Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Busy As A Bride

Holy moly, has it been a week since I last posted?  I have good excuses, I swear!  Just like the post title says, I have been busy- busy as a bride.

No no, I'm not really getting married.  For those who don't already know, I work for a living history museum that portrays life in the 19th Century.  Sometimes I do what is called "First Person Interpretation", which means that instead of just talking about what is was like to live back then, I act as though it really is that era and speak to visitors as such.  It's such a weird, but cool job.

Anyway, this past weekend my character got married. Re-married to be exact, as my first husband was killed at the battle of Gettysburg.  This time I married a man "old enough to be my...uncle", as he likes to say.  He too is a widower, so this was a second marriage for both.  That being said, we came up with the scenario that we were to be married in his parlor at home, I just wore the nicest dress I owned, and the ceremony was attended by just a few close family members and friends.  (One of which was John D. Rockefeller! At this date, he was only 24 years old and not the multi-millionaire we remember him as today.  He is from this area and is a business partner of my now-husband.  Fun huh?)

To follow suit with these plans I decided to make my own wedding cake.  This was not the elaborate affair that the wedding industry has made it into today, so I set my mind to finding an original recipe (or receipt as they were called back then) that I could make at work to demonstrate for the public.  In my research I found that at this time (1860's) a lot of brides still made cakes that were pretty plain by today's standards and quite often contained fruit.  Not exactly what I had in mind.  I kept searching until I found one that at least had a hint of what we think of wedding cake to be today.  Finally, I came up with this:

Snow or Brides Cake (The Young Housekeeper's Friend-1859):
A pound each of flour and sugar, half a pound of butter, and the whites of sixteen eggs, beaten to a stiff froth. Flavor it with rose water.

A pound of the best white sugar, the whites of three fresh eggs, a teaspoon of nice starch, pounded, and sifted through a piece of muslin or a very fine sieve, the juice of half a lemon and a few drops of the essence.
Beat the whites to a stiff froth, then add them to the sugar, and stir it steadily until it will stay where you put it. It will take nearly two hours, maybe more. Dredge a little flour over the cake, and brush it off with a feather. This is to prevent the frosting from being discolored by the butter contained in the cake. Lay it on smoothly
with a knife, and return the cake to the oven for twelve to fifteen minutes.

A little vague on some of the directions huh?  Not to mention heavy on the poultry ovum... (16 egg whites!)  As they did not bother to include cooking time or temp for the cake, I fired up my cast iron stove to a "moderate oven" temperature, aka 350ish for you modern cooks.  I honestly can't say how long it took because I was so busy with visitors I didn't even bother to look at the clock, but just kept checking it until it was golden on the outside and a toothpick came out clean from the center.

The frosting is what really gave me a problem.  After reading the recipe it sounded like it was supposed to be something like a meringue topping, but with a lot more sugar.  But, never having actually made a meringue before, I didn't really know what to expect.  And you can bet your life I wasn't going to spend 2+ hours whipping it by hand!  I'm dedicated to my job, but that is ridiculous!  Instead I took the frosting ingredients home and did it with an electric beater, and even then it took quite a while. The recipe also makes no mention of when to add the starch or lemon flavoring, so I added them after the eggs were "beaten to a stiff froth".  I then took the frosting back to work the next day and demonstrated the icing and re-baking of the cake, which did harden up the frosting in a semi-meringue way.

I didn't get a close up picture of the finished product, but if you look at this scene you can see it on the table all cut up:

And here is a close up of some of the leftovers:

If I had to re-write this recipe for the modern cook, it would go something like this:

Snow or Bride's Cake:
3 3/4 cups flour
2 1/4 cups sugar
2 sticks butter, softened
16 egg whites, beaten to a stiff froth
2-3 tablespoons rosewater
Combine ingredients, bake at 350 F until golden and a toothpick comes out clean from the center.

2 1/4 cups white sugar
3 egg whites
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 drops pure lemon extract

Beat egg whites until stiff, add all other ingredients until it has "body".  Dust the cake with flour, ice the cake, and bake at 350 F for 12-15 minutes.

Any comments or suggestions for this recipe are appreciated!

Before I forget, here is a lovely picture taken of me this weekend by Robert Szabo, a  fantastic wet plate photographer.  Although he took a few of me in the period wet plate style, all I have so far is one of the digital photos:

On a final note, the gentleman who plays my husband is moving to Virginia next week, so I bought him a little going away present.  I didn't have any wrapping paper, so I tore out the pages for Virginia from an old road atlas and wrapped it in that, finishing it off with a little scrap blue ribbon to dress it up:

Isn't it a cute (and frugal) way to wrap something?  I hope the long post makes up for my lack of blogging this past week, I'll try to not let it happen again.  Try being the key word.


Jessica August 18, 2010 at 9:26 AM  

Wow, you have the coolest job! You did a great job on that cake. I am certain that I would have definitely messed up that recipe! haha...And I love that picture of you!

Historical Ken August 18, 2010 at 5:10 PM  

Good post Chandra!
I'd love to see some images of your "wedding"

Lee September 1, 2010 at 3:34 PM  

*sigh* gorgeous photo!
So refreshing to see a period correct costume :) As Ken above says, I too would love to see other photos!