Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Miss Mary's Cake, and other Ephemera

While El Cab was combing through Frank's books, an envelope dropped out of one. In an elegant hand, it was addressed to "Miss Grace Bierborner, Fourth St, City-"

Recipe for Birthday Cake, from Miss Mary O~, a noted lady cook in Mamaroneck, New York-

14 oz of flour
12 oz of sugar
6 oz of butter
1/2 pt of sour milk
1/2 teaspoon of soda
1/2 tumbler of brandy or whiskey
3 eggs
1/2 nutmeg
1 lb (?) of citron
1 lb of currants
1 lb of raisins,
or if preferred, 2 lbs of raisins, minus the currants.

I prefer the latter-

Mrs. E. S. Phister

Dec 11th 1911

Recipes are such an interesting reflection of a time. I am surprised Mrs ES would prefer raisins over currants. I prefer currants, they are tangy and exotic. "Citron" I initially understood as "lemon", but on further consultation with the wiki, she's probably referring to the candied peels of citron, an entirely different fruit with a fascinating history. The mixture vaguely reminded me of fruitcake, but when I investigated that, I found fruitcake has a more lengthy ingredient list. Miss Mary's cake seems like it would be much lighter and citrusy. It looks delicious.

The way the women are named is intriguing, as well. Mrs E S's use of the titles makes it seem so formal, including her own. Was ES her husband's initials? I'd imagine a couple of ladies exchanging a cake recipe wouldn't necessarily include titles and cities of residence. Of course, Miss Grace simply lives in the City. With the lack of postage, this didn't go through the mail. But why specify "fourth st?" Perhaps she got distracted before she could finish. I wonder if it was even delivered. And the curious phrase "lady cook." I know little about what ladies did in 1911, but I'd imagined all the American housewives had to cook. What made Miss Mary special? Did "lady" imply a higher social-status? Was she a woman of independent means, who happened to cook also?

The Ephemeral Miss Mary

I couldn't find anything on Grace Bierborner (in fact, google suggested "fireburner") or the currant-hating Mrs E S. I had a little more luck with Miss Mary. Not only was she a noted "lady cook," but she was also an O. I googled her and her city. The only matches I found were either married, lived in the wrong town or century. In my imagination she had a little house by the coast, with lots of cats and a big oven, out of whose flaming maw Miss Mary pulled magnificent cake after magnificent cake.


chiefbiscuit said...

Isn't it amazing when you discover something as random as this and find a history, a blast from the past ... a gift. So special. I love what you've done with the discovery - long live the marvellous Miss Mary - and I'm sure you've imagined her exactly right. (Love your phrase 'flaming maw'! THAT is inspired.)

raybon said...

Looking closely at the letter, I believe her name was Miss Mary Ogdem. The "m" at the end of her name matches the "m" at the end of "from" on the first line.

Looking through some census data of the time, it may have been a misspelling of Ogden. There was a very large number of Ogden's living in New York during that time. I found one William Columbus Ogdem, but his children were all Ogden and his father was also Ogden.

Don't have time to dig much more, but there is a whole board dedicated to the surname Ogden:

Camille said...

Hey, I wonder if I can join the DAR!

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