Charlotte Russe

By Becky Diamond

Charlote RuseIn the Victorian era it was especially fashionable to name foods after famous people and places. Naming a dish after a geographical location lent a mysterious element to a meal, summoning up images of distant horizons and alluring travel possibilities. Dishes named for people were either a favorite of that famous person or created in their honor, as is the case with charlotte russe, which was technically named after two people.

“Charlotte” desserts originated in England at the end of the eighteenth century and are essentially puddings poured into a mold that has been lined with bread or sponge fingers. They can be served baked or unbaked. The most famous baked version is an apple charlotte, which incorporates buttered bread, stewed apples and a breadcrumb topping. The name charlotte is thought to be in honor of Queen Charlotte, the wife of George III of England. Charlotte russe came a few years later. A luscious chilled dessert of vanilla Bavarian cream set in a mold lined with ladyfingers, it was created by French chef Carême at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Carême originally called the dish charlotte à la parisienne, but it is believed he changed it to charlotte russe in honor of Russian Tsar Alexander I.

Variations of the popular dessert quickly emerged, including making the pudding as individual servings, and adding gelatin or isinglass (gelatin made from the swimming bladder of certain fish) to help “set” the pudding, and make it easier to turn out in one piece, which was a common American adaptation. Victorian Americans were undoubtedly taking advantage of the newfangled powdered, unflavored gelatin that became available in the 1880s and is now recognizable as packets of Knox® Unflavoured Gelatine, sold in a little orange box. (Prior to this, gelatin was created via a lengthy process that involved making a thick, gelatinous stock from animal products rich in natural gelatin such as veal knuckle, calves feet, bacon hock and rind, poultry bones, and fish trimmings.) The charlotte russe recipe from Anna Maxwell’s journal embraced this new culinary innovation, calling for boxed gelatin:

Charlotte Russe.
Pour ½ pint of Cold water in a box of gelatine, and stand until the whole is dissolved. Make a custard of 3 eggs to a pint of milk and flavor, while hot pour the gelatine in it, + let it stand until cool, stir in the custard before quite-cold a qt of sweetened and flavored cream, line a mould bottom + sides with split-Lady fingers, and fill it with-the custard when it begins to form.

Here’s the adapted version I created:

Charlotte Russe

• 2 packets unflavored gelatin (such as Knox®)
• 3 eggs
• ½ cup sugar
• ¼ tsp salt
• 2 cups milk
• 1 tbsp vanilla extract
• Ladyfingers (one or two packages depending on the size)
• 1 pint heavy cream
• 1/4 cup powdered sugar
• 1 tsp vanilla

1. Place a metal mixing bowl and whisk(s) from an electric mixer in the freezer.
2. In a mixing bowl, sprinkle 2 packets unflavored gelatin over 1/2 cup cold water. Let stand for 1 minute, then add 1/2 cup boiling water, stirring constantly until granules are completely dissolved.
3. Combine eggs, sugar, and salt in a large bowl; stir well with a whisk.
4. Cook milk in a large, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat to 180° or until tiny bubbles form around edge (do not boil). Remove milk from heat, and gradually add to the egg mixture, stirring constantly with a whisk. Stir in vanilla.
5. While still warm, pour in the gelatin and let cool for 20 minutes.
6. Remove chilled bowl and whisk from freezer. Place cream, powered sugar and vanilla in bowl and whip using an electric mixer on medium speed for about 7-8 min. or until firm peaks form.
7. Grease a spring form pan (or spray with cooking spray) and then line bottom and sides with ladyfingers, using whipped cream to “glue” them together to form a solid bottom.
8. Fold remaining whipped cream into custard mixture and then pour over ladyfingers.
9. Place in the freezer for an hour and then take out and carefully unmold onto a plate.
10. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Just prior to serving, garnish as desired – with strawberries or other fruit, more whipped cream, and/or powdered or colored sugar.

To learn more and try a taste of this luscious dessert as well as Dolly Varden Cake, another 19th century favorite, join me at the Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion on March 20 for a 19th Century Food Tasting and Demo. CLICK HERE FOR RESERVATIONS



Sources: The Thousand Dollar Dinner by Becky Libourel Diamond; The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink by Andrew F. Smith)

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Life in Victorian Germantown – Christmas 1881

The entries here from the Weygandt diary for  Christmas 1881 offer an interesting glimpse into holiday customs and basic family dynamics, which don’t change much over time, as well as some of the hard facts of life during the Gilded Age.

The Weygandt family’s large home on Tulpehocken Street was one of the major gathering spots for both Lucy and Cornelius’s families on the holidays.  In the year described here, Lucy’s older unmarried brother Pliny Valerian Thomas (1831-1889) and sister Rachel Davis Thomas (1825-1888) came from Chester County to join them along with her 15-year-old niece “Bessie” (Elizabeth Denny) Culbertson (1865-1900) from West Philadelphia.  The Oberholtzers, from Chester County, were relatives too.  “Mrs. Oberholtzer” was Sarah Lewis (Vickers) Oberholtzer (1841-1930) http://, whose mother was Lucy’s first cousin.  Sarah Oberholtzer was writer and poet as well as activist in women’s issues.  Her teenage son, Ellis P. (1868-1936), whom Weygandt refers to, later became a well-known historian, earning his PhD the University of Pennsylvania in 1893 and following a career path similar to “Cornie” Weygandt, starting out as newspaper writer.

The “Mrs. Nichols” Weygandt mentions is Martha A. Nichols, who lived at 125 W. Walnut Lane.  Martha’s husband, George, who was a bookkeeper for the banking firm of E.W. Clark & Son, died in March of 1881.  One of the principals of the firm, Edward White Clark, was a Unitarian and lived in Germantown at “Cloverly,” the corner of School House Lane and Wissahickon Avenue.  The death must have been sudden and left Martha and her four teenage children in a precarious financial situation.  Though the Nichols probably lived a relatively comfortable middle-class life for the period, in the era before pension plans and social security, the early death of the income earner in a family could easily place a family in precarious circumstances.

The reference to Prang’s Christmas cards refers to Louis Prang who is often called the father of the American Christmas card.  Prang, who was based in Boston, began started producing Christmas cards in 1875 and in 1880 started a design contest for the cards that lasted for four years.  The “Christmas pieces” Weygandt purchased would have been from the first year of the competition.  The artist, Ellen Thayer Fisher, http:// lived in New York and was known for her botanical painting.

Saturday, December 24, 1881

Whtiman's…The weather beautifully clear, this morning; and cold.   Thermometer at 26. To town by the 8½ train. Rode down to bank; wishing to get there soon. Called on Gibson, Shaw & Co., and saw Mr. Shaw, in relation to cutting off a portion of the length of our new chandelier – seven inches. He contends to do it, today, although he says that his people are excessively busy, on account of Christmas. … Comegys & Watson came to see Patterson, by appointment, today; in relation to taking measures to facilitate the repeal of U.S. taxation on bank deposits and capital. Shortly after they had gone, W.D. Kelley came in, and had a talk with Patterson upon the same business. Kelley is to have $2,000., today, from Drexel, as a loan, for his services as agent for the banks, in the business. If the repeal of the tax is accomplished, he is to receive a round some from the banks and bankers – say $10,000. or $20,000. I had cold slaw and cold roast beef for dinner; both dressed by myself in a salad mixture. … Went out shopping, in the afternoon; mostly for confectionery; and was obliged to wait a good while (at Whitman’s & Knappel’s) to secure what I required. Back again to bank for my parcels, and then home by the 5½ train. Pliny came out, this evening, to remain over Christmas with us. We had some whist; five games, in which the rubber was won by Pliny & Rachel from Lucy and me.

