Ellen Emlen’s Cookbook – the big day

Last Wednesday Nov 16th, HSP celebrated the publishing of Ellen Emlen’s Cookbook. Sound familiar? That’s because we posted about it here.

 The event included a display of  our historical cookbooks from the collection, including Martha Washington’s cookbook, both of the Mrs. Penn’s cookbooks, a 2nd edition of Amelia Simmons’ book printed 1808 as well as the original manuscript cookbook from Ellen Emlen.


I spoke about the conservation of the original work as well as some of the learning opportunities to be found in the book.


Jennifer McGlinn joined us as well. She cooked the meatballs, gingerbread and Mr. Atherton’s punch. She also spoke of the history of gingerbread and gave us tips for working with historical recipes. 

Jennifer has generously shared the transcribed recipes with us and they are posted here. Make sure to reference your copy of the facsimile!

Miss James’ Gingerbread (p. 120)

Mrs. Emlen has edited this recipe from the original writing. She called for one tablespoon of ground allspice, but then writing in a heavier pen, “I’ve only put a tea[spoon].” I think she was quite right; a whole tablespoon would have been too strong, here. I have added a heaping teaspoon to this version.

I have also slightly altered the amount of baking soda she suggests. This is a very large cake with lots of acid in the form of molasses and sour cream. Using one-and-three-quarters teaspoons of soda creates the right amount of leavening.

The addition of salt is yet another variation. We add salt to just about every cake and cookie these days, and for good reason. It buoys the flavor of the other ingredients and makes the final sweet product sweeter and more flavorful. Salt was rarely added to nineteenth-century baked goods. I believe it to be a necessary addition here.

As for the sour cream, here, again, Mrs. Emlen originally incorporated milk into the cake, but added a note, again in a heavier pen, that “sour cream is better.” I think she was correct. The thickness and tartness of the sour cream heightens the flavor and helps to create a soft cake with a delicate crumb. It should be noted, as well, that the original recipe called for combining the baking soda and milk (or sour cream) before adding it to the other ingredients. Using today’s baking soda, it is just fine to whisk it into the dry ingredients as we do with most cake and cookie recipes.

Finally, Mrs. Emlen’s recipe calls for a “wineglass of brandy.” Earlier in the century and quite probably up until Mrs. Emlen’s time, a wineglass referred a small amount, about one-quarter cup. This batter is very thick, however, and really needs more of what we would consider a substantial wineglass—one cup. You can use all brandy if you like, but I found that incorporating a bit of brandy along with apple juice, cider, or even better, a spiced cider (try Trader Joe’s brand), adds a lot of flavor to the finished cake.

Despite the size of this gingerbread, it only requires about forty minutes in the oven. Serve it plain or with lightly sweetened whipped cream or ice cream.

Makes one 9-by-13-inch cake

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 3/4 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon ground ginger

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 heaping teaspoon ground allspice

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup sugar

3 large eggs

1 cup molasses

1 cup apple juice, cider, or spiced cider (or 3/4 cup juice and 1/4 cup brandy)

1 cup sour cream

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter and flour a 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking pan (nonstick is useful here).

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, and allspice in a large bowl.

Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl, using an electric hand mixer) and beat on medium speed until smooth, light, and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, incorporating each one thoroughly before adding the next. Add the molasses, mixing until combined. Reduce the mixing speed and add about one-quarter of the flour mixture, beating until smooth. Alternately add the juice, sour cream, and the remaining flour, ending with the flour and stopping occasionally to scrape the sides of the bowl, until the batter is smooth.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the cake has risen, is golden brown, and a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Set the pan on a wire rack for about 10 minutes before turning out the cake to cool completely on the rack.

Meatballs (p. 8)

These meatballs, originally prepared in the nineteenth century with leftover cooked rare meat, prove quite successful when made with fresh ground beef. Typical of the period, Mrs. Emlen’s recipe given to her by Mrs. Wharton calls not only for herbs, bread soaked in milk, and onion, but also ground or freshly grated nutmeg and lemon zest and juice. The latter, while particularly unfamiliar to many of today’s cooks, is splendid here, contributing a brightness and freshness to the flavorful meat.

