Monday, September 21, 2015

Sweet Tidings from Fort Michilimackinac

Colonial Cake Baking
Carrying firkins of butter, which means a cask, which holds 56 pounds? Or picking up a bag of flour weighing 196 pounds? Not me! The 18th century woman would have had to be as strong as a weight lifter, just to do everyday tasks. There’s no need to go to the gym to stay in shape, when you’ve been balancing a heavy wooden yoke over your shoulders to bring two buckets filled with water to from the well to the house.

Fort Michilimackinac (Mackinaw City, Michigan) {PD} 
Whitefish and corn were staples on the Straits of Mackinac, so I was surprised to learn the residents of Fort Michilimackinac took their sweets rather seriously. While cane sugar was imported by the British from the West Indies, the Native Americans and French gladly processed maple sugar to help create their confections, such as cakes, pies, and other desserts made with fruit. Honey and molasses were also used.

The cake of the 18th century was heavier and rich with spices. There was no need for frosting. The consumer was happy with a dusting of sugar. As I looked over some cake recipes of that era, I found less sugar and fat in them than today’s recipes. However, they used rich, creamy butter, or lard. Without an electric mixer, the cook worked hard to froth the eggs and beat the mixture to lighten the cake. Still, their cakes were heavier.

Cooking Sunday Dinner at the Fort by Greg Grossmeier, 2009 {CC}
The colonial cook couldn’t turn a dial or press buttons to preheat an oven. Instead, she preheated a Dutch oven by placing it on top of hot ashes. Next, the cake batter can either be poured directly into the oven, or a trivet is placed in the bottom with a filled cake pan placed on top. Once the method is decided, the cook covers the Dutch oven with a lid and hot coals are placed on top. Whew! I think I’m tired just reading about the process. I am now less likely to take for granted the ease of shoving a hurriedly prepared box mix into a preheated oven!

Here’s a recipe from History from the Hearth: A Colonial Michilimackinac Cookbook by Sally Eustace, which I thought you may enjoy this fall.

Applesauce Cake (Eggless)

1 cup brown sugar
1 ¼ cups applesauce
1 tsp baking soda
2 cups flour
½ tsp cloves
1/3 cup shortening
1 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup raisins

Beat shortening and sugar together. Sift dry ingredients and use some to dust the raisins. Mix dry ingredients into the sugar mixture alternatively with the applesauce. Fold in raisins. Pour into a preheated Dutch oven and bake about 45 minutes.

Birthday Cake from a Dutch Oven by Jinx, 2010 {CC} 

(While I must confess I have not yet tried this recipe, I would like to find my enamel ware Dutch oven and try it. I’m thinking a moderate oven temperature of 350 could work.) At least I don’t have to make the applesauce or stoke the fire! I look forward to enjoying the blessings of modern convenience and the taste of colonial times. Happy colonial cooking to you!

Kathleen Rouser has loved making up stories since she was a little girl. Her debut novella, The Pocket Watch, is part of Brave New Century, a Christian historical romance anthology, published in 2013. Her short story, “Special Assignment” was included in the 2014 bestselling anthology, Christmas Treasures. Her first full-length novel, Rumors and Promises, will be published in April, 2016 by Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas. She has had several magazine articles published and also contributes regularly to Novel PASTimes, a blog devoted to promoting mainly Christian historical fiction. She is a long time member in good standing of ACFW and a former board member of its Great Lakes Chapter. 

She lives in Michigan with her sassy, tail-less cat, Lilybits, and her husband of 33 years, Jack, who not only listens to her stories, but also cooks for her.


  1. I just read that some colonial Americans would eat beaver tail when other meats were in short supply. Ugh!

    1. That doesn't sound like a very tender or tasty cut of meat, does it?
      I suppose the colonials could stew anything over a fire! ;) Thank
      you for stopping by, Rebecca, and leaving a comment.
      I hope you find my articles worthy of replacing yours, since
      I've moved into your former spot.

  2. I have a wonderful Heritage Cook Book that is a history book of recipes, foods, and cooking techniques from the Indians of Colonial Days to modern America Cuisine in the late 20th century. Those early recipes were really something and every time I look at them for research, I am once again thankful for my modern kitchen and appliances.

  3. That sounds really intriguing, Martha, and probably fun to read. What's really funny is reading an old-fashioned
    recipe that starts with "Have the menfolk shoot a mess of squirrels . . ." :)

  4. That is funny, and it reminds me of something I'd about forgotten. During WWII, we raised rabbits to have meat. My dad also sold them. My mother wrote down several recipes she created and each one began with: "Kill the rabbit. Have Mac (my daddy) skin it and gut it." Wish I had saved some of those now.

    1. What a cool memory to have, Martha. Thank you for sharing. :)