Sunday, December 25, 1881

Went to bed quite late last night; and did not feel like rising early this morning; especially as I was obliged to get up again, shortly after going to bed, to put hot salt bags on my face which was very painful from neuralgia. I was up a good while, before the pain was moderated sufficiently for me to get to sleep, again. Lucy and Sophie to church in the morning. After they had gone, I got out the two water colors, which I brought home, on Thursday last, and hung them in the spare room – for a surprise for Lucy. They are “Christmas pieces,” painted as competitions for Prang’s Christmas cards, by Mrs. Ellen Thayer Fisher, more than a year ago. I have had them lying at bank more about a year, and had them framed only a short time since by Earle. They look very pretty, in their new places, on the wall of our spare room. Rachel thinks them pretty too. I had Pliny and Corney to look at them as soon as they were hung. Lucy came home from church with Sophie; and began to scold me, at once, for not having hung the evergreens in the dining room, while she was at church. She changed her note, when she got up stairs, and saw the water colors; and felt rather ashamed of her scold of me, who had been busy to please her while she was away. I told her she was served quite right for her crossness. We had roast beef and vegetables for dinner; our own garden spinach among the vegetables. Took my bath, shortly after three o’clock; and dressed and shaved immediately afterwards. While I was shaving Mrs. Oberholtzer and her two boys, Ellis & Vickers, were driven to our place, by Lawrence, whom we has sent to the Depot to meet them, with our wagon. They are to make a short visit at our house. I spent the rest of the day, principally, in entertaining Mrs. O. She has improved. I presume from the travel: having been out West, as far as Denver & Colorado Springs; and also to Boston and vicinity, to visit Whittier & Longfellow. She too has drunk of the “Castalian fountain”! And she thinks herself a poetess! She has brought another volume of poems (her own), for Lucy to read. I believe this was, however at Lucy’s request. A former volume of her poems was very amusing to me, from its many effusions of bathos: and I remember one or two evenings spent in reading aloud selections, which were found very funny by Lucy, Rachel & Mrs. Nichols. Her husband is, perhaps, largely responsible for her conceit; as he spoils her by his absurd estimate of her ability. He looks like the figure head of a vessel; having a most stolid, inexpressive countenance. The elder boy, Ellis, has an oddly sly looking face; and is fond, it is said, of going off by himself to Quaker meeting, on First Day. He is probably a born Quaker. The younger boy is good looking and lively; and a good laugher. The father is a Lutheran and attends a church of that seat.

Monday, December 26, 1881

Today is a holiday – for the observance of Christmas, which comes this year on Sunday. Our bank closed. I went to town by the 8½. train; and to Helmbold’s, to see Aunt Mary, to learn by what train she was coming out to us this morning. And I found, that she was not coming at all; having received and accepted an invitation from Henry Kellogg, after she had invited herself to come to us on Christmas, and suggested that we should give her champagne on the occasion. I told her to come, of course, and agreed to the “liquor.” I feel quite disgusted with her conduct; and am conscious that she tried to make use of us, when she and no invitation elsewhere. She says now, that she will come out to see us on Friday next. I came home in the 9.55 train, and found Pliny, Sophie, Corney & Ellis O. deep in playing “Go Bang,” on a kind of checker board. Lucy took Mrs. O. and Vickers out, to call on Mrs. Ross at a boarding house in Germantown. They came back in time for dinner; Lucy first, having left Sally and her son with Mrs. R. I saw Lucy, standing a long time at our gate, talking to Mrs. Nichols, who would not come in. She found Mrs. N. in good spirits, upon her Christmas presents. Mrs. N. had received $1,000. from E.W. Clark & Co. and $300. from her Unitarian Church. Both tributes to her deceased husband; who was a clerk for Clarks, and did a great deal of work for the church. I am very glad her good fortune. She has abundant need of money. She has also received many other smaller gifts and kind remembrances. We had a large table for our Christmas dinner. Our guests were Pliny Thomas and Mrs. Oberholtzer and her two boys. We had a roast turkey and a pair of roast ducks, oyster sauce for the turkey, vegetables, cold slaw, pear cider; and Darlington pudding, mince piece, fruit, nuts and raisins, coffee, etc. Lucy being unable to get her cooking brandy to burn, around the pudding, I was obliged to produce some of my old Scotch whisky, which flame up fiercely enough, and burned up most of the holly sprigs, which decorated the pudding. I ate rather too much; and felt uncomfortable on account of doing so. Talked awhile, in the library, with Mrs. O., after dinner; and then to the dining room, and wrote out Saturday’s diary. Bessie Culbertson came out, just before tea; and remains overnight with us, by invitation. Her twin brothers, Harry & Morgan, were also invited but were unable to come, on account of a prior engagement. Bess makes an additional person at our supper table. We had pickled oysters for supper tonight; and also last night. And I ate some preserved Canton ginger on both nights. I am fond of it. Had a little headache and slight neuralgia, his evening, which I spent in the library, reading the Decr. Number of the Nineteenth Century. The children and grown folks, too, played games in the parlor. After the rest had gone to bed, Lucy, Mrs. Oberholtzer and I sat up quite late in the library, talking. To bed about twelve.

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turkey imageThe turkey is one of the most quintessential American foods, through its association with Thanksgiving and its reputation as one of the bounteous foods that Europeans encountered in the New World. But our modern feast actually bears little resemblance to the 1621 Pilgrim harvest celebration commonly known as the “first Thanksgiving,” or the Puritan tradition of observing holy days of thanksgiving.

Days of thanksgiving were common in many colonial American communities throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, typically declared by ministers or governors in response to specific occasions, such as a military victory, a plentiful harvest, or beneficial rainfall, but no specific Thanksgiving Day was celebrated on a yearly basis. For both the Pilgrims and Puritans, days of fasting and thanksgiving, like the Sabbath, were serious occasions marked by long sermons, prayer, and time off from work and play.

Thanksgiving_Day_-_The_dinner_Boston_Public_LibraryEventually the idea of feasting as part of a day of thanksgiving evolved as an alternative to the fall harvest festivals that were part of the British culture, particularly in the New England area where many people missed these traditions from their homeland. Turkeys (along with other food and drink) were included in these celebrations. The gathering of extended family as part of these events became more significant during the late eighteenth century, and the foods associated with the New World, such as turkey, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, and cranberries were increasingly integrated. Thanksgiving as we now know it began to emerge.

The relationship between Pilgrims and Thanksgiving can be linked back to Rev. Alexander Young’s Chronicles of the Pilgrim Fathers, published in 1841. In the book, Young included a copy of a letter dated December 11, 1621 from Edward Winslow, one of the Plymouth colony leaders, describing a three-day feast enjoyed by the colonists and a large group of Native American guests held after the crops were harvested. Winslow did not specifically mention wild turkey in his letter—only that four men went hunting and brought back large amounts of fowl, which could have been any type of birds, such as ducks, geese, or even swans. On his own accord, Reverend Young added a footnote stating, “This was the first Thanksgiving, the harvest festival of New England. On this occasion they no doubt feasted on the wild turkey as well as venison.” In order to substantiate his turkey reference, Young cited Governor William Bradford’s 1650 manuscript, “Of Plymouth Plantation,” which states that in the fall of 1621 “a great store of wild turkeys” was available at the colony. So while it was a real possibility that turkey was one of the birds served at this feast, it was essentially Young’s statement that secured a place for turkey on the Thanksgiving menu.

SarahJosephaHaleBy the 1850s, almost every state and territory celebrated Thanksgiving, but it didn’t become a national holiday until President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation in 1863, the result of a seventeen-year campaign by Godey’s Lady’s Book editor Sarah Josepha Hale. She was able to convince President Lincoln that a national Thanksgiving might help heal the nation after the devastating Civil War. Soon after, with the Victorian era and all its opulence, Thanksgiving dinner became the one of the most carefully planned menus of the year for most families, with roast turkey the main feature.

Preparations for this highly anticipated meal were done well in advance. Homes were colorfully decorated with seasonal autumn leaves, chrysanthemums, asters, palms, ferns, dried grasses and grains. Mince pies and plum pudding were baked at least a week or two ahead. The dinner table was set with pretty china dishes, crystal glasses and silver flatware. Tapered candles illuminated the dining room with a soft, mellow glow, and fireplaces blazed with a cozy light. Children had their own attractively set table adored with brightly colored flowers, fruit and candy.

