Vote for the Cake

In the early days of the Republic, home bakers created a lot of patriotic cakes named for heroes of the Revolution. There was a Washington cake, a Franklin cake, a Lafayette cake--even a Lafayette gingerbread. The last was regular molasses-sweetened gingerbread with currants in it, which sounds pretty good.

Around the same time--which was, of course, when Americans were first getting into the swing of voting--we evolved a couple of food traditions specific to election time.

One was the campaign rally featuring a barbecue, still a regular feature of Texas politics. The other was election cake. It belonged to the pre-baking powder tradition of cake-making, being made from an enriched bread dough flavored with sugar, spices and dried fruits.

It was often baked in bread pans. In effect, it was a continuation of European festival breads such as the English currant bread and the Welsh "speckled bread" bara brith, except that it was richer, a little more loaded with fruits and much sweeter. A typical recipe would be 4 ounces butter creamed with 1 cup brown sugar, 1 egg, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon cloves mixed, along with 1/2 cup each of raisins, currants and chopped dried figs, into a yeast dough made with 2 1/2 cups flour and 2/3 cup milk.

In our day, we're a little blase about how wonderful it is to have a say, by voting, in how we're governed, but well into this century, election cake, as old-fashioned as it was, continued to be an American favorite.

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