Friday, May 3, 2019

Nutmeg and Victorian Baking

"Nutmeg and Victorian Baking" by USA Today Bestselling Author Kristin Holt


by USA Today Bestselling Author Kristin Holt

Lately, I’ve been exploring Victorian oatmeal cookies (plain, because that’s how they began), then Victorian oatmeal cookies with raisins (coming 3-5-19), and even taking another look at sugar cookies in the nineteenth century. [See more Victorian cookie, cake, and vintage baking links at the end of this article.]

Would you believe how common the use of nutmeg was in the kitchens of our great-great-great grandmothers? But instead of “fresh” grated spices in little glass or plastic bottles with tight-fitting caps, our baking ancestors used spices in whatever form it came, and that usually meant unprocessed.


“A good nutmeg should be round, large and heavy, of a drab or light brown color, and finely marbled in the cross section.”
~ The Times of Streator, Illinois on December 5, 1889

Artist's rendition of nutmeg and crossection of nutmeg, showing color striations and grated nutmeg spice.
Artist's rendition of nutmeg, nutmeg cross section, and grated nutmeg.



"Nutmegs: to discern quality of nutmegs, force a pin into them; and if good, however dry they may appear, the oil will be seen oozing out all around the pin." Published in Our New Cook Book and Household Receipts, 1883. Posted by USA Today Bestselling Author Kristin Holt in "Nutmeg and Victorian Baking."
Nutmegs, and how to ascertain the quality; published in Our New Cook Book and Household Receipts, published in 1883.


Nutmeg was a common and well-loved spice for American bakers in the Victorian Era.


Sixty-Four Recipes for Thanksgiving Pies were published (took up a whole newspaper page, above and below the fold) on Sunday morning, November 25, 1900 in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. This full-sized article includes all the usual: pumpkin pies, apple pies, lemon pies and apple dumplings. Molasses pies, orange pies, and peach meringue, along with champagne jelly and Macaroon Custard fill in the cracks (between those familiar-to-the-21st-century person). I find it interesting that nutmeg is included in MOST of those pies recipes. In truth, the “expert cooks” whose recipes were selected for this important newspaper spread added nutmeg to the following pies: pumpkin, cocoanut [sic], orange, apple, custard, mince, sweet potato, and macaroon custard. The few pies without nutmeg include lemon, rice and raisin, apricot, squash, cheesecake, chocolate, and rhubarb. These cooks knew where nutmeg belonged, and they proudly add it to Asparagus Croustade, Brussels Sprouts, and plum pudding.




"Stickney & Poore and Slade's Spices, including weights and prices per pound. "1-lb package Best Nutmegs, large and bright... 50 cents", posted by USA Today  Bestselling Author Kristin Holt
Prices of various spices (1 lb. weight each), as published in The Boston Globe on December 18, 1898.



Many Victorian Cake and Cookie Recipes Call for Nutmeg


Similarly The Saint Paul Globe of Saint Paul, Minnesota published a nearly full-page spread on Sunday, July 10, 1887, with “Globe Cookbook” recipes for cakes, cookies, and desserts.

Illustration: Globe Cookbook, from The Saint Paul Globe of Saint Paul, Minnesota on July 10, 1887.


This treasure trove of vintage cake and cookie recipes includes the well-loved nutmeg(s) in cakes including: “Farmer’s Wife”, Plum, Molasses, and a whole variety that aren’t named. These “unnamed” cakes contain all the normal ingredients (plus nutmeg). See a few of these “without names” but-far-too-delicious-to-not-send-in-to-The-Globe.

Unnamed cake recipe (with nutmeg), The Saint Paul Globe of Saint Paul Minnesota on July 10, 1887, and posted by USA Today Bestselling Author Kristin Holt.
Unnamed Cake Recipe (with nutmeg) (No. 1), published in The Saint Paul Globe on July 10, 1887.

Unnamed cake recipe (No. 2) (with nutmeg), The Saint Paul Globe of Saint Paul Minnesota on July 10, 1887, and posted by USA Today Bestselling Author Kristin Holt.
Unnamed Cake Recipe (with nutmeg) (No. 2), published in The Saint Paul Globe on July 10, 1887.

Unnamed cake recipe (No. 3) (with nutmeg), The Saint Paul Globe of Saint Paul Minnesota on July 10, 1887, and posted by USA Today Bestselling Author Kristin Holt.
Unnamed Cake Recipe (with nutmeg) (No. 3), published in The Saint Paul Globe on July 10, 1887.

Popularity of Nutmeg in the late Victorian-era United States


By 1899, the demand for nutmegs in the United States was such that 800,000 pounds of nutmegs were imported that year (plus 800,000 pounds of mace—a product derived from inferior nutmegs that became incorrectly known as ‘mace’). Estimating 120 nutmegs to the pound... “every house-wife knows retail at a penny apiece”—now that’s a LOT of nutmegs. (See the source of this info, which immediately follows.)

Clipping: "New York shipping reports show 800,000 pounds of nutmegs were imported to the United States of America in 1899", published in The Washington Times of Washington, District of Columbia on July 23, 1899. Posted in "Nutmeg and Victorian Baking" by USA Today Bestselling Author Kristin Holt.
Clipping from The Washington Times of  Washington, District of Columbia on July 23, 1899, where the data about 800,000 pounds of nutmegs were imported per year.

Don't forget the grater


"Unique Nutmeg Grater" illustrated advertisement from the 1895 Spring and Summer Montgomery, Ward, & Co. Catalogue. Included in "Nutmeg and Victorian Baking" by USA Today Bestselling Author.
Unique Nutmeg Grater, for sale in the Montgomery, Ward, & Co. Catalog, Spring and Summer volume, 1895.


Bakers still grate whole nutmegs today


Yumm! Nutmeg



There you have it! Victorian bakers at home and in bakeries enjoyed fresh nutmeg (my mouth is watering over the fragrant spice right now) in their pastries, pies, cookies, and cakes. Makes me want to take a seat at their table and sample the nineteenth century wares.

How about you? Care to join us?

Please scroll down and comment!

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Kristin Holt, USA Today Bestselling Author


Copyright 2019 Kristin Holt LC

4 comments:

  1. My "heritage" recipe passed down for generations is a Cornish Tea Biscuit. It's only spice is nutmeg and your blog helped me understand why. I really enjoyed reading it. Thanks

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    1. Hi Sheila M--
      Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your "heritage" recipe (what a great term!) for Cornish Tea Biscuits (with nutmeg!). They sound SO good. I love the flavor of nutmeg in sweet baked items (cookies, muffins, cake)...
      With appreciation,
      Kristin Holt

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  2. Ilove oatmeal cookies and nutmeg is always used with cinnamon in my recipes and mom's. Probably grandmother's too. I love oatmeal raisin the best and warm out of the oven Yum. Molasses cookies are also a favorite of mine. Mom baked both so I guess that's where I got it from. When she didn't bake anymore and I didn't either we had commercial molasses and oatmeal raisin cookies from Grandma's. I wonder if that cooking company is still around. Thanks Kristin for a fun article

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    1. Hi craftydr!

      Thanks so much for stopping by, reading, sharing in the conversation--especially as your fond memories of nutmeg and cinnamon and their lovely fragrance connecting so tightly to fond memories and "heritage recipes". (Thank you to Sheila M for coining that wonderful term!)

      My mouth waters, just from reading your fond memories and our shared love of oatmeal cookies.

      Fondest regards,
      Kristin Holt

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