Martha Washington’s Great Cake Offers a Slice of History – Lewiston Sun Journal

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President’s week, a.k.a. February vacation week, and news about the United States election process, causes me to remember a cake recipe that my grandmother passed down. She was invited to some kind of tea in the 1800s where this cake was served, and the recipe was given to each invitee. It’s engraved in gold on sturdy paper. The name of the recipe is “Martha Washington’s Great Cake.” When I first acquired it, I thought the name meant it was a “great” cake in that it was delicious. I also thought the recipe wasn’t much help because there were no directions and the ingredients were listed by weight. Of course, now I know there was no need for directions then because baking was done on a regular basis and the method was passed down through conversations and observations. Further, measurements by weight are more reliable than volume.
The “great” came from a classification of cakes during colonial times. Usually, these cakes were served at celebrations and fancy teas. They were quite large and so “great” referred to the size and the ingredients. Flour, sugar, and butter were not plentiful and were not inexpensive so the making and serving of such a cake needed to be reserved for special guests and occasions. The ingredients on my grandmother’s copy are 40 eggs, 4 pounds butter, 4 pounds finely powdered sugar, 5 pounds flour, 5 pounds currants, ½ ounce each mace and nutmeg, and Maderia. The modern baker is left to wonder how much yeast as it was essential for the cake to rise and become something between a cake and a bread. Yeast was derived from barm, which is the foam on the top of fermented ale. I’m not crazy about currants in cakes so I think I would use raisins or dried fruits which were also popular at the time.
In acquiring a recipe app, I’m updating the food portion of my website. It’s now much easier to translate and transfer recipes. I think when you visit; you’ll find it’s a step up in convenience to have printable recipes. Let me know if that’s true.

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