Even though pioneer life in Indiana was often very challenging, most folks still found plenty of time for fun, and even a little luxury. This simple recipe is one that would have been a great treat for most families, especially if they could afford some white flour, rather than whole wheat flour, with which to make it. Today, we think of a cup cake being small – the size of a cup – but in 1836, ‘cup cake’ referred to the fact that the ingredients were all even, easy-to-remember measurements.
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
3 cups flour
Mix flour and sugar. Add butter and eggs.
Bake at 350° for 20 minutes or until golden.
Concerning the ingredients that are to be used, Mrs. Child tells us in The Frugal Housewife (the book where the Cup Cake receipt is found) that “in all cakes where butter or eggs are used, the butter should be very faithfully rubbed into the flour, and the eggs beat to a foam, before the ingredients are mixed. Some cooks might find it easier to measure the butter and then melt it before adding it to the remaining ingredients.
Remarks made by Mrs. Letticia Bryan in The Kentucky Housewife concerning the ingredients used in cakes reminds us that “none but the best materials are fit for cakes. The flour should be superfine, the eggs new, and the butter fresh and sweet” while the “sugar should be crushed to a fine powder.” In 1836, cooks could have used a mortar and pestle to crush their sugar into a fine powder – you can do the same today, if you don’t have powdered sugar on hand.
Maybe not all cooks were so precise with their ingredients, but mothers would have enjoyed using this receipt to help their children begin to learn to count. In fact, when the cook only has two eggs, an advanced scholar might find use for their ciphering if they helped their mothers make a Half Cup Cake.
Children would have enjoyed making this sweet treat because they could help their mothers beat the eggs, pound the sugar, sift the flour and stir the butter into the ingredients. After mothers poured the cake dough into the pan, it would delight children to lick the spoon, just like today. As the cake was cooked in a spider pan surrounded on top and bottom with hot coals or in the oven of a cook stove, children would be awaiting the wonderful sweet aroma of the cake to fill the air, signaling to the cook that the cake was almost ready.
This receipt is similar to a pound cake and can be eaten as a sweet treat by itself or with a cooked fruit.