictory—forces behind some of the big changes in how food is produced, distributed, prepared, and consumed in American since World War II. The exhibition relies on objects, documents, and case studies to present the complexity of food and change, from Julia Child’s home kitchen to early microwave ovens and the rise of convenience foods; from artifacts of the counterculture to a menu board from an early drive thru restaurant. I also discussed the role of evaluation in public history work, reporting that survey responses to the FOOD exhibition are helping the team shape a robust schedule of public programming to enhance and expand the themes of the exhibition.

Julia Child's Kitchen new installation

The home kitchen of American cookbook author, teacher, and television chef Julia Child is on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, DC.

Our panel attracted a roomful of people who participated in a lively conversation about the expanding opportunities for engaging diverse publics in food-history discourse. While the panel touched on various media for bringing food history to the public, we agreed there are many other avenues to explore. We also agreed on our responsibility to continue bringing academic rigor, primary source material, creative thinking, and a passion for people, food, and history to every endeavor.