Goodies from Thomas Jefferson’s Personal Cookbook!

Biscuit de Savoye

Being on a strict low-carb diet for the last several months has taken some of the fun out of baking. When I don’t get to eat what I bake, I’m not nearly as enthusiastic about trying new recipes! But my good friend Jill Ross gave me three wonderful historic cookbooks for my birthday and the rainy weather really put me into a baking mood today, so into the kitchen I went. When the cake was done, I took only a mouse-sized nibble, so that I could report on the flavor. (That nibble was pure heaven I tell you!) My husband officially pronounced the cake “good”, which is about as

The following recipe for “Biscuit de Savoye” comes from a reprint of recipes from Thomas Jefferson’s personal cookbook. This recipe produces a light, flavorful orange cake. There is no baking powder or soda in the recipe and very little flour. The batter is produced by beating the snot out of every ingredient until it forms a froth. There is very little rising, but the cake produced is light and airy, and very tasty. By buttering and sugaring the pan, it produces a caramelized sugar crust that is slightly crunchy on the bottom and sides. I used a 9″x13″ pan, but I think I would use two round pans and make a layer cake next time. I cheated and used a store-bought buttercream frosting, which worked nicely with this cake.

The recipe calls for the cake to bake in a “slow oven”, which translates to 300 degrees in a modern oven. It took forty minutes in my oven.

Biscuit de Savoye from Thomas Jefferson's Personal Cookbook

I will definitely make this one again, at a later date when I can bake my cake and eat it too!

~ Claire

Sweet Serendipity

I’ve been meaning to make the ‘Sunshine Cake’ in Great Grandma Charlotte’s ‘Settlement Cookbook’ ever since I got it. Just because I like the name. Today I finally did. It was an early birthday celebration for my dad, which seemed a good time to try this one out…

6 eggs, separated

A pinch of salt added to the eggs before beating

1/3 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 cup cake flour

1 cup sugar

1 lemon, grated rind

1 teaspoon vanilla

Sift, measure and set aside flour and sugar; then sift flour 4 times. Beat yolks with rotary egg beater until light colored and thick. Gradually beat in one half of the sugar and the lemon rind and vanilla. Beat whites with wire whip until frothy, add cream of tartar and remaining sugar. Beat until stiff enough to hold up in peaks but not dry. Cut and fold part of whites into yolks and sugar; fold and cut in the flour and salt; then the rest of the egg whites. Place in an ungreased pan with center tube. Bake about 1 hour at 325 degrees. Invert pan. When cool, remove cake.

I screwed this one up in all sorts of ways… mixed the flour and sugar before sifting, forgot the salt, and overbeat the whites. And it came out spongier than it should have.

But it didn’t matter. I got to my parents’ house bearing the cake, and my mom exclaimed, “That looks just like the Sunshine Cake my mother used to make us for our birthdays!”


This is the reason I bake from these old books. To make a serendipitous connection like that, out of the blue, is wondrous to me. That Sunshine Cake recipe has been calling out to me for the better part of a year, and here I finally make it to celebrate my dad’s birthday… only to find out that this was the birthday cake of choice for my mom’s mom.

Baking is magic.



Wise Woman

Dearest Claire just sent me a treasure trove of cookbooks that has inspired me to get back to baking in a big way. I don’t even know where to begin with cookbooks filled with gems like these: 

I just can’t get enough of throwbacks like this. This one is from a 1933 cookbook called “All About Home Baking”.

Today is the first day of summer vacation for the kids, so they did the honors in choosing a recipe. Their criterion was ‘something we can cut out’, so I went with these:

I didn’t make the date filling because I just don’t like dates enough to bother. Instead, we experimented with the sort of fillings that made my kids tell me I am, in fact, the world’s greatest mom — mini candy bars. I also filled a couple with apricot preserves for myself, and they were delish.

Next time I’ll roll the dough a bit thinner, as these were a little breadier than I would have liked. All in all, though, a winner. I feel wiser already.



Graham Gems- What the Heck are They?

