Juneteenth Recipe Suggestion: Lemon Cake from Mrs. Malinda Russell’s 1866 cookbook

Lemon Cake, page 11 in A Domestic Cook Book
Adapted by Mercy Ingraham

Lemon Cake, baked and photographed by Julie Power

This is a delicious cake! It nearly doubled in volume during baking and had a lovely light lemony taste. I used a Bundt pan and our tester used a Nordic Ware Fancy Bundt pan to bake it. Both produced a beautiful tasty crust. It was perfectly moist for a pound-type cake, and the crust was tangy. We will make this in the 21st century because it tastes so good.

I believe Mrs. Russell dissolves the soda in milk as a residual from the earlier time when you had to dissolve the leavening of saleratus or pearlash in milk or water before it was mixed with the dry ingredients. I prefer to add the soda later in the process, by mixing it into the flour. I used 4 large eggs rather than 5 as the directions stated because there is evidence that eggs were smaller in the mid-19th century than today’s standard large supermarket eggs.

Ingredients:

  • Butter, unsalted, 1 cup / 226 grams
  • Sugar, white superfine, 3 cups / 634 grams
  • Eggs, 4 large, separated
  • Milk, 1 cup / 248 grams
  • Lemon, 1, grated rind and juice
  • Flour, unbleached all-purpose, 4 cups / 440 grams
  • Baking soda, 1 teaspoon / 5 ml

Method:
Have all ingredients assembled and at room temperature. Measure and weigh all ingredients.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF / 175C. Butter well a 10” / 25 cm Bundt pan.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and beat in the sugar gradually; continue beating until light and fluffy.

In another bowl, beat the egg yolks well until light colored and mix into the butter/sugar mixture.  Add the lemon juice and lemon rind and mix to distribute evenly.

Add the soda to the milk, stir to dissolve and then mix into the batter.

In a clean bowl with clean beaters or a whisk, beat the egg whites until stiff and gently fold them into the batter with a spatula.

Lastly, mix the flour and soda and sift gradually into the batter, stirring well but gently after each addition. Mix just until you can no longer see any trace of the flour.

Pour the batter into prepared pan and bake for 60 minutes in the preheated oven, until cake begins to pull away from the sides of the pan, springs back when touched in the center, and a toothpick comes out clean.

Allow to cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes; then unmold and continue to cool.

Serving Suggestion:
Adding a light lemon glaze is recommended –perhaps Mrs. Russell’s Cold Icing, on page 12 of A Domestic Cook Book.

Historical Context: 
I was surprised to find that there were no recipes for Lemon Cake prior to the Civil War in my research–which covered Hannah Glasse, Mary Randolph, Harriott Pinckney Horry, Amelia Simmons, Susannah Carter, and Mrs. Child. Mrs. Beecher’s Domestic Receipt-Book (1858) had two recipes for Lemon Cake and Civil War Recipes: Receipts from the Pages of Godey’s Lady’s Book (1860’s)had one–which resembles Mrs. Russell’s recipe very closely. Mrs. Child, who published The American Frugal Housewife in Boston in 1833, used Lemon Brandy in two cakes, but otherwise I saw no reference to any lemons and none for Lemon Cake.


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