December 29, 2010

The holiday wouldn’t be complete without a fruitcake recipe!  And this recipe actually doesn’t sound half bad!  No candied cherries!  Just good wholesome ingredients!


Take one pint of light dough; one tea-cupful of sugar; one of butter; three eggs, a teaspoonful of saleratus, one pound of raisins; nutmeg or cinnamon, to the taste, bake one hour.

Let it stand and rise a little before baked.

From The Skillful Housewife Book: The Complete Guide to Domestic Cookery by, Mrs. L. G. Abell, 1852

Fruitcake was also called “Wedding Cake” and The American Frugal Housewife published this version of the cake:

Four pounds of flour, three pounds of butter, three pounds of sugar, four pounds of currants, two pounds of raisins, twenty-four eggs, half a pint of brandy, or lemon-brandy, one ounce of mace, and three nutmegs. A little molasses makes it dark colored, which is desirable. Half a pound of citron improves it; but it is not necessary. To be baked two hours and a half or three hours.

The modern version of the above recipe is as follows:

1/2 lb. raisins
1/4 cup brandy
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon mace
2 teaspoon nutmeg
1lb. currants
3/4 lb. butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
6 eggs
2 tablespoons molasses to 1/2 cup
2 oz. citron

Soak raisins in brandy overnight. Preheat oven to 350. Sift flour before measuring. Sift flour with spices. Add currants and citron, if desired. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs one at a time, beating to blend after each addition. Stir in molasses and any brandy that was not absorbed by the raisins. Stir in sifted flour with spices and fruits. Grease two 5″ x 9″ loaf pans, three 8-inch round pans, or one 10-inch tube pan. Pour batter into greased pans and bake about 45 minutes to an hour.

The above translation was provided by Old Sturbridge Village (from their Christmas by Candlelight program). I can attest to this recipe. It’s really quite good!


Are there plums in Plum Pudding?

December 22, 2010

How many times have you read a Christmas scene in a historical book where the family was enjoying their plum pudding (often referred to as Christmas pudding)?  Did you know exactly what plum pudding was?  Did you ever wonder if there are plums in plum pudding?  And better yet, how did they get plums in December?  My curiosity finally got the better of me, and I looked up the recipe!  There are many versions of this recipe.  This one was taken from Seventy-five Receipts for Pastry Cakes, by Miss Leslie of Philadelphia.

And no, there are no plums in plum pudding!


One pound of raisins, stoned and cut in half.
One pound of currants, picked, washed, and dried.
One pound of beef suet, chopped fine.
One pound of grated stale bread, or, half a pound of flour and half a pound of bread.
Eight eggs.
One pound of sugar.
One glass of brandy.
One pint of milk.
One glass of wine.
Two nutmegs, grated.
One table-spoonful of mixed cinnamon and mace.
One salt-spoonful of salt.

You must prepare all your ingredients the day before (except beating the eggs) that in the morning you may have nothing to do but to mix them, as the pudding will require six hours to boil.

Beat the eggs very light, then put to them half the milk and beat both together. Stir in gradually the flour and grated bread. Next add the sugar by degrees. Then the suet and fruit alternately.

The fruit must be well sprinkled with flour, lest it sink to the bottom. Stir very hard. Then add the spice and liquor, and lastly the remainder of the milk. Stir the whole mixture very well together. If it is not thick enough, add a little more grated bread or flour. If there is too much bread or flour, the pudding will be hard and heavy.

Dip your pudding-cloth into boiling water, shake it out and sprinkle it slightly with flour. Lay it in a pan, and pour the mixture into the cloth. Tie it up carefully, allowing room for the pudding to swell.

Boil it six hours, and turn it carefully out of the cloth.

Before you send it to table, have ready some blanched sweet almonds cut into slips, or some slips of citron, or both. Stick them all over the outside of the pudding.

Eat with wine or with a sauce made of drawn butter, wine and nutmeg.

The pudding will be improved if you add to the other ingredients, the grated rind of a large lemon
or orange.

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Results of the Gingerbread Contest

December 20, 2010

For all that were wondering…I got a call this afternoon and our Gingerbread Gristmill won the OSV Building category AND the Best of Show category!  Audry and I had a blast making it and are so glad so many people enjoyed it!