Some of the oldest of my cookbooks contain recipes for something called “gems”. In every book that gem recipes, there is always one for “Graham Gems”. These are made with something no one sells anymore called “Graham Flour” and then baked in a mysterious device called a “gem iron”. Obviously this recipe was going to require a bit of research on my part!

So just what is a gem? A gem is simply a muffin.

Graham Gems

What makes a gem a gem and not a muffin is the pan it is baked in. This cast iron beauty is gem iron. They were called this because the shape of them looks a little bit like the facets of a gem. This particular pan was made in 1858 by the Waterman Company:

1858 Gem Iron

In order to make this recipe as it was intended, I had to find Graham Flour. No grocery stores had it, even the natural food stores didn’t have it. I did a bit of research and found that Graham Flour was produced by Sylvester Graham, father of the Graham Cracker. He was an advocate of coarse, whole grain flour being a healthier alternative to refined white flour.

Rev. Sylvester Graham

Fortunately, there are a few companies that still produce Graham Flour today. I was able to find Graham Flour online made by Bob’s Red Mill.

Graham Flour Made by Bob's Red Mill

Once all the mysteries had been cleared up, it was time to do some baking! Below are all of the gem recipes from my battered 1885 copy of “Buckeye Cookery”.

Gem Recipes

Gem Recipes

The Good Graham Gems recipe instructed that the gem irons were to be heated first, then greased. This was accomplished by letting them sit in the oven, then skewering a large piece of butter with a fork and running around the inside of the gem iron cups.

Buttered Gem Irons

A few notes about the ingredients called for in this recipe. There is no need to go out back and slaughter a hog to get a tablespoon of lard, Crisco is a worthy substitute. The recipe also calls for a “hot” or “quick” oven. If you’re not doing your baking in a wood stove, set your modern oven to 400 degrees. Buttermilk can be used when “sour milk” is called for. It is not necessary to have a gem iron to make this recipe, a regular muffin tin will work just fine.

Here are my “Good Graham Gems”, hot from the oven in their gem irons. The flavor was very similar to the whole wheat breads available in stores and this would really good with some seeds added to the batter. The recipe is a simple way to produce a basic, whole wheat muffin or small loaf of bread.

Mystery solved!

Jelly Roll ~ So Good it Should be Outlawed!

Ah sweet decadence! Behold the most incredible of jelly rolls! This is a dessert so scrumptious, so sinfully delicious that it should be illegal in most states, with the possible exception of Nevada.

Jelly Roll - Lovely, Luscious and Legal.

I discovered this recipe in an 1897 copy of Hood’s Practical Cook Book.

Hood's Practical Cook Book

Hood’s claim to fame in the 19th century was not their recipes, but their sarsaparilla, which was reputed to cleanse the blood and relieve belly aches:

Hood's Sarsaparilla

The beauty of this recipe is in the technique- The recipe calls for the a cloth to be covered in powdered sugar and to lay the hot cake on it, cover the backside in jelly, roll it up while hot and then leave it to steam in the cloth. This results in the powdered sugar crystalizing ever so slightly and making an ever so slightly crunchy crust on the outside of the roll:

Jelly Roll Recipe - Hood's Practical Cook Book Circa 1897

Here is my cloth, covered in powdered sugar. Bakers with a sense of humor can have fun reenacting scenes from the movie “Scarface” for their families during this part of the recipe… or not.

"Say hello to my little friend!"

Here is my jelly roll, steaming in its cloth:

Jelly Roll Steaming in Cloth to Create a Delicate Sugar Crust

The jelly roll should steam until you can feel through the cloth that it is no longer radiating heat. Then it is ready. Proceed with caution, jelly roll is addicting!

Not According to Plan

When I woke up earlier than the kids this no-school morning, I had a vision of how the morning would go.