Oyster soup or consommé started the meal, and then came the roast turkey along with boiled onions, squash, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce or jelly, pickles, catsup, celery and apple sauce. Sherbet was served after the turkey to cleanse the palate and make room for chicken pie or another rich savory dish such as quail or roast duck. Desserts included treats such as pumpkin pie, sponge cake, cranberry tart, Thanksgiving (plum) pudding, fruits, nuts and ice cream. After enjoying all these delicious foods, guests would typically top off this festive dinner by retiring to the parlor to sip coffee and liquors.

(Sources: Excerpt from The Thousand Dollar Dinner (Westholme, 2105) by Becky Diamond; Table Talk Magazine, Volume 14, Nov 1899)

Don’t miss Becky Diamond’s illustrated talk about the 1851 culinary duel between Delmonico’s, NYC, and Parkinson’s, Philadelphia. Click here for tickets

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Lady Cake

lady cake recipeBrowse through any Victorian era cookbook and you will be rewarded with pages and pages of luscious cake recipes. Some names are familiar, such as Sponge Cake, Lemon Cake or Pound Cake, but many have long been forgotten – Election Cake, Queen Cake, Composition Cake, Taylor Cake and Black Cake (also known as plum cake). Several cakes were known by more than one name, such as the Lady Cake featured in Anna Maxwell’s diary (also called Silver Cake or White Lady Cake).


Anna’s diary actually includes two recipes for Lady Cake, a rich pound cake flavored with bitter almonds and rosewater, made snowy white by using only egg whites. In order not to waste the leftover egg yolks, “Gold or Golden” Cake was often made at the same time. This rich yellow cake with a sunny hue was a similar cake made with egg yolks. Slices of these two cakes were often alternately placed in a silver cake basket for the tea table, the contrasting colors creating a pretty striped or checkerboard pattern.


According to nineteenth century cookbook writer Eliza Leslie, Lady Cake “must be flavored highly with bitter almonds; without them, sweet almonds have little or no taste, and are useless in lady cake.” Bitter almonds (which are actually poisonous in large amounts) needed to be properly prepared prior to baking – the use of heat would safely extract their strong, bitter taste. This rather tedious process was done by blanching shelled bitter almonds in scalding water, and then placing them in a bowl of very cold water. They were then wiped dry and pounded (one at a time,) to a smooth paste in a clean marble mortar, along with a bit of rose water to improve the flavor and prevent them from becoming oily, heavy and dark. Miss Leslie suggests blanching and pounding the almonds the day before to achieve better flavor and a lighter color, thus enhancing both the taste and whiteness of the cake.


The white color and delicate texture of Lady Cake was considered so exquisite and elegant that it was often used as a wedding cake in the nineteenth century, frosted with pure white icing and decorated with white flowers. As Leslie raved, “this cake is beautifully white, and (if the receipt is strictly followed) will be found delicious. If well made, and quite fresh, there is no cake better liked.” Leslie’s recipe is apparently for a large wedding-type cake since she stipulates using “the whites only of sixteen eggs, three quarters of a pound of sifted flour, half a pound of fresh butter and a pound of powdered white sugar.”


The versions from Anna Maxwell’s diary are smaller-scale, calling for ingredients equal to half that amount. Only one of the recipes lists almond as a flavoring (and this is rather vague – it says to just “flavor with almond”) and neither mentions the use of rosewater. So, to create a present-day Lady Cake, I took bits of Anna’s two recipes along with tips from Eliza Leslie’s recipe as well as those found in Greg Patent’s Baking in America and James Beard’s American Cookery.


I felt the most important thing was imparting the almond flavor. I wasn’t sure how or if I could get bitter almonds, so I decided to blanch some almonds and crush them in the food processor along with some rose water as per Greg Patent’s recipe. However, I thought that even after the almonds were ground/pounded to a paste they might make the cake texture less tender. Since both of Anna’s recipes called for a cup of milk as an ingredient, I decided to steep the crushed almonds in milk and then pour the milk through a sieve before adding to the other ingredients. I also added some almond extract for extra almond flavor. This seemed to work fine. Another modern update I took advantage of was the use of cake flour instead of regular all-purpose flour. The lower protein content produced a finer-grained cake, and one that was whiter in color too, sticking with the pure white theme.

lady cake slice

Neither of Anna’s recipes calls for any kind of icing, so I also left my cake un-iced, Instead I gave it a liberal sprinkling of confectioners sugar and paired it with a few raspberries for a pretty pop of color. Some whipped cream would be also be a nice embellishment. An authentic icing could be made using egg white, powdered sugar, and lemon or rose water for flavoring, as per Miss Leslie’s recipe.


The two recipes from Anna’s diary are as follows:


Lady Cake.                       Houghs

The whites of 8 eggs- 4 cups flour-2 sugar-1 butter-1 milk-1 saluatus* [sic] tea spoonful-flavor with almond-gold cake made same-way by using the yolks.

* The precursor to baking soda, saleratus is sodium bicarbonate, an early chemical leavening agent that produced carbon dioxide gas in dough and made it rise.


Lady Cake

One cup of milk               Tablespoon of Butter

2 ‘’ ‘’ Sugar           one two 2 spoonsfull Baking powder

3 ‘’ ‘’ Flour                           Whites of 3 eggs


Modernized version:


Lady Cake


2 sticks butter

1 1/2 cups sugar

3 cups cake flour (or 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour)

2 tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

½ cup unblanched almonds

2 tbsp rose water

1 tsp almond extract

1 cup milk


  1. Butter a 10-inch Bundt pan, dust the inside with flour and set aside.
  2. Place the almonds in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Let stand for 15 to 20 minutes. When cool enough to handle, slip off the almond skins a few at a time and then pat dry.
  3. Put the almonds in the work bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to coarsely chop. Add the rose water and pulse 4 or 5 more times. Scrape the bowl and continue pulsing until the mixture is a pasty texture. Add the almond extract and pulse to blend. (Alternatively, the almonds can be crushed with a mortar and pestle – pound 3 to 4 at a time along with a bit of the rose water to form a paste and then mix in the almond extract).
  4. Place the almonds in the cup of milk to steep.
  5. Adjust the oven rack to the lower position and preheat to 350F.
  6. Cream the butter until very fluffy. Slowly add the sugar, about ¼ cup at a time until the mixture is the texture of whipped cream.
  7. Beat the egg whites until stiff.
  8. Sift the flour with the dry ingredients. Add a little to the butter mixture, and then add a little milk, making sure you hold a sieve over the mixing bowl to catch the almond paste. Continuing alternating in the way, ending with the flour (if using a mixer, make sure it is set to lowest speed). Scrape the batter down and then gently fold in the egg whites (best done by hand).
  9. Spoon mixture into Bundt pan and smooth the top. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes and then run a sharp knife around the edges to loosen and invert on a plate to cool completely.
  10. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar and serve with fresh fruit and/or whipped cream. Or to frost with an egg-white icing as Eliza Leslie used, take 3 oz fresh or pasteurized egg whites at room temperature, 1 pound of sifted confectioners sugar and ½ tsp lemon juice or 1 tablespoon rose water. Lightly whip the egg whites on medium speed until they form soft peaks, about 3 minutes. Lower the speed and gradually add the sugar a cup at a time. Add flavoring and beat on medium speed for 5 to 8 minutes or until the icing forms medium to stiff peaks.

NOTE: This icing should be used within one day. For those leery of using egg whites, you can substitute ¼ meringue powder and ½ cup cold water for the fresh egg whites.


