Monday, April 13, 2009

Cakes Named for Abraham Lincoln

Nearly every summer evening beginning in 1862, Abraham Lincoln left the White House and rode, either on horseback or in a carriage, up hill out of the city’s miasmal air to the presidential summer cottage. Secretary of War Stanton also occupied a cottage there, on the grounds of the Soldier’s Home, about three miles northeast of the center of Washington. The Lincoln family stayed at the peaceful retreat into the fall before moving furniture and household goods back into the White House for the winter.

On his daily round trip, Lincoln passed poet Walt Whitman’s house, and the two men frequently nodded at in greeting. Whitman described Lincoln in his journal and letters. “June 30, 1863. I noticed him last evening about half-past 6 . . . . He looks more careworn than usual, his face with deep cut lines, seams, and his complexion gray through very dark skin – a curious looking man, very sad.”

The Lincolns were in residence at the White House on April 10, 1865, as the news spread throughout the city of General Lee’s April 8 surrender to General Grant bringing with it the end of the war. A great crowd walked through rain and mud from the Navy Yard to the White House lawn, picking up more and more people and even the Quartermaster’s band along the way. Nearly three thousand in number, they called for the president to come out. He spoke briefly and called upon the band to “play ‘Dixie.’ One of the best tunes I’ve ever heard.” He concluded his appearance calling for three cheers for “General Grant and all under his command” and another three cheers for the Navy.

The following evening Abraham Lincoln made his last public address. Speaking again from the upper windows of the White House, he called for reconciliation with the southern states. “Let us all join in doing the acts necessary to restoring the proper practical relations between these states and the Union.”

Three days later President and Mrs. Lincoln went to a performance of “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theater. In the middle of the play John Wilkes Booth entered the presidential box and shot Abraham Lincoln. He was carried across the street into the home of Mr. William Petersen and laid in a small bedroom on the first floor. At seven thirty-three on the morning of April 15, 1865 Abraham Lincoln’s great heart stopped beating.

Walt Whitman wrote:
When lilacs last in the door-yard bloom’d,
And the great star droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d – and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.

People all over the nation mourned Lincoln’s death. Some even hung their homes with black crepe as though a member of their family had died. There were mourning ribbons and badges, portraits, articles and books. Nineteenth century cookbooks brought forth a bakery case full of cakes paying homage to the martyred president. These cakes joined those named for Presidents Washington and Madison, and other political figures on both sides of the Civil War. Many of the published recipes for Lincoln cakes pass along the simple recipe that first appeared in Godey’s Ladies Magazine in 1865: “2 eggs, 2 cups sugar 1/2 cup butter, one of sweet milk, three of flour, 1 teaspoon cream of tartar, half teaspoon soda and one of lemon essence.” Others are more like light fruitcakes. This recipe from 1876 is particularly tasty.

Lincoln Cake
3 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
8 ounces raisins
4 ounces currants
2 ounces candied citrus peel
4 ounces almonds
1/2 cup flour additional for dredging the fruits
1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups brown sugar, firmly packed
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup milk
1/4 cup brandy
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Grease and flour a large tube pan. Mix the 3 1/2 cups flour, baking soda and spices and set aside. Mix the dried fruits, peel and nuts with 1/2 cup flour and set aside. Cream the butter and brown sugar. Add the eggs and mix well. Add 1/3 of the flour and spice mixture, then the milk, the second third of the flour, the brandy and finally the last third of the flour mixture, stirring well after each addition. Stir in the fruit and nut mixture. Pour batter into pan, filling it about three-quarters full, and bake until a skewer or thin knife stuck in the center comes out clean, approximately one hour and fifteen minutes.

Copyright 2009 Rae Katherine Eighmey. All rights reserved.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Comfort of Cornbread

When Abraham Lincoln took the oath of office on March 4, 1861, he reached out the southern states considering secession from the union. “We are not enemies, but friends.” He closed his inaugural address with a call to unified patriotism. “The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

Lincoln hoped he was buying time to solve the problems with the rebelling states, but the first thing he received when he entered his office was a letter from Major Anderson at Fort Sumter stating the garrison would run out of supplies in a month or six weeks. Lincoln said later “of all the trials I have had since I came here, none begin to compare with those I had between the inauguration and the [April 13] fall of Fort Sumter.”

He was besieged at all hours by people who wanted to be appointed to offices in the new Republican government, while trying to manage a looming war. He said of those days that he was “like a man so busy renting rooms at one end of his house that he has no time to put out a fire burning in the other.”

It is no wonder that photographs taken between 1861 and 1865 show him becoming more and more thin as his months in office and at war took their toll.

Both Abraham and Mary Lincoln grew up eating cornbread. It was a comfort food for Mary, one of the foods she craved while living some of her widowed years in France. Abraham Lincoln is said to have enjoyed cornbread in the White House as well. This recipe, adapted from 1846, is sturdy. It is all corn, unsweetened and doesn’t rise very much while baking. It is tasty served warm and makes a nice base for any kind of creamed meat dish.

Epicure’s Cornbread
1 egg, separated
2 cups cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon soft butter
3/4 cup boiling water
3/4 cup sour milk or buttermilk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Beat the egg white until it forms soft peaks and set aside. Put cornmeal, salt, baking soda and soft butter in a medium mixing bowl. Carefully pour boiling water over all and stir to mix. Combine the sour milk and egg yolk. Add to cornmeal mixture and stir well. Gently fold in the beaten egg white. Spoon batter into a well greased 9-inch round baking pan. Bake until firm in center, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Copyright 2009 Rae Katherine Eighmey. All rights reserved.