Cooking advice!

December 14, 2010

With the holidays fast approaching, you’ll find my kitchen in constant use and filled with the aroma of holiday baking.  From cookies, to cakes, to breads, I love it when Christmas comes around and I can pull out all my holiday recipes.  So I thought while we’re on hiatus that I might share some cooking advice and recipes from a couple of early 1800s recipe books.  We’ll start today off with some basic baking advice.

From Seventy-five Receipts for Pastry Cakes, by Miss Leslie of Philadelphia, the following preparation advice is offered:

In making pastry or cakes, it is best to begin by weighing out the ingredients, sifting the flour, pounding and sifting the sugar and spice, washing the butter, and preparing the fruit. Sugar can be powdered by pounding it in a large mortar, or by rolling it on a paste-board with a rolling-pin. It should be made very fine and always sifted.

Sugar Nippers mounted on a stand to make cutting the sugar easier. (Image from OSV's Facebook Gallery page)

Washing the butter and powdering the sugar? Just two examples of the extra steps women had to go through when it came to baking in the early 19th century. Remember, butter was made fresh, and the buttermilk had to be removed from the freshly churned butter by washing it with cold water. Also, salt was added to the butter to preserve it for longer periods of time, and often some of the salt needed to be removed before the butter could be used.

Powdering the sugar? If you went to the country store in the 1800s to purchase some sugar, you’d notice that sugar came in large cone shaped loaves. Sugar nippers were used to cut smaller pieces off the cone. That sugar then had to be powdered for use in baking.

And then there is some advice that seems to stay the same no matter what century it is given in:

The eggs should not be beaten till after all the other ingredients are ready, as they will fall very soon. If the whites and yolks are to be beaten separately, do the whites first, as they will stand longer. Eggs should be beaten in a broad shallow pan, spreading wide at the top. Butter and sugar should be stirred in a deep pan with straight sides.

Break every egg by itself, in a saucer, before you put it into the pan, that in case there should be any bad ones, they may not spoil the others.


Sugar Nippers - Image from OSV Facebook Gallery

So how did we do?

December 10, 2010

Pretty close match wouldn’t you say?

Things we intentionally left out:

  • The stairs up to the porch (we ran out of time!).
  • The chimney.  (Our roof was already having sagging problems.  Adding a chimney would have made matters worse).
  • Some of the fences. (It got too busy, so we simplified a few things.)

Back View

Front View

Side View

Waterwheel View

The Gingerbread Gristmill (Part 3)

December 9, 2010

The Gingerbread Gristmill
Jennifer: I arrived at Audry’s in-laws at 8:05 AM. I left at 9:35 PM. We had a short break for lunch and dinner but otherwise worked the entire day through without stopping.

Audry: By late afternoon, both our backs were killing us, but we kept on. By 8:00 we were getting loopy (and we didn’t partake in the wine the in-laws and husband were enjoying either!) Finally, we called it done and took about 1078 pictures.

Jennifer: I think we were high from the smells of sugar! That house is one yummy smelling creation!

Total Time Spent: 12 hours
Completed On: November 26th, 2010

Total Estimated Time Spent on Project: Approx. 50 hours

The Gingerbread Gristmill (Part 2)

December 9, 2010

To continue where we left of yesterday…

Siding, Stonework and Shingles
Step 1: Apply the frosting on the walls to mimic wood siding.
Jennifer: A slightly tedious process, that left my hands very tired. Try applying frosting evenly on four 12” plus high walls! Overall I was quite pleased with the results.

Step 2: Add the glass to the windows.
Audry: This step actually started the night before. After Thanksgiving dinner was cleaned up, I followed a recipe for hard candy by boiling water, sugar, and corn syrup to the “hard-crack stage” – 300 deg F. This mixture was originally meant to be poured into the pond and waterway of the base, but it was so hot and thick and syrupy that I was afraid of the potential mess if something went wrong. The mixture also turned yellow as it started to caramelize, so I decided at the last minute to just pour it onto greased aluminum foil and score it while it was hot. We broke the candy along the score lines once it cooled, into rectangles that I then glued over the backs of the window openings with icing. One of the windows fell off when we were assembling the walls, but luckily none fell off after the roof was on and we couldn’t reach the inside!

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