Sources: Baking in America by Greg Patent; American Cookery by James Beard; Seventy-five receipts for pastry, cakes and sweetmeats by Eliza Leslie; Miss Leslie’s New Cookery Book by Eliza Leslie; The Well-Decorated Cake by Toba Garrett; Savory Suppers and Fashionable Feasts by Susan Williams



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Bryn Mawr Grad

Sunday, 19 May 1889

Sophie left us soon after breakfast, to take the 10.14 train on her way back to Bryn Mawr, to continue her preparations for the final examination there. She is looking rather pale and worn, and I wish that the struggle was over. …


Sunday, 26 May 1889

Herbert Morris called to see Sophie this evening, but she is not at tome this Sunday. I believe that Sophie at Cathy Bean’s request, asked him to go with her to Shipley’s, new West Chester, to Cathy’s parting tea to the graduating class of Bryn Mawr. … Corney is undergoing the throes of examination at the University now. And Sophie’s final examinations at Bryn Mawr are to begin next week.


Thursday, 30 May 1889

Decoration Day. A legal holiday. Bank closed.

…I rose late, this morning – at 7.22 – having overslept myself. Breakfast at about 8. as usual. Sophie with us. Having come from Bryn Mawr this morning to go to the dressmaker, Mary Dwyer. I had to give her $15. For her special expenses; and we expect to give her graduating class a breakfast on next Monday that may cost about $100! Trower is to furnish the food and J. Welsh Young, the cut flowers. ….


Monday, 3 June 1889

I awoke several times last night, on account of the pain of the rheumatism in my shoulder (the left shoulder blade at the back). And I do not feel well this morning. Rose before seven. Shaved after dressing. To breakfast before 8. Trower’s waiters were at our house, before breakfast, beginning their preparations for Sophie’s breakfast to her class at Bryn Mawr (the graduating class). It will probably cost me $100. at least. … Went out in the 2. o’clock train; and found only two of Sophie’s classmates at our house; the others had gone before my arrival. These two were Margaret Thomas and Louise Elder. The former is quite pretty; a noble face with a deep voice. I have not seen her before. Louise is a quaintly bright looking as ever. These two went away at 2.50 for the 2.54 train, and had to run for it. There were 25. Girls at the breakfast, including Sophie, and the affair is said to have passed off satisfactorily. The whole troop went over the house and seemed to admire it. … Nothing of the feast was kept for me, except some sweets that I could not eat and some fruit that is almost equally dangerous. The waiters ate everything that was left by the guests – not being looked after properly. …


Thursday, 6 June 1889

Sophie’s Graduation Day

Rose before seven this morning. A cool cloudy morning clearing up later in the day. Breakfast before eight. Lucy and I went to the 97 train, staring for Bryn Mawr, but Lucy sent me home for our invitations to the graduating exercise; which we had forgotten. So I made another start alone in the 924 train, and afterwards went to Bryn Mawr by the 10.15 train, to see Sophie graduate after her four years course at Bryn Mawr College. Gertrude Houston joined me after I had left the train and we walked to Taylor Hall together. We had seats in the front gallery, at first; but afterwards were beckoned down by our party to seats on the main floor near one of the large windows of the assembly room; and went. Our party consisted of Lucy, Miss Grew, Miss Zell, Theora, Lizzie Thomas, Emily Godley and Thalia Dobson. I, however, could not stay on account of a draft that came down upon my perspiring head. And so I went up to the gallery at the rear of the room; where I found Corney, Stuart Wood, Prof. [Morris] Jastrow, etc., and looked from a step ladder over the heads of those seated in the gallery. My perch was in the lobby, and I looked through a door from it to the gallery; having a good view of the stage, and more than half of the hall, and hearing very well. The exercise opened with an introductory statement by Francis T. King, President of the Board of Trustees, followed by a Psalm read by John B. Garrett and a prayer by Doctor James Carey Thomas. Doctor Rhoads, President of the Faculty then made quite a long address, reviewing the work of the college, etc. And the Dean, Miss M. Carey Thomas presented the candidates for the degree of B.A. – after describing what they had done – and Doctor Rhoads handed them their diplomas, in a set form of words; each “Group” of candidates being spoken to separately; the Greek & Latin Group, first, in which Sophie was. Doctor Paul Shorey closed with an address on the part of the faculty, which was very original and able, full of poetry, brightness, sentiment and humor. As Corney and I waited in the lobby, on the first floor of the hall, for our party to come out, I saw and greeted many acquaintances including some of the new B.A.’s, whom I congratulated. Afterwards came the collation in the Gymnasium; where I had an opportunity of speaking to many friends and of thanking Dean Thomas and President Rhoads for their kindness to Sophie, etc. We then went to Sophie’s room in Merion Hall and spent some time there. Corney and Miss Grew left at about 3. P.M. for the City; and Corney took Miss G. to her home in Filbert St. Lucy, Sophie & I went afterwards to a tea given by Miss Emily Balch, in her room, where I made the acquaintance of her father (a Boston lawyer of a most forlorn appearance) and had a pleasant talk with him; about Howells, Tolstoi, Turgeneiff [sic, Turgenev], Kennan, etc. Sophie walked with us towards the station, and levied upon me for more money, before going back to college. After which Lucy and I made calls upon the Goffs & Kellogs. The former were not at home; but we found the latter in, and spent some time there. We saw first Mrs. Kellog & Lizzie, and just as we were leaving, George Kellogg, who came out from town. Home in the 5.48 train from Bryn Mawr; getting off at Powelton, and taking the 6.10 from the city for Germantown. Corney was at home when we arrived; and we had supper soon afterwards. The beef steak was not good, on account, probably, of being basted with lead butter. I tried to write a few lines of diary during the evening, but had to give it up on account of Lucy’s and Corney’s talk about the events of the day. …


Saturday, 8 June 1889

Henry C. Lea called to notify me that he would soon draw upon us for about $40,000. To pay his taxes! And I got him talking about his literary work, and describing to me his methods in writing. He is now working upon the History of the Spanish Inquisition, and he may add several volumes to the three published already upon the Inquisition. …

Sunday, 9 June 1889

…Sophie looks badly from her recent “examinations & receptions;” s they were cleverly put together by Shorey in his address. Her eyes look swollen from want of sleep. Lawrence and Corney brought over her effects from Bryn Mawr on Friday – in a light wagon borrowed from Glassey & Fowler, drawn by our mare Nelly. …


Wednesday, 12 June 1889

Clam soup and peas from our own garden for supper; and both good. My arm quite painful after supper. Corney made a fire in the library grate of cannel coal, which warmed the room, and was agreeable to all of us, both to feel and to see. I chatted with Lucy, Sophie and Corney, for a good while, with only the light of the fire for illumination. And, afterwards, I spent sometime in looking at two groups of Bryn Mawr girls, photographs, which Sophie brought home from college; commenting on the appearance of the more striking faces. One group is the Senior Class that has just graduate, and the other is the whole four classes at the time of Sophie’s graduation. They are good photographs. Sophie played a little on the piano. I went to bet about eleven o’clock. …


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Twitter Recap – Women in History

The next Upstairs, Downstairs event is less than a week away. Let’s take a look back at past tweets about some of the greatest women during the Victorian Era.

ARTICLE – The Royal Society’s Lost Women Scientists by Richard Holmes via The Guardian

VIDEO – Women of Philadelphia: A Sit-In by Philadelphia: The Great Experiment and The Women of Philadelphia: A Documentary

ARTICLE – Louisa May Alcott and the American Civil War by History in an Hour

QUIZ – Can You Name the First Woman To Do (Or Be) the Following? via Sporcle



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Jelly Rolls

jelly roll 2A perfect springtime treat, pretty, dainty Jelly Rolls conjure up images of ladies tea parties, bridal showers and fancy brunches. A Victorian era creation, these delicious confections are made from very thin layers of sponge cake spread with fruit preserves or jelly, rolled up into a neat cylinder, and then sliced into elegant spirals.

