Friday, January 27, 2012

Today in History: National Chocolate Cake Day

Guest post by Molly Malcolm, Clements Library volunteer

Today is National Chocolate Cake Day, and although it is not an officially recognized holiday, the Clements Library is celebrating it by offering a short history of the evolution of chocolate cake in the United States – and by trying our hand at cooking a chocolate cake recipe from our culinary collection.

Until the 1830s or 40s in America, chocolate was consumed primarily as a beverage. Cakes as we think of them today did not yet exist in this country. In fact, what was popularly understood as "chocolate cake" was in fact a white or yellow cake to be eaten while drinking a chocolate beverage. Although chocolate began to be used in sauces and frostings, the primary understanding of chocolate as a liquid treat continued into the beginning of the 20th century.

"Food for the Gods," Bensdorp's Cocoa (1898). From Culinary Ephemera Box 170: Cocoa and Chocolate.
This picture of drinking chocolate is from an advertisement for Bensdorp's Cocoa, instructing people to enjoy the cocoa, which they called "the food of the Gods." The advertisement, which appeared in 1898, accompanied an announcement that the World's Fair Columbian Exposition in Chicago of that year recognized Bensdorp as its official cocoa sponsor. The fair organizer's ordered thousands of pounds of Bensdorp’s Cocoa to be served to guests.
Chocolate cake recipe from Linda Larned's The Hostess of To-Day (1899).
This is one of the earliest printed recipes for chocolate cake in America. The recipe comes from the cookbook The Hostess of To-Day by Linda Larned (1899), and although it is in fact a cake made with cocoa, it is quite different from modern chocolate cakes. Early chocolate cakes were much lighter in color than modern cakes, because they used significantly smaller amounts of sugar and cocoa. They also often used more flour than we are currently accustomed to, making them fluffier and more akin to what we would today call a breakfast bread.

Lowney's "Always Ready" Sweet Chocolate Powder advertisement, from Lowney's Cook Book (1912).
By the time this advertisement appeared in Lowney’s Cook Book in 1912, chocolate cakes were becoming a more commonplace food. However, drinking chocolate and chocolate used for sauces, icings and frostings were still the most standard uses for cocoa. This ad shows how marketing campaigns began to capitalize on shifting tastes and consumer trends by promoting cocoa powder as useful in all three arenas: drinking, baking and decorating.

Hershey's Recipes (1940). From Culinary Ephemera Box 170: Cocoa and Chocolate.
By 1940, Hershey Chocolate Company had become so commercially successful that baking with chocolate was a staple in most American households. This image is an example of the times, depicting a young, stylish woman holding a beautifully iced chocolate cake, emphasizing how fashionable it was to bake with chocolate. By this time in the 20th century, chocolate cake recipes were becoming more rich and decadent, calling for larger quantities of cocoa and sugar than they had in previous decades. Cake recipes were transitioning into the type of cake we all think of as "chocolate cake" today – an early predecessor to the decadent "death by chocolate" cakes of modern tastes.
This is the chocolate cake that we made and ate here at the Clements in honor of National Chocolate Cake Day. The recipe is from Mrs. Bennett R. Wheeler of the Chancel Chapter of Grace Cathedral in Topeka, Kansas and was printed in a cookbook from 1916 entitled Good Things to Eat. Mrs. Wheeler's recipe was spot-on and the cake turned out wonderfully – light, fluffy, not too sweet and great to eat with coffee or tea! This was a perfect way to celebrate National Chocolate Cake Day and bring history to life, both in our kitchen and in our stomachs!

Further reading:
The True History of Chocolate, by Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe (1996).

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Today in History: Michigan's 175th Anniversary

Guest post by Cheney Schopieray, Assistant Curator of Manuscripts

On January 26, 1837, Michigan became the 26th state of the Union.
This detail from David Burr's Map of the Northern Parts of Ohio, Indiana And Illinois With Michigan And That Part of the Ouisconsin Territory Lying East of the Mississippi River (Washington, 1836) shows the disputed Toledo Strip.