Brown these meatballs simply in a bit of olive oil, or, if you wish, dip them first in egg and then dredge them in breadcrumbs, as Mrs. Emlen suggests in a preceding recipe for chicken and oyster croquettes. This recipe calls for shaping the meatballs into walnut-size rounds, but of course, you can make them any size you wish.  

Makes about 30 meatballs

1 slice hearty white bread, torn roughly into pieces

1/4 cup milk

1 pound ground beef

About 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley

1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1 teaspoon coarse salt

Pinch of ground black pepper

1 large egg, lightly beaten

Zest and juice of 1 small lemon

Olive oil for browning

Combine the bread and milk in a small bowl, soaking the bread completely. Set aside until the milk is absorbed, about 3 minutes.

Combine the beef, parsley, onion, nutmeg, salt, pepper, egg, and lemon zest and juice in a large bowl, gently mixing to incorporate all of the ingredients. Form the mixture into walnut-size balls (about 30).

Heat about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Place some of the meatballs in the pan, leaving about 1/2 to 1 inch in between each one, and cook until browned on the bottoms, about 5 minutes. Turn the meatballs and cook until firm (fully cooked) and browned on the other sides, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer the meatballs to a paper towel-lined baking sheet and set aside to keep warm. Clean the pan, if necessary, and heat additional olive oil to cook the remaining meatballs in the same manner.   

Mr. Atherton’s Punch (p. 144)

The following recipe is based upon Mrs. Emlen’s (originally Mr. Atherton’s) own with several alterations. First, she calls for preparing twice this amount, which produces nearly a gallon of punch. Next, I have reduced the amount of brandy and rum she called for; add it all if you wish, but it is quite strong prepared this way. Finally, I have not only used lemon zest here, but sliced lemons and juice, as well. Relying on only lemon zest makes for a very strong and bitter final product. Adding the juice along with lemon slices results in a punch that quite like a refreshing spiked lemonade.

This punch can, indeed, sit aside in the refrigerator for a while, but I wouldn’t recommend steeping the zest and lemon slices in it for more than a couple of hours, as it will grow too bitter. In addition, after about seven hours or so in the refrigerator, the lemon loses its freshness and brightness.

Makes about 6 cups

4 cups water

1/2 cup brandy

1/2 cup light rum

5 lemons

About 1 cup sugar, plus more as needed

Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from the heat and add the brandy and rum. Zest and juice 3 of the lemons and add to the water and liquor mixture. Slice the remaining 2 lemons into thin rounds and add to the mixture. Using your hands (use gloves, if necessary), squeeze the lemons to extract as much juice as possible. Add the sugar, stirring to dissolve. Add more sugar, if necessary.

Set the punch aside in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Strain and chill until ready to serve.

 HSP would like to thank Jennifer for sharing her transcription of the recipes with us! Jennifer has her own blog which can be found here: http://jennifermcglinn.wordpress.com/ 

We would also like to thank the over 50 people who attended the event.

Jennifer McGlinn (left) and Tara O’Brien (right) referencing the original Ellen Emlen manuscript (on the table) to the printed facsimile (in hands).

All images are courtesy of Sharon Gershoni

Ellen Emlen’s Cookbook – Pre-order your copy today!

Now available for pre-order in the HSP Online Store, is Ellen Emlen’s Cookbook!

The Historical Society is pleased to present the facsimile of Ellen Emlen’s cookbook. Mrs. Emlen, a nineteenth-century Philadelphia housewife, organized her cookbook into thirteen categories of recipes including meats, vegetables, sauces, food for the sick, and desserts. Written circa 1865 and containing well over 200 recipes, this book is a must for any culinary historian, Civil War buff, or American patriot. Rediscover wonderful tips and tricks for the kitchen and enjoy Emlen’s comments on the recipes. This is not simply a how-to book: it is a peek into the American past, into a documentation of years of trial and error, and the desire to remember and preserve that knowledge. This publication is a limited edition of 500 copies.

Below is Mrs. Emlen’s recipe for Cherry Bread. Go ahead – try it out. We have! It’s delicious…

Cherry Bread recipe (click to enlarge)