Light and delicate, Jelly Rolls are not to be confused with Jelly Cake (also known as Washington Cake, Washington Pie or Lafayette Cake), a popular 19th century dessert made with thin layers of rich cake that had been baked in round shallow pans (called jelly cake tins) and stacked one on top of each other, with the jelly spread in between. Similar to pancakes, some recipes even suggest making the thin cakes on a griddle, such as Eliza Leslie’s 1828 Jelly Cake recipe from Seventy-five Receipts for Pastry, Cakes and Sweetmeats: “Have ready a flat circular plate of tin, which must be laid on your griddle, or in the oven of your stove, and well greased with butter. Pour on it a large ladle-full of the batter, and bake it as you would a buck-wheat cake, taking care to have it of a good shape.” However, unlike a pancake, “It will not require turning,” she says.

Different from the airy sponge cake used in a Jelly Roll, these thin cakes were rich and substantial (like a pound cake), made with copious amounts of butter, sugar and eggs, as well as flour, nutmeg, and rose-water. Leslie’s instructions call for baking “as many of these cakes as you want, laying each on a separate plate.” She says to spread each one with jelly or marmalade, and then stack them until the pile is five or six cakes high. The top was also spread with jelly, then sprinkled with powdered sugar or iced and decorated in a triangular pattern with nonpareils or sugar-sand (colored sugar). To serve, it was cut in three-cornered slices like a pie. These Jelly Cakes were actually the descendants of today’s layer cakes – as baking power and other rising agents became available, cakes got fluffier and fewer layers were used.

According to the Betty Crocker Cookbook, the Jelly Roll is a product of the Depression era – a relatively inexpensive indulgence during that timeframe with its lower-cost homemade jelly filling. But while the delicate cakes might have been a popular, economical treat during the 1930s, they actually began showing up in cookbooks way before that – right after the Civil War.

Some food historians surmise that Jelly Rolls evolved from Genoise sponge, a light sponge cake named for the city of Genoa, Italy that became popular in the mid-19th century. Unlike typical sponge cake where the egg yolks and whites are beaten separately, Genoise sponge calls for beating whole eggs with sugar until thick, and then folding in the flour, which is also the case with jelly roll cake. And like a Jelly Roll, Genoise sponge is traditionally paired with a jelly, cream, or fruit puree filling.


jelly roll_smIronically, the first Jelly Roll recipes were also called Jelly Cake. The earliest one I found was in an 1864 issue of American Agriculturist (contributed by Lizzie Davis of Venango Co., PA). The ingredient list is short and sweet: 1 cup of sugar, 4 eggs, 1 cup of flour, 4 teaspoons baking soda dissolved in a tablespoon of milk, and 1 teaspoon cream of tartar. The instructions are to mix these ingredients and “bake in one long tin, then spread with jelly, roll up, and cut in slices.”

A slightly later recipe from The Godey’s Lady’s Book Receipts and Household Hints (1870) is a little more detailed as to the mixing process: “To three well beaten eggs add one cup of powdered sugar, one of flour; stir well, and add one teaspoonful of cream of tartar, half a teaspoonful of saleratus (an early form of baking soda) dissolved in three teaspoonfuls of water. Bake in two pie-pans; spread as even as possible. Have ready a towel, and as soon as done, turn the cake on it, bottom side up; then spread evenly with jelly, roll up quickly, and wrap in a towel.”

This recipe specifies the importance of getting the cake out of the pan as quickly as possible, a real necessity with Jelly Rolls due to their extreme thinness (unlike thicker cakes which need to cool in the pan a bit before inverting). One odd thing about this recipe is that it suggests pie pans (similar to the stacked Jelly Cake recipes) instead of the long shallow pan that is key to a successful Jelly Roll. As Jelly Rolls gained in popularity, special pans (called jelly roll pans) evolved. These low, elongated pans, measuring 15 ½ x 10 ½ x 1, are basically baking sheets with 1-in straight sides, perfect for baking the thin sheets of cake. The batter for Jelly Rolls is rather sticky, so today’s recipes (and some of the more detailed 19th century ones) recommend lining the pan with parchment or wax paper to prevent sticking to the pan, then inverting it immediately on a towel.

The Jelly Roll recipe I tried from Anna Maxwell’s diary was actually called Sponge Jelly. As with many recipes of the time, it was simply written and not very instructive:

SPONGE JELLY. One cup sugar, 1 cup flour, 3 eggs, 1 tablespoonful milk, 1 teaspoonful baking powder mixed in the flour; bake in thin sheets; when cool spread jelly and roll it.

This single sentence doesn’t indicate what temperature oven, how long to cook the cake, what kind of jelly, how to line the pan, etc. Luckily I had been looking at other Jelly Roll recipes from various timeframes so I was able to decipher specific directions. After cobbling together different versions, here is the final recipe for Jelly Roll I came up with based on Anna Maxwell’s.

SPONGE JELLY (based on Anna’s Maxwell’s recipe)

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 cup flour (I used cake flour)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2/3 cup jelly (I used raspberry for one cake and apricot for the other)

Preheat oven to 375. Line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper (I didn’t have the specific sized pan, so I used two smaller pans – which worked fine and then I was able to use two different types of jelly for a nice contrast on the plate); grease paper generously. Beat eggs on high speed for 5 minutes until thick and lemon colored. Gradually beat in sugar, then milk. Gradually add flour and baking powder, beating just until batter is smooth. Pour into pan, spreading to the corners.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Immediately loosen cake from the edges of pan and invert onto a clean towel generously sprinkled with powdered sugar. Carefully remove paper. Trim off stiff edges of cake if necessary. While hot, carefully roll cake and towel from narrow end. Cool on wire rack at least 30 minutes. Unroll cake and remove towel. Beat jelly slightly with fork to soften and spread over cake. Roll up and sprinkle with powdered sugar.


Sources: Oxford Companion to Food by Alan Davidson; Betty Crocker’s 40th Anniversary Edition Cookbook; Seventy-five receipts for pastry, cakes and sweetmeats by Eliza Leslie; Baking in America by Greg Patent; Larousse Gastronomique; American Agriculturist, Volume 23 (1864); The Godey’s Lady’s Book Receipts and Household Hints By Sarah Annie Frost; American Cookery by James Beard; Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink, ed. by Andrew F. Smith

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Winter Salads

“Salads are supposed by a large class of people to be difficult to prepare; but such is not the case. They are really simple of construction, and one needs only to use a little judgment in their preparation.”
~ Murrey’s Salads and Sauces by Thomas Jefferson Murrey, 1884.

A salad of fresh, tender lettuces is a light, refreshing enhancement to any meal. Today’s high-speed transportation methods and numerous pre-washed lettuce choices allow us to enjoy fresh salads year-round. But during the Victorian era, salads were usually reserved for the upper class. Lettuces were highly perishable and therefore expensive, particularly during the colder months when they were out of season.

Resourceful Victorians got around this obstacle by using hothouses to grow salad greens and other vegetables. By 1900, cities such as Philadelphia and Boston farmed acres of vegetables under glass, including lettuce, radishes, tomatoes, cucumbers and artichokes. Although the prices were steep, these commercial enterprises allowed well-to-do Americans to serve fresh green salad for lunch or dinner any time of year.

As a result, green salads dressed with vinegar and oil quickly became a fine dining essential throughout the U.S. One of the many French influences on American cuisine, these crisp, leafy greens tossed with a light vinaigrette dressing were often called “French salads” as a way to distinguish them from creamy mayonnaise-based lobster or chicken salads, which were also popular. The French style dressing was a combination of oil, vinegar, mashed egg yolk and a dash of mustard. Sometimes a little sugar was also added, and Philadelphia cooking school instructor Sarah Tyson Rorer suggested tarragon vinegar as a more flavorful substitute for plain vinegar.

Apparently achieving the appropriate balance of dressing ingredients was a source of great controversy during this timeframe. The Germantown Telegraph ran a series of letters, recipes, satire and other culinary opinion about the proper method for dressing lettuce in the late 1860s. And according to cookbook collector Elizabeth Pennell, it was formerly the Philadelphia custom for the husband to shop for the salad and dramatically put it all together at the table. Gentlemen were judged by their salad making skills, particularly the manner of blending the dressing. Eliza Leslie also advised her readers of this tradition, stating that the gentleman was to “mix up the dressing on a separate plate, and then add it to the lettuce, and offer it around, as he choose.”

