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Your morning cup of nostalgia: Cake baking in 1894


Good-cake-makingth We like to think that we have one up on earlier generations when we talk about using the best ingredients  -- fresh eggs, the best butter, the purest extracts.... But that's the same exact conversation that serious bakers were having back in 1894, according to this article that I dusted off from the L.A. Times' historical archives:

Good cake requires good butter, as good as for the table. It demands fresh eggs, pure flavoring extracts, and the "foundation" recipe embodies correct proportions.

My favorite part of this article regards sugar, which apparently was a tricky ingredient to buy and use back in those days.

Opinions differ as to sugar. Some insist on granulated, which doctors say is the purest in the market. It should therefore certainly be used in all invalid cookery. ... The fact that cane and beet sugars are sold indiscriminately renders it necessary for one to be sure of the sweetness of sugar before relying altogether upon proportions given in a recipe.

This is as close to being a doctors' endorsement of sugar-eating as I've ever seen. I wonder, though, what was meant by "invalid cookery." And what happened when dutiful readers began doling on the white stuff...

Click below to read the full article.

--Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: The Dutch apple walnut loaf served at 1881 Coffee Cafe. Click here for the recipe: (Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

Here's the full article: Good-cake-making
Comments () | Archives (9)

The comments to this entry are closed.

Wow, how wonderful and detailed the old recipe is...tested to the letter.
At the same time, it's no wonder homemakers were taught to be intimidated by baking in the 20th century by manufacturers selling cake mix; taking the soul right out of the kitchen.

Invalid cookery seems well explained in the comments, but did you know that (cane)sugar was considered a medicine and bought at the pharmacist as late as in the 18th Century? That Mozart complained that he couldn't get wetnurses in Vienna to rear his newborn son on a diet of sugar, as was the fashion then?
Hence probably the link between sugar and 'invalid' cookery. Most cookerybooks also offered a section with recipes for invalids, reconvalescents, way back then.

"Invalid cookery" would appear to mean cooking for invalids (ill people), hence the suggestion for the "healthier" granulated sugar.

what a great article. I'm writing my thesis currently on wedding cakes from 1850-1950 and have come across a number of newspaper recipes form this time period. "invalid cookery" was a whole branch of cookery that eventually died out around the early 20th century, but dates back to the Middle Ages, wherein it was thought that food directly affected one's "balance". It's based on the old Greek concept of the four humors and each food was given different measures, i.e. hot, cold, wet, dry and then they were combined in different ways to correct the body's balance. Therefore, doctors and cooks often worked together (especially in the case of royalty) to create menus that would keep a person healthy according to these principles. Sugar was first thought of as a medicine before it was seen as a spice in it's own right. It's a very interesting transformation. Often "invalid cookery" meant food was as bland as possible and often lukewarm, and generally "white" (as in sauces and gravies and breads that would be boiled but never browned).

Thanks to everyone who commented -- and offered up a definition of "invalid." I thought it could refer to people who are ailing in some way...but then I wondered why giving them sugar would help. But maybe it literally helped pep them up! Thanks again, everyone. And I am with Susan -- next time I'm sick, I'm prescribing myself some sugar"-)

One who is incapacitated by a chronic illness or disability
So when you are cooking for someone who is or has been ill, you would use the "good" sugar.

"Invalid cookery" means cooking for invalids, ie, those who are sick.

Food for a sick person today usually means chicken soup and orange juice. But until around World War II, cooking for sick people—then called “invalid cookery”—was an important part of a housewife’s repertoire. Food for invalids was meant to be easy to digest, nutritious, and appetizing. But to someone with today’s sensibilities, invalid cookery looks less like sustenance and more like a purgative

A Brief History of Invalid Cookery
By Angela Sanders
For Winter 2008

I guess if you were sick -- "invalid cookery"-- you were entitled to the best sugar that money could buy. I like that approach! I feel rotten; bring home some gourmet chocolates...


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