Cooking for a Civil War Wedding
at the Civil War Cookbook we get more questions on this topic than
probably any other. As more people have taken to participating in
reenactments as civilians the need for additional activities beyond
the purely military, and one of them is weddings. Be they actual,
legal ceremonies, renewals of vows for those already wedded, or
purely performance art put on for the benefit of spectators, the
ceremony alone is rarely all that is desired. People want to see a
full reenactment of the 19th century ritual, and the wedding meal is
a big part of that. (Okay, there's another ritual common after
weddings that would probably be an even bigger draw, but we will
leave discussion of such matters to others and stick to our field of
Details of other menu items are going to vary wildly based on the
time of day of the event, the social status of the couple being
portrayed, the financial status of the organizers of the function,
and a host of other factors, of which the most important is the
facilities available for preparation, storage, serving and
presentation of the food and drink in question. The one universal is
a wedding cake, so it is there that we will begin our exploration of
Rich Wedding Cake from Mrs. Putnam
(from Mrs. Putnam's Receipt Book and Young Housekeeper's
Assistant, New York, Phinney, Blakeman & Mason, 1860, p. 168)
Two pounds of butter, two pounds of fine white
sugar, beaten together, eighteen eggs beaten separately, one cup of
brandy, one cup of molasses, one teaspoonful of saleratus, three
table-spoonfuls of cloves, one of mace, two of allspice, two large
nutmegs, two pounds of flour, a quarter of a pound of citron cut in
thin slices, and four pounds of dried currants. This must be as well
beaten up as for pound cake. Line a wooden box with a well-buttered
paper; take out the bottom of the box, and let the cover remain for
the bottom of the cake. The above-named quantity will make two small
loaves, or one very large loaf. It requires about four hours to
bake. Try [test] it with a straw, and when it is done take off the
rim, and leave the cake on the cover to be frosted. Beat up the
whites of four eggs; add fine loaf sugar as long as you can beat it
in, and the juice of one lemon; spread this over the top of the cake
about an inch thick, and on the sides half the thickness; set it in
a cool oven to dry.
Oh my, where to start?
Saleratus (sometimes seen spelled as "sal-aeratus"
or "salt of air") is nothing more than sodium bicarbonate, aka
baking soda. Chances are very high that you have a box readily to
hand, and chances are even higher that that box is yellow in color.
We would give you a brand name but not until the company in question
sends us some money for the product placement ad.
"table-spoon" in these times was not necessarily the standard size
of half an ounce used today, but probably close enough as to make no
difference. Remember too that measurements, particularly of items
like spices, should be taken as suggestions to be modified by the
tastes and judgment of the cook, not as matters carven in stone upon
divine authority. All spices were commonly sold in whole form and
ground (in a mortar and pestle) or grated (as in the case of larger
items like nutmegs) at the time of use. One nutmeg, which is about
the size and appearance of a wrinkly pecan, would grate to about a
(beating): "Well beaten up as for pound cake" translates as
follows: Separate the whites from the yolks of the eggs; beat the
whites to a froth and set aside. Take the sugar and butter and "beat
to a cream"--mix as thoroughly as possible while not allowing the
butter to get warm enough to melt all the way to liquid state; then
mix in the egg yolks, then the wine, liquor or other liquid; then
mix in the egg whites; then the flour; then "strew on" any dried
fruit being added.
We must admit we find the whole business with the wooden box
confusing, as nowhere else have we seen it recommended to use wooden
baking pans in wood-fired ovens. While it should not become hot
enough to set the wood on fire, it still seems like a chancy
proposition and besides, we doubt anyone today owns such a baking
device. The concept seems similar to a springform pan and we suggest
that be used instead.
"Try," as noted, means test, in this case for doneness. Straw,
however, does not mean the hollow paper or plastic utensil used for
sucking up beverages. It means a straw such as is used in old
fashioned brooms. Use a knife instead; besides being more sanitary
it covers a larger area and any holes created will be covered up by
Considering the fact that we are dealing with around 10 pounds of
cake here, and the fact that the eggs in question were much more
likely to be today's medium-sized variety than jumbo, this does not
look like enough frosting to cover to the depth indicated. We could
of course be wrong on this.