Today salads are typically served at the beginning of a meal, but in the Victorian era this was not the case. The American Practical Cookery Book (1861) recommended them as a part of the second course, “given with the roast meat; it should be placed fresh upon the table, then removed and dressed by a waiter.” Mrs. Rorer preferred a “simple French dressing for lettuce, served after a hearty meal.” She advised placing the green vegetables for salads in ice water for an hour, then carefully drying them on a towel in order to preserve their freshness and flavor. “Never mix any salad with the dressing until you are ready to serve it,” she added. “Use the coldest of dishes to serve it on, and if garnished properly, it is one of the most attractive and wholesome dishes on the table.”

Celery was another popular vegetable among the elite classes during this timeframe. Today celery is typically reserved for crudité platters or chopped finely to add crunch to chicken or tuna salad, but in the nineteenth century it was considered a high-status food, mainly because it was rather difficult to grow – it had to be blanched, or protected by piles of soil as it grew in order to preserve the whiteness and sweetness of its stalks.

Celery Vases2The Victorians gave celery extra-special treatment, creating distinctive stands or vases in which to serve them. Made of decorated glass or silver, they could be tall and sturdy to hold the celery upright like a bouquet of flowers, or shaped like a low basket or oval “boat” to cradle the celery lying down.

Common celery preparations included stewed, fried, braised or dressed with mayonnaise. According to New York Cooking School instructor Maria Parloa, “celery should be scraped and washed and then put in ice water to be made crisp, at least an hour before it goes on the table.”

Both celery and lettuce were popular items on holiday menus, as evidenced by Germantown resident Cornelius Nolan Weygandt’s diary entry from January 1, 1897, which lists “our own celery” as one of the menu items from his family’s New Year’s Dinner. And referencing a Christmas menu published in the Ladies Home Journal in 1897, Mrs. Rorer noted, “The salad course is no small part of a dinner. If you cannot get lettuce or celery do not object to the inner white portion of a hard head of cabbage. Serve it with French dressing, delicate crackers toasted in the oven, and hot cheese balls.”

There were two types of cheese balls used to garnish salads: one was made from grated cheese mixed with egg (and sometimes breadcrumbs) and spices such as red pepper, paprika or Worcestershire sauce, formed into small balls and then fried in lard or oil. These were served warm on top of a salad, similar to cheese croutons.

The other method was to take a soft cheese, such as Neufchatel or cream cheese, add some grated Parmesan, spices and melted butter, then form into balls the size of an English walnut. These were also placed on top of salad greens, but served cold (kind of like goat cheese rounds are today).

Lettuce salad

Lettuce salad w French dressing2(This salad was listed on a Christmas menu featured in the Dec 1897 issue of Ladies Home Journal. It was typical of the green salads that were popular during the Victorian era and would have been served throughout the winter months).

Rub garlic in the dish in which lettuce, with French dressing (without onion) is to be served. Leave no pieces of the garlic – merely rubbing the dish will give flavor enough. The French often use garlic in salads. OR (and this is what Mrs. Henderson advised) use the simple French dressing with onion to mix with the lettuce leaves, and dispense with the garlic. Use the plain or tarragon vinegar. Nasturtium blossoms have a most pleasant piquant flavor, and make a beautiful garnish for a salad.

French Dressing
Ingredients: One table-spoonful of vinegar, three table-spoonfuls of olive-oil, one salt-spoonful of pepper, one salt-spoonful of salt, one tea-spoonful of onion scraped fine. Many use tarragon vinegar, i.e. vinegar in which tarragon has been soaked. Pour the oil, mixed with the pepper and salt, over the salad; mix them together; then add the vinegar and mix again.
(This is the usual mode of mixing the salad; but Mrs. Henderson preferred to mix the pepper and salt, then add the oil and onion, and then the vinegar; and when well mingled, to pour the mixture over the salad, or place the salad over it, and mix all together. She thought it was more evenly distributed in this manner.)
Both recipes from Practical Cooking, and Dinner Giving (1878) by Mary F. Henderson

Watercress Salad with Cream Cheese Balls
Watercress salad w cheese balls2Ingredients:
• 1 8 oz. package Neufchatel cheese
• 2 tablespoons grated parmesan
• Dash of red pepper
• ½ teaspoon paprika
• 1 tablespoon melted butter
• ¼ teaspoon salt
Mix all ingredients together thoroughly and form into small balls. Chill in refrigerator on a plate. At serving time arrange watercress or other salad greens in a shallow salad bowl, put the cheese balls over the top, sprinkle with French dressing and serve.

From New Salads for Dinners, Luncheons, Suppers and Receptions (1912) by Sarah Tyson Rorer

The diary of former Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion resident Anna Smith Maxwell (1831-1912), also known as “The First Lady of the House,” contains a number of recipes for salads and dressings, including Salad Dressing (featuring raw eggs, mustard and milk), a newspaper clipping for the satirical poem “Sydney Smith’s* Recipe for Salad Dressing,” and the recipe for Mayonnaise Dressing listed below (another concept borrowed from the French). This would have been combined with any number of ingredients, such as chicken, lobster, celery or tomatoes to make a nice salad suitable for any fine luncheon. An article on “Salad and Salad Making” in an 1898 issue of Good Housekeeping magazine called mayonnaise dressing “a triumph of the culinary art when well made.”

Mayonnaise Dressing
• Two eggs
• Two tablespoonfuls of melted butter
• Three tablespoonfuls of cream (sour cream is the best)
• One quarter of a tablespoonful of mustard
• One half teaspoonful of salt
• One half cupful of vinegar
Beat the eggs, add cream and the melted butter, or oil if preferred, dissolve the mustard in the vinegar and add just as it is and put on the stove. Cook until thick over boiling water, stirring constantly.

* Sydney Smith was the author of several best-selling books, including Salad for the Solitary and Salad for the Social.

From the diary of former Ebenezer Maxwell resident Anna Smith Maxwell

Sources: Murrey’s Salads and Sauces by Thomas Jefferson Murrey, 1884; Mrs. Rorer’s Philadelphia Cook Book: A Manual of Home Economies by Sarah Tyson Rorer, 1886; Savory Suppers and Fashionable Feasts by Susan Williams, 1996; 35 Receipts from the Larder Invaded by William Woys Weaver.

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Upper Middle Class Housing in the 19th Century Germantown

The family of Cornelius N. Weygandt lived in rented houses for the first twenty years of their residence in Germantown.  It was fairly common for middle class families to rent their homes during this period.  Some of the first houses that the Fallon Brothers built on Tulpehocken Street were rental properties.  In 1883, the Weygandts’ lease for their home on the 200 block of Tulpehocken Street was up.  They rented the house from the Catherwood family heirs (living in Pittsburgh at the time) through their trustee the Philadelphia Trust Safe Deposit and Insurance Company whose president was J. Livingston Erringer (in his late 60s in 1883) – the “Old Erringer” that Weygandt mentions.  The excerpts below give an insight in the costs of rental houses during this period and also what sort of options the Weygandts had in Germantown.  To provide some perspective on the costs the Weygandts had, Henry H. Houston rented out 266 W. Tulpehocken Street and 6129 Wayne Avenue each for $1,200 a year in 1889.  The first excerpt has a brief account of the first house the Weygandts rented with Cornelius’s sister and brother-in-law, the Godleys, on W. Walnut Lane near Greene Street.


