Fruit cake containing salt pork meat may sound a little (or a lot) odd, but it is no different in concept from the original form of mincemeat – which did indeed contain meat or suet. Pork Cake was, I understand, a Southern American tradition. The ingredients were readily available, and the cake kept well, so it is no surprise that in many nineteenth century households it became a pantry staple suitable for family and visitors alike.
I believe there are published recipes from the 1840’s, although it is well accepted that dishes are generally cooked for years if not decades before they are found in formal print sources. I like this rhyming version, from 1861:
By The Invalid.
First, take one pound of good salt pork,
From stripes of lean quite free,
And chop it with your chopping-knife,
As fine as it can be.
Then add one cup of water warm,
One of molasses too,
And one of sugar, clean and brown,
That will for sweetening do.
You may add spice to suit your taste.
Cinnamon, allspice, clove,
With raisins, and some citron too,
That it quite rich may prove.
Oh, I'd quite forgot to say,
You must add too, in a trice,
One teaspoonful of soda, that
It may rise light and nice.
You need not measure out the flour,
But mix it very hard,
Or else you'll find 'twill be so short
You'll not have your reward.
Now all is ready, — bake quite slow,
And von my word mny take,
That when 'tis done, you will confess
That you've a nice "Pork Cake."
The Home Monthly, D.C. Childs and Co. (Boston, 1861)
And here are a few more recipes for pork cake, in a more traditional format:
Pork Cake, Without Butter, Milk, or Eggs.
A most delightful cake is made by the use of pork, which saves the expense of butter, eggs, and milk. It must be tasted to be appreciated; and another advantage of it is that you can make enough, some leisure day, to last the season through, for I have eaten it two months after it was baked, still nice and moist.
Fat, salt pork, entirely free of lean or rind, chopped so fine as to be almost like lard 1 lb.; pour boiling water upon it ½ pt.; raisins seeded and chopped 1 lb.; citron shaved into shreds ¼ lb.; sugar 2 cups; molasses 1 cup; saleratus 1 tea-spoon, rubbed fine and put into the molasses. Mix these all together, and stir in sifted flour to make the consistence of common cake mixtures; then stir in nutmeg and cloves finely ground 1 oz. each; cinnamon, also fine, 2 ozs.; be governed about the time of baking it by putting a sliver into it—when nothing adheres it is done. It should be baked slowly.
You can substitute other fruit in place of the raisins, if desired, using as much or as little as you please, or none at all, and still have a nice cake. In this respect you may call it the accommodation cake, as it accommodates itself to the wishes or circumstances of its lovers.
When pork will do all we here claim for it, who will longer contend that it is not fit to eat? Who!
Dr. Chase's recipes; or information for everybody: an invaluable collection (1866)
by Alvin Wood Chase.
Pour half a pint of boiling water on one pound of pork [salt] chopped fine; add two cups of brown sugar, one of molasses, and seven of flour, one pound of raisins, and one teaspoonful of powdered cloves. Bake slowly.
De Witt's Connecticut cook book, and housekeeper's assistant (1871) by R.M.DeWitt
Thirteen ounces of fat salt pork, chopped very fine, pour on one pint of boiling water; when cool, add one teacup molasses, three cups sugar, one tablespoon cloves, one tablespoon cinnamon, one tablespoon soda, nine cups flour, one pound raisins.
Breakfast, Dessert, and Supper (New York, 1881) by Mrs. H.L.Knight.
(From a Special Contributor.)
It is not quite an elegant name for a cake, but as no one is required to adhere strictly to truth, the word “pork” can be dropped, and “fruit” substituted, which seems to be the case as far as its palatableness is concerned. No milk, eggs or butter are required, and, as the average fruit cake takes one-half dozen of eggs and a pound of butter, it means considerable saving. It keeps well,and in no respect is it inferior to pound fruit cake. Country housewives are familiar with it, and even city housekeepers are not above placing it on their tables. The ingredients are:
Fat salt pork one pound
Raisins one pound
Currants one pound
Citron one-fourth pound
Hot water one cup
Dark-brown sugar one pound
Molasses one cup
Soda one teaspoonful
Dissolve soda in a little hot water. Have the raisins seeded, currants picked over and citron shaved, all being floured well to prevent sinking to the bottom. The pork must be free of all lean and rind, and chopped till fine almost as lard. Add the hot water, then sugar, molasses and sifted flour to make a pretty stiff dough, three or four cups full. Add fruit and any spices desired, teaspoonful of mace, cloves, and tablespoonful of ginger or nutmeg, cloves [presumably incorrect duplication] and cinnamon. The soda is added last. Bake slowly, about two hours, in a moderate oven. Test with a straw. Leave in the pan till thoroughly cold, then wrap up and let lay in a cool place for a couple of weeks before cutting.
If beaten well and baked nicely, it is not inferior to the richest fruit cake. The whole cost for a large cake is not over 60 cents, while fruit cake with butter and eggs comes to about $1.25, and the one tastes almost as well as the other.
Los Angeles Times, January 6, 1895.