The Plan: Try out a new recipe in the quiet and solitude of the early morning. Indulge the children with the pleasure of waking up to the smell of something sweet and wonderful coming out of the oven. This recipe (from the Settlement Cookbook) seemed perfect:

The Reality: The first part of the plan went down just fine. As I was putting the cake in to bake, my son wandered downstairs. With the cake in the oven, we decided to prolong the sleepy morning by going back upstairs for a bit more of a lie-in with books in bed while we waited for breakfast to be ready and sister to wake. That’s where things went south… About 20 minutes in, the fire alarm went off. Not knowing what was in store for us downstairs, I grabbed my daughter from her deep sleep and carried her crying self downstairs to find smoke coming out of the oven vent. The cake had bubbled over and the globs of batter on the bottom of the oven had caught fire. It went out as soon as I opened the door and turned off the oven, but the mess remained:

This was not in the plan.

But… there was no ‘real’ fire, and my son immediately said that the cake itself still smelled pretty good. Not sure how he could tell, over the remaining smoke stench, but we decided to attempt a rescue mission. I scraped the burnt bits off the bottom of the oven, ripped the crusty part of the cake off the top, and scooped out several spoonfuls of batter. And back in the oven it went. We are brave.

As it turned out, this one (which we shall forevermore call ‘Fire Alarm Cake’) is WELL worth making again. Fresh from the oven, it tasted like an enormous chocolate chip cookie without the chocolate.

Apparently, this recipe makes two loaves. I do recall thinking, as I poured the batter into the pan, that it looked quite full, but I thought ‘surely the Settlement folks would have told me if this recipe made more than one loaf.’ Evidently not.

So… not so much on the peace and quiet and ‘feeling-like-the-worlds-greatest-mom-who-wakes-her-children-to-the-smell-of-fresh-baked-goods’. More of a ‘drag-your-terrified-child-out-of-bed-to-the-stench-of-smoke’ kind of morning. But ultimately tasty. The best laid plans…




I think it’s time I offered thanks to the memory of my grandma Ina’s dear friend, Dot. I know I met Dot many times in my childhood, but I don’t have any particularly strong memories. I’m sure my dad and uncles would. All I can say is that I love her name. You don’t meet people named Dot anymore.

Tonight I made another of Dot’s recipes (the first being Ritz Pie, about which I have already offered up my mea culpa here), and we liked this one so much I have no pictures to post. We devoured it all before I could get to the camera.

Really, it wasn’t a particularly appealing looking dish, anyway, so the lack of photos isn’t that much of a loss. I thought of just taking a picture of our plates, empty but for the shrimp tails, because that would have nicely summed up our feelings about this meal. Rare to find a new recipe that is happily devoured by all in our family of four.

Given no instruction as to the amount of chili powder, and mindful of my kids’ aversion to spiciness, I used less than a teaspoon, but I could have used more. I also might cut the sugar in half next time. I couldn’t tell, from my gram’s handwriting, what quantity and sort of tomatoes were called for, so I went with a regular-sized can of diced tomatoes, including the juice.

Delish. Wish I’d made more.

Dot, you’re two-for-two. I will never again question your culinary expertise.



Just Right

After a glorious, sunny week visiting grandparents in Florida, we are back at home enjoying what I must confess with some degree of guilt is my favorite kind of day. Chilly and raining… nowhere I need to go… just puttering inside with a cup of coffee and a book… even catching up on work and laundry seem cozier on a day like this. To add to the drizzly magic, I made my new favorite stew in the crock pot and followed it up with ‘Ginger Drops’ from great-grandma Charlotte’s Settlement cookbook.

First the stew. This is by no means an old family recipe… just something from one of those grocery-store-checkout-line-crockpot-cookbooks… but I like to think my edits have made it my own, and something of which my Irish ancestors would be proud. The recipe is as follows, with my edits highlighted:


  • 3 bacon strips, diced (I used 5. If 3 strips of bacon is good, 5 is better)
  • 2 pounds of cubed stewing beef (I used 2 and a half… I wanted leftovers)
  • Salt and pepper for seasoning the beef
  • 2 cups baby carrots
  • 1 yellow onion, cut in wedges
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Several potatoes, halved (this is my addition… the recipe calls for serving this stew over cooked noodles, but the Irish ancestors were calling out from the beyond, demanding potatoes)
  • 12 ounces beer (I used Guinness Extra Stout… again… Irish ancestors)
  • 1 tablespoon each of soy sauce and worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/4 cup water