Wednesday, February 21, 1883

…Lucy and I went out, in the evening, at about eight o’clock, and called on Mr. & Mrs. Joe Perot, and afterwards at Mr. & Mrs. A.G. Elliott’s.  The Perots live in the old Button house, at the corner of Main [now Germantown Ave.] & Walnut Lane.  We sat while there in the library, a nice old fashioned room, with pretty wood mouldings, chair strip, polished brass lock on the door and a very well carved old wooden mantle, etc.  A Mr. & Mrs. Bissell called while we were there, and we left them there, when we took our departure, at about nine o’clock.  Bissell is an auditor in the Penna R.R. office, and his wife is a daughter of Elliston Perot, decd.  We made quite a long visit at Elliott’s, and did not leave until a quarter of eleven.  Their house has been very nicely “done up,” and it looks pretty outside and inside, but is small and has low ceilings.  We have an interest in it, as the first house in Germantown in which we lived, having rented it furnished for four months along with the Godleys. …

Monday, July 9, 1883

…I wrote advertisements for a house, this afternoon; and took them to the Telegraph & Ledger, for insertion during the week.  I wish to see whether I can better ourselves, before I try to renew the lease of our present house on Tulpehocken Street; and also to be prepared to make a good bargain for myself, by having alternatives to quote to my landlord. ..

Wednesday, July 11, 1883

…After our visitors left, I drove Lucy & Rachel, in the phaeton, to look at the Sykes house, on Clapier St., which is offered to me for rent, at $1.000. pr. annum, by Lansdale, in reply to my advertisement in the name of “Nolen.”  Something will also be allowed for repairs.  We do not like the situation but the house looks like a very good one. …

Wednesday, July 18, 1883

…Came home in the 4.45 train.  Drove out in the phaeton with Corney and Walter.  First to Pulaski Street, and then to Fisher’s Lane to look at houses & grounds offered to “Nolen” for rent.  I wish to go again to Pulaski Street, with Lucy, to examine more carefully the situation, etc. …

Friday, July 20, 1883

phaeton…Came home in the 4.45 train. Drove out in the phaeton with Lucy & Corney.  Went down Wayne, to Manheim, Pulaski Streets and into the Brinley place, which is offered to me for rent, at $1,000. pr. year.  The grounds are very pretty, and four acres in extent, but the house is very small and frame.  There is a good view from the porch over the city.  Then to Clapier Street & looked at the Baxter & Sykes places, & afterwards, over Duy’s Lane [now E. Wister St.] to Chew Street, Locust Avenue, Cedar street, Church Lane, Ross St. Shoemakers Lane [now E. Penn St.], Green St. etc. home.  I think I should like to buy the Brinley place if it could be had cheaply, and build a good house on it.  …

Sunday, July 22, 1883

Went out to drive in the phaeton yesterday afternoon, with Lucy & Rachel.  We went by Wayne, to School [House Lane], and on School, as far as the Weightman place; then returned on School, and drove on Township Line [now Wissahickon Ave.], Queen, Wayne, Manheim & Pulaski, and into the Brinley place again, where we met W.W. Knight from whom I learn that the place belongs to the Pinckney family, his wife being one of the heirs & owners.  There are nearly five acres and $25.000. is the price asked.  Too dear for me, as I told Knight.  It was dropping rain, while we were out, and shortly after we left the Pinckney place, it began to come down so smartly, that we drove directly home by Pulaski, Manheim & Wayne etc. …

Saturday, July 29, 1883

… Put another advertisement in the Ledger, this afternoon, for next week; for a house & stable etc.  I expect to also have one in the Telegraph, next week, but will attend to that on Monday. …

Friday, August 3, 1883

John Patterson called, and I asked him to see old Erringer as to my rent.  Suggested to John to name $1.000. as a fair rent for the place, $1.200. much too high, etc.  I lent John $400., for a few days to pay his workmen.  He stayed a very long time, talking. …

Tuesday, August 7, 1883

…Dined at Laubers between 12. & 1. o’clock.  Lansdale called, and left a card with me, introducing me to Mrs. Sykes, who is living in a few rooms only, of her house, and who will show it to us.  Rent $800.  John Patterson came in this morning and borrowed $100., on a three months note from our chief, in order to pay me the load I made him on last Friday.  John promises to see old Erringer, this afternoon to try to get him down to $1.000. pr. annum for our house.  The weather cool and pleasant today.  Came home in the four o’clock train.  Brought Moffley up from the Depot, to his house, on Wayne Street.  I had a short chat with him about real estate, in our neighborhood.  He says that I ought to buy the lot opposite to our house, now offered at $45.000., and build a house for myself on the Western end of it and sell off the rest of the land which might be done at a profit.  I told him that the price asked is still too high.  Drove out in the phaeton, with Lucy & Sophie, on getting home.  We drove to Mrs. Sykes’ house, on Clapier Street, and found, on our arrival that Mrs. S. was not at home.  She soon came in, however, and took us over the house; which is very large, and has a great many fine rooms.  The entrance hall is, however, very small and mean, and the grounds are not as large as we now have, and they are in wretched disorder.  The kitchen is in the basement, and is dark, though very large.  There are four large porches; one very pleasant one in the second story.  Mrs. Sykes is an extraordinary looking woman.  She is dressed in a suit of complete black, nun like clothes, with a white fillet around her face (under the chin & over the top of the head) a large black cross hanging to her neck, a round fan of black crape [sic], and such dilapidated shoes!, which were visible to us as she went up stairs.  She is a Roman Catholic, and she informed us that Mr. Sykes was received into the church three weeks before his death, which was beautiful, etc.  Also that Mr. Sykes was a very handsome man.  He was an old rake when I used to see and meet him, and not choice in his conversation.  Mrs. Sykes is very voluable [sic] and a great deal to say in praise of her house.  She was a Miss Lucy Lamb, before her marriage, and a handsome woman in her day.  She is probably about 50. to 55. years old.  The rent is very low at $500.  I heard on getting home from our drive, that Mrs. VanSchaick has a notion of sending her daughters, Molly & Clara, to the new school, at “Ogontz,” Jay Cook’s former residence.  The cost to be $900. each, including the board; with extras, which may bring the total expense up to $2.500.  Mrs. Van is trying hard to introduce two girls into good society – so far with very little success.  Germantown is a hard place for such people!  …

Sunday, August 12, 1883

Lucy, Rachel and I talked over our house rent, for a good while, after breakfast, and I have determined to see old Erringer, tomorrow, to offer him, as our ultimatum $1.000. pr: year.  I spent the rest of the morning, in reading the papers and magazines, on the porch and in the library.  We had our usual Sunday dinner of roast beef and vegetables.  Some corn from our own garden was very good.  After dinner I looked over the architect, Holly’s book on “Modern Homes,” to get suggestions for a house which we should like to build for ourselves.  Our chief trouble just now, is to find an eligible lot of two acres, or more, that will suit us both in situation and price; a difficult matter.  Finding very little of use in the plans in this book I took up Dicken’s “Pickwick Papers,” which I have not looked at for a long time, and read it during the rest of the afternoon and evening.  Took a walk around our grounds, with Corney, after tea. To be early – about 10.P.M. …

Monday, August 13, 1883

…I called upon old Erringer this morning, and I had a chat with him about our rent.  I told him about the imperfections of our house; the condition of the bath room and the rotting of the ends of the joists of the first floor, etc.; and I offered to pay a rent of $1.000. a year.  He is to confer with one of the Catherwoods, and to advise me as to the result.  I also told the old fellow about four houses – being to rent in our immediate neighborhood and about the Sykes house.  He thinks that Clapier St. is an undesirable neighborhood; partly on account the ponds near it. … On getting home, I wrote a sketch of a note to send to old Erringer, about the rent of our house; and I read it to Lucy, and Rachel.  I remind him, in the note, that, if we leave the house in September, it may be empty for six months at least, at a loss to the owners of $500., at the rent I offer.

