Today is my birthday, so birthday food is my topic. On Thursday I am off to the beach for ten days with my grandsons (and their parents), so posts may be shortened in proportion to the fun I am having – or, on the other hand, they may be lengthened in proportion to the interminable flooding rain we are experiencing here in sunny Queensland at present. I have not missed a Monday to Friday post in over five years, so short they may be, but absent they will not be.
First, my birthday beverage of choice is, of course, champagne. This sounds like a fun alternative however:
Put into a large bowl half a pound of sugar broken small, and pour on it the strained juice of a couple of fresh lemons, stir these well together, and add to them a pint of port wine, a pint of sherry and half a pint of brandy; grate in a fine nutmeg, place the bowl under the cow, and milk it full. In serving it put a portion of the curd into each glass, fill it up with whey, and pour a little rich cream on the top. The rind of a lemon may be rasped with part of the sugar when the flavour is approved, but it is not usually added.
Juice of lemons 2; sugar ½ lb or more; port wine 1 pint; sherry 1 pint; brandy ½ pint ;nutmeg 1; milk from the cow 2 quarts.
Obs. - We can testify to the excellence of this receipt
Modern Cookery, in all its branches (1845) Eliza Acton.
In the absence of a live cow in the vicinity of the kitchen, this version would be quite acceptable, even if not authentic.
Juice of 2 lemons, ½ lb. of sugar, mixed in a bowl; add a pint of sherry; grate in a nutmeg; add 2 quarts new milk; in serving, let the curd remain in the glass.
Cooling cups and dainty drinks (1869) by William Terrington.
*Syllabub: A drink or dish made of milk (freq. as drawn from the cow) or cream, curdled by the admixture of wine, cider, or other acid, and often sweetened and flavoured.
Of course, there must be cake at a birthday, mustn’t there? An article in Popular Mechanics (interesting source of recipes!) of May 1913 described a cake that must surely be the Gold Standard of celebratory cakes:
Birthday Cake that cost two hundred dollars.
Two hundred dollars were spent by the wealthy parents of a Washington baby for the infant. The cake somewhat resembles the crown of an African potentate. Specially selected bakers worked on the cake for several days, and every pound of sugar, fruit, etc. which went into it was carefully inspected. The upper portion of the cake represents a fountain, with doves in the basin.
But No! An even bigger and better example of a ‘birthday’ cake was described in Popular Science Monthly in February 1916. The cake was made in Columbus, Ohio, to celebrate the thirty-fifth anniversary of a store devoted to the sale of women’s goods. It was describes as being a ‘nine story’ wonder - presumably this meant a column of nine separate cakes, not a cake the height of a building – and was lit with thirty-five electric candles on the top. It was four and a half feet in diameter, weighed a little short of one ton (including two hundred and twenty pounds of icing), and required eight men and a motor-truck to transport it to the store. There was sufficient cake for every employee of the store to enjoy a ‘generous portion.'
I have chosen a rather more modest, but classical cake for the day from Scotland – the Land o’Cakes - and hope you will share it with me.
Pour one gill of water on ¾ lb sugar, stir and let stand, beat the yolks of 6 eggs, add to them the grated rind of half a lemon, froth the whites and pour the yolks on them; beat and add the syrup and beat until thick, sift in ½ lb flour, mix gently, add the juice of a lemon. Bake half an hour.
Aberdeen Weekly Journal (Aberdeen, Scotland), Wednesday, December 23, 1891