(authenticity of utensils): People in the 19th century were
just as crazy about kitchen gadgets as they are today, the
difference of course being that they were mechanical rather than
electrical. The mechanical eggbeater, alas, seems to have been a
fairly late invention. Most cookbooks suggest beating eggs with
implements ranging from two smooth wooden rods to a single-wire
version of a whisk to perhaps the strangest, a cork stuck longwise
onto a fork. And then there is the "spaddle" (see Dr. Kitchiner's
Cakes below) which as best we can figure out is a combination of
spoon and paddle. Think "spork" in modern terms.
Wedding Cake from Mrs. Putnam
Receipt Book, see above, p. 167
One pound of butter, one of sugar, ten eggs
well beaten, half a pint of brandy, a glass of wine, three nutmegs,
a table-spoonful of mace, one pound of flour, two of currants, one
of stoned raisins, and half a pound of citron. This makes one large
Yup. That's it. The whole kit and kaboodle. This
is what passes for a "recipe" in 19th century books. There
was no introductory material at the start of the "Cakes" chapter
describing things which all recipes to follow had in common, just
this. About all we can do is to mention that "stoned raisins" are
not what your evil 21st century mind undoubtedly jumps to imagine,
but simply raisins which have had the seeds removed. Since each
raisin used to be a grape and probably contained anywhere from 2-4
seeds apiece, the tediousness of this process is best left to the
Kitchiner's Wedding Cakes (some
These recipes are from The Cook's Oracle; and Housekeeper's Manual,
published in the US in 1832 with the subtitle "Adapted to the
American Public by a Medical Gentleman." "William Kitchiner, M. D."
was given as the medical gentleman's name, although if that was his
real name it was most coincidental since "kitchiner" was a folk name
for cook in the same way that "miller" was for one whose family
operated a mill. At any rate, this was a British cookbook at heart
and the "adaptations for the American public" were fairly minimal.
Copyright law was not heavily enforced in these times. The book was
quite popular and citations can be found from it in other cookbooks
for most of the rest of the 19th century.
Bride, or Wedding Cake
The only difference usually made in these cakes is, the addition of
one pound of raisins, stoned and mixed with the other fruit.
There, isn't that simple? Of course you have to make "these cakes"
first before you get to the adding-raisins part. Here are the
recipes that Dr. Kitchiner suggests as potential wedding cakes:
Plain Pound Cake
Cream one pound of butter, and work it well together with one pound
of sifted sugar till quite smooth; beat up nine eggs, and put them
by degrees to the butter, and beat them for twenty minutes; mix in
lightly one pound of flour; put the whole into a hoop, cased with
paper, on a baking-plate, and bake it about one hour in a moderate
An ounce of caraway-seeds added to the above, will make what is
termed a rich seed cake.
Add those raisins now. Of course you can throw
in anything else you like, from maraschino cherries to nuts, but you
are in danger of turning it into a fruitcake and we know what
happens to those: Doorstops!
Plum Pound Cake
Make a cake as [above], and when you have beaten it, mix in lightly
half a pound of currants, two ounces of orange [peel], and two
ounces of candied lemon-peel cut small, and half a nutmeg grated.
A nutmeg in its natural state is about the
size of an unshelled pecan. If you are using the already-ground
form, it would be around a teaspoonful. That's rather a lot of
nutmeg so use your own judgment in the matter of spicing.
Common Seed Cake
Sift two and a half pounds of flour, with half a pound of good
Lisbon or loaf sugar, pounded into a pan or bowl; make a cavity in
the centre, and pour in half a pint of lukewarm milk, and a
table-spoonful of thick ye[a]st; mix the milk and yest with enough
flour to make it as thick as cream (this is called setting a
sponge); set it by in a warm place for one hour; in the meantime,
melt to an oil half a pound of fresh butter, and add it to the other
ingredients, with one ounce of caraway-seeds, and enough of milk to
make it of a middling stiffness; line a hoop with paper, well rubbed
over with butter; put in the mixture; set it some time to prove
[rise] in a stove or before the fire; and bake it on a plate about
an hour, in rather a hot oven; when done, rub the top over with a
paste-brush dipped in milk.
