Monday, November 28, 2011


On a previous post, Diane requested that I post the original recipe for my great-grandmother’s pork cake, and though I was willing I couldn’t find it. It occurred to me in the middle of the night that I hadn’t checked my recipe box. Sure enough – there it was – the original and my notes. I was relieved. That’s a good place to keep it.

My great-grandmother Lucy Ream Dickson was born in Ohio in 1843, the youngest of nine children. Her family was of German descent, and they spoke German in the home. Her father died when she was three, and her mother was unable to provide for her, so she was raised by another family. She married Marcus Lafayette Dickson in Hampshire, Illinois, on September 20, 1863. By 1881, they were living in Lakeview, Oregon. They had six children, including my grandmother, Ina Dickson Dobson.

Ina evidently considered “Ma’s pork cake” to be special, but at the same time, it’s clear from Ina's recipe notes that she didn’t just love it. What I appreciate about the recipe is that it’s clearly a family recipe, one that was used on special occasions and handed down through the generations.

Chop one pound fat pork thru chopper twice
1 pt coffee boiling; pour over fat.
2 c raisins
2/3 c citron
2 T orange peel chopped in food chopper
1 scant tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cloves
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp allspice (scant)
1 c good molasses
1 c white sugar
1 c brown sugar
1 tsp soda
1 tsp baking powder may be added
1 lb almonds put thru chopper to make about one cup meats –scant fat a little if nuts are used.

On the reverse side of the card Ina wrote the following:
½ tsp walnut flavor is an improvement. Citron, nuts, and orange peel optional.
1941 – Added a tsp of lemon extract and liked it better.

After initially experimenting with some pork fat, here’s how I re-wrote the recipe:

Kathy’s “No Pork” Cake
½ c butter
½ c applesauce
1 c coffee
1 c raisins
½ c Radiant mix
1 c slivered or chopped almonds
2 Tbsp orange peel
1 tsp nutmeg
½ tsp cloves
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp allspice
½ c molasses
½ c white sugar
½ c brown sugar
2 c flour
1 tsp soda
1 tsp baking powder
Bake at 325 in square pan for 45 minutes.

As you can see, I based my portions on half the original recipe. I substituted applesauce for half the shortening. As I recall, the end product was dry and not tasty. Some of the ingredients are rather expensive, so I decided to let the likes of Betty Crocker supply my fruitcake recipes.  After all, it’s clear that Ina wasn’t happy with it either.

And someone else didn’t like the pork cake – my husband. He later confessed that he found the whole concept of using pork fat “gross.” So that says it all. If the other half of my household is disinterested, there’s no point in further experimentation. KW
[The picture of a young Lucy Ream Dickson was probably her wedding photo. Myrtle Dobson, Ina's daughter, copied it from a daguerreotype when she worked for a photographer in Portland, Oregon. The second I scanned from a card of small portrait snapshots, probably taken by Ina about 1900.]


Chris said...

Maybe it's the name??? Pork Cake does sort of sound unappealing. On the other hand, what's lard? Just looked it up--Wikipedia says it's pig fat. Hmmmm... Dan's mom always used lard in her pie crusts. Glad she didn't cake it pork pie!

Leah said...

Names can be offputting, I agree. As Chris said, pork fat by another name is just lard. People on farms made their own lard (from pork fat). Tastes change & when people pass around recipes in their family, it had to be written down. I'll bet that someone back in time made this cake & was asked to write it down. Then the trouble began.

The original baker might have made a tasty cake (for the palates of her contemporaries). I find it interesting that Ina's recipe calls for chopped almonds & then later she decided to add walnut flavor. Maybe walnuts weren't easy to get in the west. She might have meant "black walnut flavor," a very strong nut flavor and common in the midwest. Almonds are mild in comparison.

As I wrote in a previous post, my mother-in-law had a fabulous recipe for applesauce cake with lard. It definitely had a better flavor than my version of the same recipe with shortening.

People in the 1800's ate different things than we do today. Was it better or worse? There isn't any right answer. We all live in our right time and place.

Leah said...

What beautiful eyes Lucy Dickson had.

Kathy said...

The recipe does indicate that it's pork fat put through the chopper twice, which I believe would not be the consistency of lard. Even today, some people believe lard makes the best pie crust.

If you're saying that maybe Lucy's pork cake turned out better when Lucy made it,that same thought occurred to me. And how about those almonds? -- grinding one pound to one cup seems like a waste of good almonds to me. And then Ina's comments and additions - well, I can just hear my dad chortling away (yes, my dad chortled) as he read that recipe. But I still think Lucy used salt pork and if the next cook used fresh pork fat without adding salt to the cake, it's not going to taste right no matter what you do.

Leah said...

Yes, the pork fat started out with a different consistency, but it went into the oven and the heat surely changed it.

There were no baking notes with Ina's Pork Cake. Temps & times as well as type of oven give a wide variety of results. My grandmother had a tiny oven attached to one of the stove pipes way above the top of a wood stove. Don't know how she did it, figuring out temps, time etc. Her homemade bread was really tasty, though.

Hallie said...

Leah: What is it that you like about Lucy's eyes? Kind of like Betty Davis, don't you think? I wish that we had color to know what color eyes were in those old photos. Sometimes pictures of people who have very blue eyes make them look a little ghostly.

Can't say that I can weigh on the pork fat discussion. I used a ham hock in some split pea soup this weekend. I don't think I'll do that again, which is unfortunate because it is sold in packages of two.

Leah said...

Hallie: Lucy's eyes are large and I'll bet were very expressive. She's so much lovelier than Bette Davis! Zooming in on her photo you can see that her eyes were blue or grey. She wasn't a blonde and blue eyes on a woman with dark hair is quite an asset.

Maybe you just don't like ham. Ham hocks can be added to almost any type of bean. Remember that ham hocks are already cooked. You could cut the meat off the bone in little pieces and do anything with that other ham hock. Maybe an omelette or mixed in with hash brown potatoes or added to string beans. My favorite is to flavor navy beans. I make navy beans as a "main dish" to go with corn bread & fried potatoes.

Kathy said...

Just toss out that extra ham hock if you don't want it, Hallie. People are starving the world over, but I'm not sure even they want your ham hock.

Some of us in the Dobson / Dickson lineage did have prominent eyes with an intensity to the gaze. Aunt Ethel had "Bette Davis" eyes, and her daughter Shirley Jean had beautiful eyes.

Chris said...

Oh, you're so right--Ethel did indeed have "Bette Davis" eyes! I can still see them.