Wednesday, November 7, 2012


This week was, to put it simply, delicious. Especially after last week. Civil War hospital jelly cannot hold a candle to chocolate jumbles and gingerbread. I began with the jumbles. Luckily, I spotted a fatal typo in the directions before it could ruin the recipe. It instructed me to add the eggs twice, when the first time, it really wanted the sugar. The hardest part of the recipe? Grating the chocolate. It took a substantial amount of time and effort to grate the four Baker's squares down to size. Thanks to the three friends who helped, and made it so each of us only had to grate one square. The efforts were certainly worth it though, as the batter (pictured on the left, in all its glory) smelled heavenly. It also proved a challenge to add the “flour sufficient” to the batter. The "flour sufficient" would theoretically turn the dough to a consistency that could be rolled out like piecrust. It never reached that point, but did get to a state where I could flatten and cut it into strips. This recipe, like many I've done for this project, required a good deal of interpretation and guess work.

The gingerbread was probably the most straightforward and modern recipe I’ve worked with thus far. I had no problems following the instructions and there were no challenges with ambiguous steps or processes simply not done in modern kitchens. But unfortunately, no problems also means no real stories to put in the blog. I feel like the Boston cooking textbook really represents a leap into modern cooking in a way that will make my experimentation a little less exciting.

As for end products, I was surprised by people’s reactions to the chocolate jumbles. To me, the cookies were chock full of fudgey goodness. They looked like little donuts, as the powdered sugar topping them had melted into a glaze in the oven. But only about half the people who tried them really loved them. The other half said they were just okay, often noting that the chocolate flavor was different than they were used to. I think the consensus was that the chocolate was a little bitter. No offense to those folks, but I think one has to be a chocolate connoisseur to appreciate the recipe. You have to enjoy a rich cocoa flavor for its own sake, and not for the sugar added. As for me, these jumbles are certainly going into my repertoire for the future.

The gingerbread, on the other hand, was a universal success. Again, I think it relates to familiarity and modernity of the recipe. It reminded many people of grandparents and holidays and all such wonderful things. Some people did comment that it was some of the densest gingerbread they had ever tasted, but didn’t seem to mind. This is consistent with my experiences of 19th century recipes being extremely dense. Though I may be moving into more modern recipes, they still produce foods that are extremely hardy and filling, able to prepare people for a day of physical labor.

Overall, I think both recipes had great results and both will stay in my personal cookbook for future occasions. I’ve already had a request from home to make a historic dessert for Thanksgiving.


  1. Could you please provide the gingerbread recipe that you used? And its source? My son is doing an 8th grade social studies project on Civil War soldier's diets and we will be making hardtack, johnnycakes and gingerbread to bring to class. We know the kids won't like the hardtack or johnnycakes, but hope they will enjoy the gingerbread. It sounds like the recipe you made tasted good, so we would like to be able to use it if possible. Lots of the other historic recipes we've found don't sound too tasty! Thank you very much.

  2. Thanks for your feedback! You're son's project sounds exciting and right up my alley. The recipe and its source can be found in my October 30 entry, "Culinary Changes"- If you click on the image of the recipe it will blow up to be full screen. It's from 1887's Boston School Kitchen Textbook. Let me know if you have other questions. I enjoyed the gingerbread & think your son's class will too!