Cook bacon until crisp. The recipe then calls for draining the bacon drippings and browning the salted and peppered beef in canola oil. (What? I could hear my grandmother’s voice in my head, appalled at the thought of perfectly good bacon drippings going into a tin can and subsequently to the trash. So the bacon drippings stayed, and the beef browned beautifully in them.) At this point, the recipe indicated that the beef juices be drained before the beef was put into the crock pot. (Again, what? Just nonsense. Into the crock pot those juices shall go.)

Add the carrots, bacon, onion, garlic, bay leaf, and (in my case) potatoes to the crock pot. Combine the beer, soy sauce, worcestershire sauce, and thyme, and pour this over the beef and veg. Cover and cook on low for 6 hours. Then mix the flour and water and stir this into the crock pot before cooking for an additional 30 minutes on high. Remove the bay leaf and serve with good bread.

Now the ginger drops:

Aren’t they adorable? They look like little chocolate ice-cream cones, don’t they? Really, though, they’re just delicately-spiced little gingerbread muffins, perfect for after-dinner tonight as well as breakfast tomorrow. Cooked for about 20 minutes, these added a glorious spicy aroma to the already-overwhelming smell of the stew. We lit a fire and curled up with our books until it was all ready, listening to the rain.

Just right.



A Valentine to Great Grandma Charlotte

I picked up some Valentine-y sprinkles this week and promptly went looking for something to sprinkle them on. This recipe seemed to fit the bill:

This is another one from Great Grandma Charlotte's "Settlement Cookbook"

These couldn’t have been easier… no need to even refrigerate the dough before rolling and cutting it. I baked mine for about 12 minutes, which was perfect, but the cooking time would surely vary depending on the size of the cookie (mine were about 2 inches across, and were rolled rather thick… say a third of an inch… I don’t care for crunchy cookies, so I don’t typically roll cookie dough too thin).

The result was a lovely, mildly spicy and perfectly chewy cookie…

The jam-sandwich part of the recipe would probably be delish, but we were headed to a birthday party and I wanted to bring something, and sandwiching the cookies would effectively have meant half the number of cookies and therefore a skimpier looking offering. So, we went with frosting and sprinkles…

I’ll be making these again and again, any time I have a hankering for a cutout cookie. For now, though, I’ll think of these as a Valentine to Great Grandma Charlotte, and to the rest of our grannies and great-grannies and great-greats…



Irish Pizza Anyone?

Irish Pizza

I was nibbling away at a bit of Irish soda bread (see two posts down for Kate’s Great-Grandmother’s recipe) the other morning when I had a wonderful idea- Why not try using the soda bread recipe to make a pizza crust?

I decided to put the recipe to the test this weekend, thinking that if it were a complete disaster that I could ditch the whole thing and head for the nearest restaurant for dinner. But it wasn’t a disaster, it was wonderful! In fact I have to say that it is the best homemade pizza I have ever made. Here’s how it was done.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Combine the dry ingredients:
2 cups of flour
1/2 tsp. of salt
1/2 tsp. of baking powder
1/2 tsp. of baking soda
Mix the dry ingredients well, then add:
1 cup of buttermilk
Turn the dough out onto a floured breadboard and knead slightly with floured hands.
Lightly grease a full-size cast iron skillet with butter.
Flatten the dough into the bottom of the frying pan, spreading it out until it covers the bottom of the pan, and making a lip around the edge to help contain the sauce and toppings.
Spread with pizza sauce, then top with mozzarella cheese and whatever toppings you like. I used turkey pepperoni and bell peppers.
Put the skillet into the oven and bake for thirty minutes.
Remove the skillet carefully, remember the handle is VERY hot!
Let the skillet sit out of the oven with the pizza in it for an additional ten minutes.
Using a potholder to grasp the hot skillet handle, tip the skillet up and slide the pizza out onto a plate. Slice and serve.