Cousin Mamie, as my Dad’s mom called her, was born in July 1880. I was lucky to have inherited her notebook of recipes that she began at age 22. Although the front cover disappeared long before I received her notebook, the back cover is still in good condition.
At the top of the inside back cover Mamie wrote, “ I is dr cook. See?” She also wrote “At Dill’s 1903-04” at the bottom. In between she cut out and pasted a colorful illustration of a young person carrying what looks to be a doctor’s bag with the word “cook” written on it.
Some of the recipes in her notebook were clipped from the local newspaper. Some were copied, by hand, from unknown sources. I’m guessing the handwritten recipes were copied from someone else’s recipe or taken down during conversations with friends. Wish I knew for sure.
Here’s a photo of one of the pages with recipes clipped from the local Merced newspaper over 110 years ago.
I reproduced this page because of the recipe titled, “A Really Grand Home Made Candy.” I like it not for the ingredients, but for the use of the word “grand.” Who uses that term anymore? We need to bring it back. I think that would be grand.
I’m guessing that nearly every homemaker probably owned a treasured cookbook or two in the early 1900s. I am not guessing when I say they didn’t have the tools for acquiring recipes, which we have today.
Homemakers couldn’t, for example, do a quick search of the Internet whenever they needed a new idea for cooking summer squash. They didn’t have copy machines (or all-in-one printers) to quickly copy and save the recipe written on a friend’s 3×5-inch index card.
So how did they find new recipes? Newspapers! Newspapers were an easy source for new recipes. In fact, newspapers were one of the only sources, in addition to books, of fresh cooking inspiration for most homemakers back in the day.
Back in the day, it was commonplace to clip the recipes from the newspaper thinking, “someday I have to make that…” With the advent of Scotch tape, homemakers began taping clipped recipes to the inside of kitchen cabinet doors. I remember my mom, and her mom, Gran, doing just that. Neither mom nor her mom liked to cook, but that is a story for another time.
One of the recipes that I found in Mamie’s notebook is titled, “Tipsy Parson,” and is rated as “Fine” by Mamie. Tipsy Cake is a sweet dessert cake originating in Great Britain in the mid-1800s. It was made from fresh sponge cakes soaked in a good quality sherry or brandy.
It came to America when British immigrants settled in our southern states and was often served at church socials where it was known as Tipsy Parson. Legend has it that this cake lured many a Sunday-visiting preacher to partake of this alcohol-infused dessert. Hence the American name, Tipsy Parson.
Mamie’s recipe for Tipsy Parson is simple:
Take macaroons and dip them in whiskey. Lay in the bottom of a cake dish. Now cover with cream (whipped). Sprinkle a layer of chopped nuts then a layer of halved lady fingers, and another layer of cream then nuts.
Here is a March 2010 version of Tipsy Cake as found online at Epicurious:
For custard frosting
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup heavy cream
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
5 teaspoons cornstarch
For cake layers
1 1/2 cups cake flour (not self-rising)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
3/4 cup whole milk
8 tablespoons sweet Sherry, brandy, or dessert wine
9 tablespoons strawberry jam
Accompaniment: lightly sweetened whipped cream
Make frosting: Bring milk and cream just to a boil in a 3-quart heavy saucepan and remove from heat. Whisk together yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and a pinch of salt in a bowl and add hot milk mixture in a slow stream, whisking constantly. Pour custard into pan and boil, whisking, until thick and smooth, about one minute. Force custard through a fine sieve into a bowl. Set bowl of custard frosting in a larger bowl of ice and cold water, then cool, stirring occasionally, until cold. Chill frosting, its surface covered with plastic wrap to prevent a skin from forming, two hours.
Make cake layers: Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter two (8- by 2-inch) round cake pans and line bottoms with wax paper. Butter paper and dust with flour, knocking out excess. Sift together 1 1/2 cups cake flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat together butter, sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, then yolk, beating well after each addition. With mixer on low speed, alternately add milk and flour mixture in four batches, beginning and ending with milk (mixture will look curdled; do not overbeat).
Divide batter between cake pans, smoothing tops. Bake in middle of oven until pale and a tester comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Run a thin knife around edges of pans and invert layers onto a rack. Carefully remove wax paper and cool layers completely.
Assemble cake: Halve cake layers horizontally with a long serrated knife. Arrange one cake half, cut side up, on a plate and brush with two tablespoons Sherry. Spread evenly with 3 tablespoons jam. Repeat with remaining three layers, ending with a layer cut side down. Brush top with Sherry. Frost cake with custard.
Cooks’ notes: Custard frosting may be made 1 day ahead and kept chilled, covered. Cake layers may be made one day ahead and kept, wrapped well individually in plastic wrap, at room temperature. Assembled cake keeps, covered and chilled, two days. Bring to room temperature before serving.