Niagara Gazette

November 24, 2012

Election Day cake perfect for Christmas, too

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Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Election evening, Day Nine Sandy Hurricane time, and you could stand on Beach Channel Drive by the bay and see the Emerald City of Manhattan twinkling in the distance. Over there, they had light. Over there, they had warmth. Over there, people were gathering in swell apartments to eat brie, drink merlot, and watch the election returns, to learn if Rockaway’s despair had indeed swayed the vote.” — Mark Jacobson, New York magazine.

With my many relatives in New Jersey, New York and Delaware, victims of Sandy’s force, we are so weary.

We are tired of the economy, tired of politics, tired of texting and tweeting and blogging and cellphones.

Climate change once again is our consuming issue, and our attention is drawn to the marital scandal at the CIA, a fiscal battle, an immigration bill, an international crisis. ...

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said that Sandy will cost our state alone more than $33 billion, and harder to measure is the human toll around the world, the lives and communities disrupted and destroyed.

And we are hopeful of a better holiday this Christmas, with the prayer that we can come home renewed and ready for another round of life in the 21st century — a serious time with gentle pursuits and the hope of peace on earth, good will toward men.

Reflecting on bygone, equally difficult times, we remember the stories of our grandparents telling us about American traditions such as the recipe for the famous election cake.

Election cake has been served on Election Day since the early 1800s in a mercifully more serene time set in a mosaic of a peaceful nation with gratifying pursuits.

Election cake was traditionally baked to serve farmers who had left their fields for a few days to journey into town to vote.

The first known recipe for election cake, one of the first foods to be identified with American politics, was published as early as 1796, in Amelia Simmons’ “American Cooking” cookbook, in the 1800s.

These cakes were originally known as “muster cakes,” prepared and packed for farmers when they left the fields to travel into town for military training, or “mustering.” I often wondered why Tuesdays for voting day?

For a society in which most people lived on farms, as in Niagara and Erie counties, November was a good month to vote, I was advised.

The harvest was in, and snow hadn’t yet closed the roads. Officials thought Sunday wouldn’t work because many people were in church, Monday wouldn’t work because most polling places were in county seats and folks from outlying areas could not always get there in time. 

Tuesday was the earliest day everyone could make it into town. So Tuesday it was! Congress similarly standarized Congressional elections in 1872.

Women, who did not win the right to vote until Aug. 26, 1920, with the passage of the 19th Amendment, stayed on the farm.

When I cast my vote at the First Presbyterian Church, in the village of Lewiston, on Nov. 6, the ladies of the church were graciously selling their annual bounty of baked goods, jams, jellies, chutney and hand-crafted holiday gift items. 

Betty Murphy and several other ladies not only sold the lovely afternoon tea cakes and other beautifully packaged goods, even after the polls closed, but reminded me of an earlier time, when women voted and when the coming holidays greeted us with the restorative power of hope for a joyful Christmas.

Election cake 

1 medium-size potato

1 cup milk

1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar

2 tablespoons of shortening

1/2 package of active dry yeast

2 eggs

4 1/2 to 5 cups sifted all-purpose flour, 1 cup separated out for the second half of instructions

1 teaspoon butter, melted

3/4 cup unsalted butter 

1 1/4 cups light brown sugar, firmly-packed

1/2 cup sherry 

1 cup seedless raisins, chopped (I added some dried cranberries)

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground mace

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon salt

Cook the potato in boiling water until tender.

Drain, peel and work through a sieve, or ricer, then set aside.

Scald the milk.

Pour into a large bowl, and stir in the salt, sugar, shortening and potato.

When lukewarm, stir in the yeast until dissolved.

Add one well-beaten egg, then the flour, a little at a time, to make a soft, but still manageable dough.

Turn out on a floured board and knead until smooth and elastic.

Place in a greased bowl, brush with a little of the melted butter, cover with a tea towel (as in bygone days!) and put in a warm spot to rise.

Let rise until a little more than double in size.

(Tip from a 2012 reader: Set your oven to “warm”, while you are mixing the dough; then turn the oven off and set your tea-towel covered bowl in the oven as a warm place to help your dough rise.)

When yeast dough has risen sufficiently, push down the dough with your fist, and work in the butter thoroughly.

Toss the raisins with 2 tablespoons of the flour.

Stir in one egg, sugar, raisins and remaining 1 cup of flour with the spices and salt.

Pour into a large Turk’s Head or Gugelhupt mold, or a 10-inch tube pan, (I used my Bundt pan). Fill pan only two-thirds full.

Cover with a tea towel and let rise about 1 to 1 1/2 hours in a warm place.

Bake in a preheated 325 degree oven for 50 to 60 minutes.

Cool about 10 minutes, then turn out of the pan and cool completely.

Frost, if desired.

Great Christmas gift for friends, with a “history card” attached!

Merry Christmas!

Marija Vukcevich is a freelance writer from Lewiston. Contact her at marijavukcevich@aol.com.

Marija Vukcevich is a freelance writer from Lewiston. Contact her at marijavukcevich@aol.com.