Monday, October 15, 2012

Food with a Message.

I am seriously un-enamoured (if I was ever enamoured, that is) of the home-decorating ‘concept’ of large cut-out letters spelling words such as ‘LOVE’ or ‘EAT’ propped not-at-all casually on bookshelves and tabletops in the sort of homes that feature in glossy magazines. You know the sort of homes I mean – the sort that looks like no-one ever really lives there?

I am, however, considering becoming enamoured of food-with-messages, even if the love affair only lasts for the duration of this post. You know the sort of thing that I mean – candies with silly sentimental phrases, and ‘Chinese’ (not) fortune cookies.

A message can be incorporated in the food, or it may be on the wrapping. Candy is the most common vehicle for the direct message of course, especially pastel-coloured sugar candy – which is handy for young and impecunious lovers. Depending on where you come from (and how far back) you may call them conversation lozenges, motto candy, love hearts, sweethearts or some other similar name.  Alternatively, for the slightly more pecunious, your message of love may be provided by the blue and silver wrapping of the wonderful Italian chocolate-hazelnut Baci (‘kisses.’)  

The message (or perhaps ‘information’) is not necessarily romantic or sentimental. The well-known Australian chocolate-covered caramel confections called Fantales are each individually wrapped in a waxy paper guaranteed to tell you something you never realized you wanted to know about a celebrity, especially a Hollywood celebrity.

Foods other than candy can contain messages of course, and the best known of these must surely be the fortune cookie, whose message is neither sentimental gush nor trivial factoid, but prophetic. The Oxford English Dictionary describes the fortune cookie as a North American dessert “served in Chinese restaurants, made from a thin dough folded and cooked around a slip of paper bearing a prediction or maxim.”  I must delve a little more into the history of the fortune cookie for a future post.

There is one more message food I want to mention today – the motto cake. An edition of the Everyday Housekeeping magazine in 1897 said “A motto cake may be the old-fashioned dried-apple cake, or the Dutch apple cake, each slice being accompanied with some quotation about apples or a prophetic couplet.”  I do not understand the significance of apple quotations on the wrapping for apple cake, except for perhaps apple-promotional purposes, but I guess the basic idea could be adapted to a number of other situations.  

There were many advertisements for ‘motto cake plates’ in the late nineteenth century, but no recipes that I have found for ‘motto cakes’ named as such, so presumably there was a vogue for plates-with-messages around that time? Apple cakes are a much more common finding however, so as the recipe for the day, I give you Dutch Apple Cake, from a Kansas newspaper - the Republic County Freeman, of December 4, 1890, which sourced it from Good Housekeeping.

Dutch Apple Cake.
One pint of flour, two teaspoonfuls of baking-powder, half a teaspoonful of salt, large tablespoonful of butter, rubbed in flour. one egg, three-fourths cupful of milk. Beat well and place in a shallow pan. Pare six apples, cut into eighths, lay in rows on the cake, points down. Sprinkle three tablespoonfuls of sugar over the cake, and bake.
Good Housekeeping.

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