Chew on This: Recipes for the 4th of July
by Nancy Siegel, Professor of Art History and Culinary History, Towson University
In 1796, a modest book titled American Cookery was published in Hartford, CT. Its author, Amelia Simmons, is credited with producing what is widely considered the first cookbook written in America. Simmons utilized native ingredients such as cornmeal for “American Indian pudding,” “Johny Cake, or Hoe Cake,” and dishes for “pompkin.” Curiously, in a revised edition of the same year, she complemented recipes for basic “plain cake” with those of a patriotic nature such as “Election cake,” and “Independence cake.”
By and large, politically themed recipes in American cookery are for celebratory foods—cakes, pies, and sweet breads—and in this area of culinary development one finds the overwhelming majority of such recipes. While recipes for Election Cake date from as early as 1771 in Connecticut, Simmons’s recipe for Independence Cake calls for twenty pounds of flour, fifteen of sugar, ten of butter, four dozen eggs, a quart of wine and brandy, in addition to nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, mace, citrons, currants, raisins, and a quart of yeast!! This is a lavish and expensive cake, especially Simmons’s directions for frosting it with loaf sugar and in a pre-Martha Stewart sensibility, she recommended dressing the cake with gold leaf. Such extravagance implies a special meaning attached to this cake as well as the economic ability to purchase these ingredients.
Likewise, the sheer volume of this ample-sized cake suggests that events such as Election Day or the Fourth of July were cause for communal celebration and eating. Recipes with politically charged titles became plentiful. In fact, there are literally hundreds of recipes with patriotic associations both in published cookery books and in handwritten receipt books. In addition to Election Cake, Independence Cake, Election Loaf Cake, Federal Cake, Republican cake, and Democratic Tea Cakes, we find reference to important political figures in President Cake, Washington Pie, Franklin Buns, Madison Cake, Lafayette Gingerbread, and Jackson Jumbles, to name just a few.
Now is the perfect time to rename one of your own favorite cakes or cookies after someone you respect and admire. Happy baking!