Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Horse Cakes.

I was delighted to come across ‘Horse Cakes’ in The Weekly Wisconsin of May 17, 1890, and even more delighted to find that they are a variation on the theme of gingerbread men. Gingerbread men have appeared in previous posts (here and here), but there is no reason why the basic dough cannot be cut into any shape you wish.

For your child, or the child in you, here are the instructions:

Horse Cakes.
Many people have a peculiar fancy for these plain cakes, eaten first in early childhood, hence we are glad to give a tried recipe for them, such as can be made at home to please the children, old and young. Two quarts of flour, one quart of molasses (not syrup), one cupful of sugar, half a cupful of ginger, four teaspoonfuls of soda, a cupful of sour cream, and a heaping tablespoon of lard. Sift the flour first, then sprinkle the sugar well through it; add lastly the soda dissolved in the sour cream. Of course you must have from the tinner a cutter shaped like a horse, if you would have the delight of the children perfect.

A quick search turned up an almost identical recipe, (for about half the quantity,) called Ginger Horse-cakes, in The Universal Common-sense Cookery Book (Boston, 1887). The recipe is attributed to Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cook Book, but I am unable to find it in the 1884 edition.

A little further sleuthing turned up an attempt at a recent revival of this treat, and suggests that horse cakes originated in Virginia. The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburgh, Virginia) of October 29, 1994 contained, as local newspapers should, a column giving details of upcoming local events. One of these events was a bazaar to be held by the Episcopal Churches of King George. The article noted:

“Also to be featured at the St. George’s bazaar is the return of an old Fredericksburg tradition, gingerbread horse-cakes. Beginning in the late 1860’s, a German baker, Henry Miller, made gingerbread cut in the shape of horses. According to Kathryn Willis of Stafford County, the horse cakes became a popular treat for people who came from the outlying areas to sell their produce in town and visit for a few days while doing their business. The custom lasted for many years. The original recipe for Miller’s gingerbread horse cake has been lost. However, food historian Sylvia Hopkins of Fredericksburg has researched and discovered a German recipe of the period hat is believed to be close to Miller’s.”

If Horse-cakes were part of your childhood, or you have any more knowledge of this apparently very local specialty, do let us know in the comments, please!

Quotation for the Day.

Eating is not merely a material pleasure. Eating well gives a spectacular joy to life and contributes immensely to goodwill and happy companionship. It is of great importance to the morale.
Elsa Schiaparelli


omaeve said...

when my husband was in the Airforce we lived In Germany..The Bakeria was next to the school bus stop. Every Christmas our baker would make very thick gingerbread about 1 inch thick. It was not quite a cookie or a cake the best was to decribe it was like a brownie. You had two choices a duck or a gingerbread man. The third christmas i asked . what was the meaning of the duck.. the baker told me he had two cutters, a duck and gingerbread man.. so he used both.. My daughter always got the duck and my son the gingerbread man. I am from virginia so i will be glad to make horses this year...Thank Omaeve

The Old Foodie said...

hi Omaeve. sorry for the late response. i have had hand surgey so everything is one-handed and slow. luckily i was able to set up the posts ahead of time. i am delighted to have given you a recipe that brings back memories.

Anonymous said...

On the old National Road by Zanesville Ohio, before the Civil War, a freed Black couple, George and "Mammy" Roots, had a tavern where they sold travelers gingerbread horse cakes and spruce beer. George bought his freedom in Virginia.

The Old Foodie said...

Hi "Anonymous" - thanks for that tidbit of information. It all adds to the picture!