Friday, August 17, 1883

Old Erringer came in, this morning, to say that $1.000. was the lowest rent for our house; but I got him down to $1.000. with the proviso that we are to do the repairs.  As I have been doing the repairs for some time past, this arrangement is better for me.  I tried to get a lease for two years, but E. insisted on one only, so I conceded it.  I am glad this is fixed; as I can now take my vacation without any anxiety on this subject.  Graham Elliott rode in the train with me, this morning, and we talked of house building and sites in Germantown.  I want to find a good site, now and to being to build a house for myself.  …

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Strawberry Shortcake

Jelly Tins smTrue strawberry shortcake incorporates a rich, crumbly, biscuit-like cake that is not too sweet – very similar to a scone. The biscuit dough can be shaped into one large cake and then cut into pieces, or baked as separate little cakes, either by cutting the dough into rounds with a biscuit cutter, or dropping spoonfuls of dough on a baking sheet like a drop biscuit. Each individual cake is then split in half, filled with ripe, juicy strawberries and topped with fresh whipped cream.

A popular Victorian dessert, strawberry shortcake began popping up in American cookbooks in the mid-1800s, likely evolving from the shortcake and biscuit-type desserts that were common in England, such as Derby Short Cakes (also known as Derby Biscuits or Derby Cakes) – thick biscuits sweetened with sugar and sometimes currants, cut into scalloped rounds. Derby Short Cakes were apparently an offshoot of Yarmouth Biscuits, an even richer treat made with liberal amounts of butter and eggs and seasoned with caraway seeds.

But Derby Short Cakes and the other shortcake recipes that came later were different from Yarmouth Biscuits in that they all used some form of dairy  – milk, cream, buttermilk, sour cream, etc. Not only did this moisten and tenderize the dough, it also gave the biscuits a crisper crust and added structure, preventing them from collapsing in the oven.

Here’s a recipe for Derby Short-Cakes from The cook and housewife’s manual, by Mrs. Margaret Dods (Edinburgh, Scotland, 1826):

Rub down a pound of butter into two pounds of flour, and mix with this a half-pound of beat sugar, an egg, and as much milk as will make a paste. Roll this out thin, and cut out the cakes in any form. Bake on tin plates for about ten minutes. They may be iced, or have sifted sugar strewed over them.

However, these still would have been rather flat since they contained no rising agent. But once chemical leavenings came on the scene in the nineteenth century, they were added to shortcake recipes, resulting in full, fluffy biscuits with a softer crumb. For example, this recipe from 1829 by Lydia Child incorporates pearlash (potassium carbonate), which combined with an acid like sour milk or citrus, produces a chemical reaction that lightens baked goods:


If you have sour milk, or butter-milk, it is well to make it into short cakes for tea. Rub in a very small bit of shortening, or three table-spoonfuls of cream, with the flour; put in a tea-spoonful of strong dissolved pearlash, into your sour milk, and mix your cake pretty stiff, to bake in the spider, on a few embers.

(Source: The American Frugal Housewife by Lydia Maria Francis Child, 1829)

shortcakes smIt is not known for sure when strawberries were first partnered with shortcake. Wild strawberries are native to both the Old and New World, so they would have been available to European and American cooks. Although they produce smaller berries and lower yields than today’s commercial varieties, they are sweeter and more flavorful – a perfect companion for rich, not overly sweet shortcake.

Strawberries were so beloved in America that British traveller Godfrey Vigne wrote about a strawberry party, or “Fête champêtre” that took place in Baltimore in 1831. “Quadrilles and waltzes were kept up with great spirit, first on the lawn, and then in the house till about eleven. In the mean time strawberries and cream, ices, pineapples, and champagne, were served up in the greatest profusion,” he remarked.

So perhaps it was a “given” that shortcake was topped with strawberries or other fruit, it just wasn’t written down in the recipe books. In any case, the oldest mention of strawberry shortcake I was able to find dates back to 1835, published in The New York Farmer and American Gardener’s Magazine, although the author refers to it as “Strawberry Cake”: “In several parts of New-England, and I suppose wherever the worthy housewives of that portion of our country are scattered, short-cake is made, and while hot is cut open, and strawberries sweetened with sugar are put in. This cake is said to be delicious.” Sounds like the strawberry shortcake we all know and love!

The earliest recipe I found with the exact wording “Strawberry Short Cake” was published twenty years later in 1855, and it sounds absolutely decadent:

Strawberry Short Cake

Take one pint of rich sour cream, half a teaspoonful of pearlash and flour enough to make it of the consistency of soft biscuit, salt, roll it out and bake it on a large pie plate when cold enough to split and not make it heavy; split it evenly and put a quart of nice strawberries in the centre, covering them with half a pint of rich sweet cream and powdered sugar; return the upper crust, and when you serve it cut it the same as pie. Very rich for the stomach.

(Source: The Practical Housekeeper, and Young Woman’s Friend By Marion L. Scott, 1855)

But the version I decided to try was from the journal of Anna Maxwell (also known as Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion’s “First Lady of the House”). Even though I made her recipe in August, late spring would have been the time of year for serving Strawberry Shortcake in Victorian times. We have the luxury today of buying strawberries year-round, but in Anna’s day, they would have only been available when strawberries were in season, typically May and June.

shortcake dough smGardeners had begun to experiment with strawberry cultivation way back in the 14th century, and by the 19th century there would have been commercial varieties available, including the “Keens Seedling,” known for its size and flavor. However, these would have probably been smaller, juicier and tastier than modern supermarket strawberries, which are bred so they are hardy enough for transport, and to reach colossal sizes.

Anna’s recipe was so easy and required minimal ingredients – simply a joy to make. The biscuits were delicious and could be served on their own as part of a chicken dinner, paired with other summer fruit such as blueberries or peaches, or even for breakfast. In fact, my children had the leftover biscuits the next morning with a little melted butter and smear of whipped cream – they raved about this indulgent treat!

Here’s Anna’s recipe:

Strawberry Short Cake

1 quart flour, 3 tablespoons butter, 1 large cup of sour cream, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon sugar. Teaspoonful of soda dissolved in hot water, pinch of salt. Bake in jelly tins, + spread the fruit sugared + creamed between the layers when cool

The recipe can be pretty much followed exactly, but I recommend a few tweaks, including starting with just two cups flour and adding more in ¼ cup increments if needed (the 1 quart as directed in the recipe would be four cups of flour). I found that a cup of sour cream was also a bit much – ¾ cup was ok. Also, it is important that the butter is cold and cut into tablespoon-sized pieces, and I dissolved the baking soda in the sour cream, not water. And instead of jelly tins (biscuit molds), I rolled out the dough and cut it into biscuits. Lastly, since the biscuits should still be warm when serving this dessert, it is helpful to prepare the strawberries and whipped cream ahead of time (directions below).

strawberry shortcake smAnna Maxwell’s Strawberry Short Cake (modern version)

For the strawberries, hull and slice 1 pound of rinsed strawberries. Place in bowl and add sugar to taste. Set aside.

For whipped cream, chill whisk beater and bowl in freezer for 15 minutes. Combine 2 tablespoons powdered sugar, ½ tsp vanilla and 1 cup heavy cream in bowl. Whisk just until the cream holds its shape.

For shortcakes:

2 cups flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, ¼ teaspoon salt, 3 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into pieces, ¾ cup sour cream, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 egg, beaten.

Preheat oven to 375. Mix the flour, sugar and salt together, then add the chilled butter, blending it in with a pastry cutter until the mixture is a fine consistency. Dissolve the baking soda into the sour cream and add to the other ingredients along with the egg. Mix with a fork until a soft dough forms; add a little extra flour if needed. Form into a ball with floured hands and roll out onto a lightly floured surface to ¾-inch thickness. Cut into 4 biscuits with a biscuit cutter and place on ungreased baking sheet. Scoop up remaining dough and roll out again, cutting out two more biscuits. Bake for about 15 minutes and cool on wire rack.

To serve, split shortcakes in half with serrated knife, spread strawberries and their juices over the bottom halves and top with shortcake tops and whipped cream. Enjoy!!!

My taste testers loved this dessert and even asked for the recipe. A true American classic that’s just as excellent today as it was during the Victorian era!


Additional sources: Baking in America by Greg Patent; The Oxford Companion to Food by Alan Davidson; The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink, ed. by Andrew F. Smith; Food in the United States, 1820s-1890 by Susan Williams, The Foods of England Project website-

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