Monday, November 09, 2009

Gingerbread Confession.

When packaged cake mixes first came into existence they were promoted as the busy housewife’s boon. Time-saving in the kitchen however came with a price of its own, – a modicum of guilt - and the dilemma of deceit, or truth?

This was a challenge, naturally, for the folk responsible for marketing this new product – for too much guilt can be a barrier to purchase. One strategy, learned relatively early on, was to change the composition so that the busy housewife had to add an egg, not just water, to the mix – this, apparently, making the process seem more like “real” cooking, so less guilt-inducing. Presumably also this had the extra bonus to the manufacturers of a cheaper product, the dried egg being left out of the mix (same price, of course.)

The main strategy, as usual, was advertising smooth-speak - reassure the little woman that the best strategy is simple truth avoidance. At least, that is what the manufacturers of Dromedary Gingerbread Mix did in the 1940’s with their advertisements. Under the banner question “Should a wife confess?” they said:

“Unless you tell him, he’ll never know you didn’t make these luscious gingerbread desserts yourself from start to finish. Your skill is in the package.”

The box gave the skilful package-wrangler many ideas for using the mix to make all sorts of desserts: layer cake, upside down cake, cupcakes, cookies etc. with a variety of embellishments such as applesauce, orange cream frosting, whipped jelly topping, and orange custard sauce. Again, creating the possibility of numerous end-products from one mix was presumably intended to increase the illusion that this was real cooking (thereby reducing the guilt).

Reassurance also came with the information that this gingerbread was in fact, not a modern invention at all, but the same recipe as that of George Washington’s mother, granted to the company “by special permission of the Daughters of the American Revolution.”

Presumably this means that the Daughters of the American Revolution have a copy of the original recipe? I have been unable to find out if this is the case, but some superficial searching keeps turning up the statement that Washington’s mother’s gingerbread was a treat she served to the Lafayette himself. Perhaps it was similar to the following recipe, from from Seventy-five Receipts for Pastry, (1832) by Eliza Leslie. This recipe would certainly make a dark and spicy gingerbread ‘the way menfolks love it’, the sort that would ‘make make husband’s exclaim “Swell!”’ - just like the Dromedary mix.

Lafayette Gingerbread.
Five eggs.
Half a pound of brown sugar.
Half a pound of fresh butter.
A pint of sugar-house molasses.
A pound and a half of flour.
Four table-spoonfuls of ginger.
Two large sticks of cinnamon, powdered and sifted.
Three dozen grains of allspice, powdered and sifted.
Three dozen of cloves, powdered and sifted.
The juice and grated peel of two large lemons.
A little pearl-ash or saleratus.

Stir the butter and sugar to a cream. Beat the eggs very well. Pour the molasses at once into the butter and sugar. Add the ginger and other spice and stir all well together.
Put in the egg and flour alternately stirring all the time. Stir the whole very hard and put in the lemon at the last. When the whole is mixed stir it till very light.
Butter an earthen pan, or a thick tin or iron one, and put the gingerbread in it. Bake it in a moderate oven an hour or more according to its thickness. Take care that it do not burn.
Or you may bake it in small cakes or little tins.
Its lightness will be much improved by a small tea-spoonful of pearl-ash dissolved in a tea-spoonful of vinegar and stirred lightly in at the last. Too much pearl-ash will give it an unpleasant taste. If you use pearl ash you must omit the lemon as its taste will be entirely destroyed by the pearl ash. You may substitute for the lemon some raisins and currants well floured to prevent their sinking.
This is the finest of all gingerbread but should not be kept long as in a few days it becomes very hard and stale.
[If the pearl ash is strong half a tea spoonful will be sufficient or less even will do It is better to stir the pearl ash in a little at a time and you can tell by the taste of the mixture when there is enough]

I don’t know if Dromedary Gingerbread Mix is still available, but if it is, here is a 1940’s recipe from the pack.

Peanut Butter Gingies.
A delectable new jiffy-cookie they’ll ask and ask over!
Just add 1/3 cup water to Dromedary Gingerbread Mix. Stir. Add ½ cup peanut butter. Mix well. Drop by teaspoons on greased baking sheet. Press in criss-cross designs with fork. Bake 10 minues 350 deg, Yum! (Highly nutritious too!)

I think we have another couple of worthy entries to the Through the Ages with Gingerbread Archive.

Quotation for the Day.

Had I but a penny in the world, thou shouldst have it for gingerbread.
William Shakespeare (1564-1616)


JMS~JOY in the arts! said...

Any way you can translate this recipe so it is viable for today's cooks and kitchens?

Thank you!

The Old Foodie said...

JMS-JOY - I will try to get around to that in the next few days.

aachandler said...

Love Dromedary - can't find it this season anywhere. Out of desperation I Tried the mount Vernon Lafayette gingerbread recipe from George's mom. Very dense and not as flavorful as dromedary is light and delicious. I grew up with it so maybe I'm prejudiced. Reminds me of home & holidays. Now I make it year round in my fancy bundt pan (2 boxes needed) powdered sugar and whip cream on side. Fabulous! No guilt here! Just want it back on the shelves. My local grocer carried it but now could only get the pound cake despite ordering 2x. He's promised to call the distributor to see what's up (and get the crazy gingerbread lady off his back). I'll let you know of any developments.