Election Cake


As I made up the mince pie filling yesterday for its month of aging, a story about Election Cake was airing on NPR.  The guests said the cake predated the country and bore the name Muster Cake. In colonial times the men gathered to march and shoot. The cakes became a meal in one – fruit, nuts, dairy, flour, and of course booze. All in all, enough it sustained hungry men (all men) after they traveled, sometimes long distances, in the days before drive-up burgers.

I remembered that my mother had at one point talked about making Election Cake but do not remember eating it. I could find only one reference in her journals, written when I was living in Philadelphia: “want to make a Hartford Election Cake [her emphasis] – therefore the little list of pecans and yeast and raisins.” A note on the day after Election Day indicates she never baked it.

So I wondered, was there a difference between the standard version and the Hartford version?

The recipe in the NPR link dates from 1796. It must have made about thirty cakes as it starts with thirty quarts of flour. The author omitted instructions for how long to bake it or at what temperature.

An old recipe for Hartford Election Cake resembles the dreaded fruitcake with the addition of icing. It has much less in the way of spices and booze than the 1796 version. And neither recipe has the pecans Mother planned to include.

What’s Cooking America declares Election Cake (Election Day Cake) fruitcake, “Also known as Oak Cake, Hartford Election Cake, and Training Cakes, because another name for Election Day was Training Day.” Training Day equals Muster Day. Connecticut gets the credit for the earliest reference. It apparently became Hartford Election Cake when it was used as a bribe in 1830. Interesting that this recipe subs currants for raisins and does contain nuts.

Regardless of size and ingredients, I will not be baking it no matter its name.

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