Today is the reason this project is called 366 Days with the Berlin Cookbook instead of 365 Days etc. Today is Leap Day. It is the 60th time this year that I’ve used the 1906 Berlin Cook Book in an attempt to learn more about the cook book, the era, and the women who contributed recipes to this community cook book.
There is a legend that traditional marriage proposal protocol is reversed on Leap Day so that a woman may ask for a man’s hand. Thus my decision to try making a wedding cake tonight. There are three wedding cake recipes in this cook book but I’ve selected the Wedding Cake (p. 203) submitted by Mrs. P. Uttley for my first attempt. I’m going to make just half the recipe.
I pulled out my largest bowl and started preparing the ingredients. I weighed 1 1/2 pounds of raisins (about 4 cups), 1 1/2 pounds of dates (about 4 cups); 1 1/2 pound of currants (4 cups); 8 oz of mixed peel and 4 oz of almonds. I am fortunate that unlike Mrs. Uttley I did not need to wash and seed my raisins. And I must confess my dates were already pitted as I’d run out of the whole dates. I did however chop the dates.At this point my largest bowl was already full and I had cleaned out my cupboard of all my dried fruit! How did they manage to make the full recipe!
In a separate bowl, I creamed 3/4 pound of butter with the 12 oz of brown sugar. Next I added 6 medium eggs, 1 cup of molasses, 1/2 cup sour cream and 1/4 cup of brandy and stirred between each addition. Normally I would pour the brandy over the dried fruit and let it absorb a bit but this is such a small amount of liquor in proportion to the amount of dried ingredients that it didn’t seem to make a difference. I was baffled by the amount of spice. It seems such a small amount for such a large cake. Was I supposed to add 1/2 teaspoon each of different spices? I decided to try 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1/2 teaspoon of allspice.
Now it was time to add some flour to the dry mixture and then put all the ingredients together. I added 2 cups of flour to the dried fruit. I added one cup of flour (with 1 teaspoon of baking soda mixed into it) to the wet ingredients. The ultimate challenge was trying to mix all the ingredients together. I tried using two wooden spoons to mix — rather like making a salad — but discovered that using my hands was the best method of all. The 3 cups of flour seemed to be enough to give it the familiar fruit cake batter look and feel. I tasted the batter and was surprised to discover the flavours were nice and that the brandy was evident.
Next challenge was to get the batter into cake pans. I greased two round cake pans and filled them. I had enough batter for a loaf pan as well. I can’t imagine how Mrs. Uttley had enough pans for this cake. I seem to remember hearing that women borrowed cake pans when it was time to make a wedding cake.
It took me 1 1/2 hours to get this cake into the oven. Finally I put my three pans in a 325 degree F. oven and started checking them after one hour.
I became extremely curious about Mrs. Uttley as I made half her recipe for Wedding Cake. I started imagining that she had made this cake for her daughter. Instead it is likely that this was her own wedding cake. Katie Oberer married Peter James Uttley and in the 1901 census they have a one year old son born in July 1899. Odds are the couple married some time in 1898. They later had two more sons and in 1911 the family are living on Joseph Street in Berlin. Peter’s background is English while Katie’s is German and they are both Lutheran. Peter works as an engineer in some sort of shop/factory. Previously he had been a fireman. In 1906 when this cook book was published, Katie would be close to 30 years old.
I took the two cake pans out after an hour but left the loaf pan for a little longer. Now for tasting. This is a very nice fruit cake. This recipe is not going to convert confirmed haters of fruit cake but I like it. I prefer raisins, dates and currants to peel so the balance in this cake suits me. I have no intention of making this cake again … at least not for a long time as I have plenty of cake left. If this is the cake served at Peter and Katie’s wedding then I’m sure their guests were happy. Perhaps some of the young female guests took home a piece to place under their pillow that night in hopes of dreaming of the one they would marry.
3 pounds raisins, 3 pounds currants, 3 pounds dates, 1 1/2 pounds brown sugar, 1 pound mixed peeling, 1/2 pound almonds, 1 dozen eggs, 1 1/2 pounds butter, 1 teaspoon of mixed spices, 1/2 cup of brandy or wine, 2 cups molasses, 1 cup sour cream, 2 teaspoons of baking soda, flour as required.