I use a reproduction of the earliest American cookbook to guide my descriptions of food in my Will Rees mystery series. As discussed in earlier posts, there are not a lot of recipes for the kind of cakes and quick breads we know. Most of the recipes are highly spiced, probably to hide the bitter taste of pearl ash. I am beginning to think that the invention of baking powder should be up there along with indoor plumbing and central heating.
So what did they eat for desserts? Those who say fresh fruit may be only half right. Puddings, as discussed in Dickens, seem to be a huge favorite. The dessert we know and call pudding is actually called custard.Pudding, at this time, was a boiled dessert with sugar and spices. Think plum pudding which is boiled in a form or special cloth and is too sweet and rich for a modern palate. Interesting note: one of the desserts listed is potato pudding!
There are lots of recipes for pie- and without a good leavening agent this makes sense. Also, not only fruit but slices of pumpkin, lemons and other stuffs were put between the pastry layers as were various kinds of meats. I tried the sliced lemon pie and although it is very sugary I found it quite tart. The lemon gel under meringue is a huge improvement. I wonder how the pumpkin pie is since the pumpkin is not pureed but added to the crust in slices.
Those who talk about fat and sugar consumption now should read some of these recipes. Loaf cake starts: Rub 6 pounds of sugar (or fugar in the type set of the times), 2 pounds of lard, 3 pounds of butter, 12 pounds of flour, 18 eggs — well, you get the picture. Obviously this recipe is for loaf cakes for a large group.
One of the desserts we don’t see in the modern US is syllabub. This may have to do with the ingredients. One recipe begins: start with two parts cream to one part wine. Another begns: take a pint of cream and sweeten it to your palate. This dessert is usually drunk. I can only guess at the number of calories. I have had it in England, where it is still consumed as a dessert and it tasted like alcoholic whipped cream.
One element used to lighten some of the baked goods is egg whites, which have to beaten by hand. One recipe says beat for half an hour. If I had to spend this much time beating egg whites my family would never have cake.