by Lynn Paikowski MD, CGNE member
With election season upon us, we recognize that there existed culinary traditions associated with this time. In New England of the 18th and 19th centuries, Election Day was a great holiday, ranking second only to Thanksgiving. Naturally, such a big event called for special foods.
The women (who couldn’t vote) stayed at home and baked special yeast-raised, fruited “Election Cakes” while the men trekked to the polls, sometimes having to travel great distances to cast their ballots. The rich, moist cakes, similar to Italian panettone or German stollen, were served with punch or eggnog at get-togethers when the hungry voters returned. Women of the hosting towns, where the voting places were, would also bake these cakes to serve to visiting voters. An early evening supper was another event of the day. This might include sausage, fried apples, potatoes and milk gravy, and ”Rye’ n Injun” bread, a steamed bread made from rye and cornmeal, similar to Boston brown bread.
Election Cake is thought to have originated in Hartford. In “American Cookery”, the first cookbook published in America (circa 1800), the writer Amelia Simmons mentions a Hartford Election Cake. “The Yankee Magazine Cookbook” says the cake was …”sold outside the polling place, like a one-cake bake sale, to help sustain voters”.
In honor of the women of early New England, who did their part to help keep our democratic traditions alive even though they could not vote themselves, we present a recipe for Election Cake, to help us start an Election Day tradition of our own.
- 4 to 4 ½ cups unsifted flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon ground mace
- 2 packages active dry yeast
- ¾ cup softened butter
- 1 ½ cups very hot tap water
- 2 eggs at room temperature
- 1 ½ cups raisins
- ¾ cup chopped pecans
- ¼ cup chopped citron
- In a large bowl thoroughly mix 1 ¾ cups flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, mace, and yeast. Add butter.
- Gradually add hot tap water to dry ingredients and beat 2 minutes at medium speed, scraping bowl occasionally.
- Add eggs and ¾ cups flour, or enough to make a thick batter. Beat at high speed 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Add raisins, pecans, citron, and enough flour to make a stiff batter. Stir until well combined.
- Turn into greased 10-inch tube pan. Cover: let rise in warm place until doubled, about 1 ½ hours. Bake at 375 about 45 minutes, or until done. Remove from pan and cool on rack.
Happy Election Day!