Pumpkin Cakes

One of my favorite things about fall is cooking with pumpkin – whether it’s pumpkin pies, pumpkin cakes, or pumpkin sauces, I will pretty much try anything with pumpkin in it. As a result, I almost always have small amounts of leftover pumpkin purée sitting around. This recipe for pumpkin cakes, from Lettice Bryan’s 1839 book The Kentucky Housewife, is just the ticket to use up any pumpkin remnants. Although they are baked in an oven instead of on a griddle, these are very similar to hoe-cakes or pancakes; Lettice Bryan includes them in the chapter “Warm Cakes &c. for Breakfast and Tea.”

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Brown Betty

Betties are part of the group of baked-fruit-with-topping dishes (along with cobblers, crisps, crumbles, slumps, etc.), which I can never seem to tell apart from one another. After comparing Apple Betty recipes in multiple 19th and 20th century cookbooks, it seems like the distinguishing feature of a Betty is multiple layers of breadcrumbs alternating with the fruit – although there were a few exceptions that used cubes or slices of bread instead. This recipe from 1866 makes a pretty standard Apple Betty. No measurements are given in the original; I have provided the amounts I used for a 1.5 quart baking dish, but since precise measurements don’t matter it can be easily adapted for other sizes.

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Mint Cordial

Homemade cordials, usually a mixture of distilled liquor and fruit or other flavors, were popular in America from the 17th through the 19th centuries. They were used both for medicinal purposes and to drink simply for pleasure. While in the later 19th century commercially-made cordials became popular for use in cocktails, earlier cordials like this 1828 recipe would have been served on their own as after-dinner digestives.

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Cherry Batter Pudding

“When we had done, he brought me a pudding, and having set it before me, seemed to ruminate, and to become absent in his mind for some moments.

‘How’s the pie?’ he said, rousing himself.

‘It’s a pudding,’ I made answer.

‘Pudding!’ he exclaimed. ‘Why, bless me, so it is! What?’ looking at it nearer. ‘You don’t mean to say it’s a batter-pudding!’

‘Yes, it is indeed.’

‘Why, a batter-pudding,’ he said, taking up a table-spoon, ‘is my favourite pudding! Ain’t that lucky? Come on, little ‘un, and let’s see who’ll get most.’”

-Charles Dickens, David Copperfield, 1850.

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Boiled Rhubarb Pudding

One of my favorite things about Isabella Beeton’s 1861 cookbook, The Book of Household Management, is that she lists practical information about the cost, time to make, serving size, and season for each recipe. Knowing the season was especially important; although some fruits and vegetables could be grown in greenhouses all year, others were only available for short windows of time. Even today, that’s still the case with rhubarb, which in my area at least only appears for a few brief weeks in late spring. To make this recipe, I started haunting my grocery stores and local farmers’ markets at the start of April, checking constantly for the first sign of rhubarb’s bright red stalks. Somehow, the excitement of finally finding it after weeks of waiting feels much more gratifying than if I had been able to get it all year round.

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A Hedgehog

Last year, I made an 18th-century recipe for a hedgehog, a popular dessert in which an almond paste was formed into the shape of a hedgehog and stuck with almond slices to resemble spines. The idea of the hedgehog-shaped dessert survived into the 19th century, but later recipes started using a cake as the base of the hedgehog instead. This recipe, from Addison Ashburn’s 1807 cookbook The Family Director, calls for either a sponge cake or a French roll as the hedgehog base. The base is then soaked in wine and brandy and surrounded by custard, making this version just as decadent as its 18th-century predecessors.

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Hot Cross Buns

The English custom of eating spiced buns on Good Friday dates back to at least Tudor times, when a London law forbade the sale of spiced buns except on Good Friday, Christmas, and at burials. The first known mention of the name “hot cross buns” comes from a rhyme in the 1733 book Poor Robin’s Almanack: “Good Friday comes this month, the old woman runs, with one or two a penny hot cross buns.” Although on modern hot cross buns the cross is usually piped on with pastry, in most recipes before the 20th century the cross is cut or stamped into the buns. This 1896 recipe from Fannie Merritt Farmer is an exception to both traditions; in her version, the cross is piped on with icing.

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