This is clearly more of a rich bread, as indicated by the use of
yeast, than what we commonly consider a cake today. The lines
between the two were not so clearly drawn in Civil War times though,
so we include this for historical completeness. We conclude with
another item which crosses category borders, being primarily a
Christmas cake but one which could be used just as well for a
wedding feast, particularly during the winter:
Two pounds of sifted flour, two pounds of sifted loaf sugar, two
pounds of butter, eighteen eggs, four pounds of currants, one half
pounds of almonds blanched and chopped, one half pound of citron,
one pound of candied orange and lemon-peel cut into thin slices, a
large nutmeg grated, half an ounce of ground allspice, ground
cinnamon, mace, ginger, and corianders, a quarter of an ounce of
each, and a gill [1/2 cup] of brandy.
Put the butter into a stew-pan, in a warm place, and work it into a
smooth cream with the hand, and mix it with the sugar and spice in a
pan (or on your paste-board) for some twenty minutes; stir in the
brandy, and then the flour, and work it a little; add the fruit,
sweetmeats, and almonds, and mix all together lightly; have ready a
hoop cased with paper, on a baking-plate; put in the mixture, smooth
it on the top with your hand, dipped in milk; put the plate on
another, with sawdust between, to prevent the bottom from colouring
too much: bake it in a slow oven* four hours or more, and when
nearly coke, ice it with No. 84.
This mixture would make a handsome cake, full twelve or fourteen
Ah yes, you noted that little * in the receipt above. Here are Dr.
Kitchiner's instructions in the maddening matter of how to bake in
an oven which has no thermostat, no timer, and in fact nothing
whatever to indicate the heat being generated from the fire made of
burning wood or coal:
*The goodness of a cake or biscuit depends much
on its being well baked; great attention should be paid to the
different degrees of heat of the oven: be sure to have it of a good
sound heat at first, when, after its being well cleaned out, may be
baked such articles as require a hot oven, after which such as are
directed to be baked in a well-heated or moderate oven; and lastly,
those in a slow soaking or cool one. With a little care the above
degrees may soon be known.
In making butter cakes too much attention cannot be paid to have the
butter well creamed; for should it be made too warm, it would cause
the mixture to be the same, and when put to bake, the fruit,
sweetmeats, &c., would in that event fall to the bottom.
Sugar and flour should be quite dry, and a drum sieve is recommended
for the sugar. The old way of beating the yelks and whites of eggs
separate (except in very few cases) is not only useless, but a waste
of time. They should be well incorporated with the other ingredients
and, in some instances, they cannot be beaten too much.
To paraphrase the great philosopher (Popeye), that's all ye gets,
and ye ain't gettin' no more. We move now to the matter of Icing for
this juggernaut of a baked good:
Icing, for Twelfth or Bride Cake
Take one pound of double-refined sugar, pounded and sifted through a
lawn sieve; put into a pan quite free from grease; break in the
whites of six eggs, and as much powder blue as will lie on a
sixpence; beat it well with a spattle for ten minutes; then squeeze
in the juice of a lemon, and beat it till it becomes thick and
transparent. Set the cake you intend to ice in an oven or warm place
five minutes; then spread over the top and sides with the mixture as
smooth as possible. If for a wedding cake only, plain ice it; if for
a twelfth cake, ornament it with gum paste, or fancy articles of any
Obs.--A good twelfth cake, not baked too much, and kept in a cool
dry place, will retain its moisture and eat well, if twelve months
Well, the mystery of the name of the "twelfth cake" is apparently
resolved here, although we are left with the
question of how "spaddle" switched to "spattle." It's still
the same flattened spoon. And unless your
sugar is very lumpy it should not need sifting in a "lawn sieve" or
This leaves us with the question of "powder blue" and how much
of this article will fit on an average sixpence.
Kitchiner does not define the stuff, suggesting that it was
commonplace at the time, but has quite died out since then.
As best as we can find after an extensive search, "powder blue" is a
substance known as "smalt, a crushed-glass product used in
laundering and dying applications and of a deep, dark blue hue."
Evidently the intent is to offset the yellow coloring the butter and
egg whites are likely to give the icing, so as to wind up with as
pure a white as possible. We suggest--very, very strongly suggest--skipping
the smalt and using a very small bit of
blue food coloring instead.
Now that the centerpiece of the celebration has been composed, it is
time to make the rest of the wedding feast. For suggestions we hope
you will consult our Civil War Wedding,
Holiday and Fancy Dinner Menus