Michigan's statehood would have been established earlier, were it not for the territory's disputed southern border. The designated border of Michigan Territory was to be an east-west line drawn from the southernmost point of Lake Michigan. Unfortunately, maps used to describe the proposed border in the 1787 Northwest Ordnance and during Ohio's 1802 constitutional discussions (such as John Mitchell's Map of the British and French Dominions in North America) erroneously depicted Lake Michigan's southern shore as further north. Ohio delegates suspected this inaccuracy and adjusted their constitution to describe their northern border as a line angled from Lake Michigan's southern point to land north of Maumee Bay.

Congress established the southern border of Michigan Territory in 1805, according to the language of the 1787 Northwest Ordnance. Official survey lines conducted by William Harris (Ohio, 1802) and John Fulton (Michigan, 1818) showed a discrepancy of nearly 500 square miles, claimed by both Ohio and Michigan Territory. The most important factor in the land dispute was state ownership of the mouth of the Maumee River and the nearby town of Toledo. As the proposed end of the Erie Canal and because of its close proximity to the waterways of the Great Lakes, Toledo was especially desirable real estate. The "Toledo Strip" became a contentious issue when Michigan Territory attempted to gain statehood in 1835. Michiganians and Ohioans argued bitterly over the Toledo Strip nearly to the point of violence.
Stevens T. Mason ALS to Lewis Cass; April 18, 1835. Detroit, Michigan Territory. From the Lewis Cass Papers.

In April 1835, Stevens T. Mason wrote a letter to Lewis Cass (former Michigan Territory governor, then U.S. Secretary of War under Andrew Jackson) explaining that he would resign his own position as Secretary of Michigan Territory if the Federal government recognized the border established in the Ohio constitution. Although Jackson removed Mason from his post, Michigan Territorial residents voted him Governor in October 1835. In 1837, Mason accepted the U.S. Congress proposal that Michigan would gain the Upper Peninsula in exchange for the Toledo Strip.

Postal cancellation for "Toledo, M[ichigan] T[erritory]," January 19, 1836. From the Lucius Lyon Papers.
The Toledo Strip included several established towns, including Manhattan, Whiteford, and Tremainsville. This Tremainsville manuscript postal marking, dated January 18, 1837, shows an Ohio designation although the town was not officially relinquished by Michigan Territory until it gained statehood. From the Postal History Collection.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Latest Quarto: The West Indies

The Fall-Winter 2011 Quarto is now available. The Quarto is a semi-annual magazine published by the William L. Clements Library and sent to members of the Clements Library Associates. This issue of The Quarto focuses on the Clements Library collections related to the West Indies.

  1. "From the Director," by J. Kevin Graffagnino, Director of the Library.
  2. "Taking Havana," by Clayton Lewis, Curator of Graphic Materials. Broadside prints of the1762 British siege of Havana, Cuba, during the Seven Years' War in North America.
  3. "Caribbean Revolution," by Cheney Schopieray, Assistant Curator of Manuscripts. Manuscript collections related to the Caribbean. 
  4. "Islands of Sugar," by JJ Jacobson, Curator for American Culinary History. Sugar-growing in the West Indies. 
  5. "The Devil is in the Details," by Brian Leigh Dunnigan, Associate Director and Curator of Maps. Maps of the West Indies. 
  6. "Developments," by Ann Rock, Director of Development. Library outreach through teaching, fellowships, electronic newsletter, and more. 
  7. Announcements
  8. Calendar of Events
Read past issues of The Quarto online. Members of the Clements Library Associates will receive the current copy in the mail. If you would like more information about membership, please contact Ann Rock at or 734-358-9770.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

From the Stacks: A Fashion Flip-Book

In the 19th century, women's popular literature was full of advice about fashion and beauty. Numerous books and magazines offered hints on clothing styles, cosmetics, hygiene, and other aspects of women's appearance.

Female Beauty, as Preserved and Improved by Regimen, Cleanliness and Dress, by Mrs. A. Walker (London, 1837), is a noteworthy example of this type of book. Particularly striking are the unusual hand-colored double illustrations, which have a cut-out in the top plate so the same figure can be shown with two different costumes. These illustrations provide helpful before-and-after views of various fashions, so the reader can see the effect of different styles and colors on a woman's appearance.

"Simplicity and Ornament Compared.""The more beautiful a woman is, the less need has she of ornament, and the more her dress should be simple though elegant. ... Vanity is ever the companion of bad taste." - p. 391.
Mrs. A. Walker is listed as the author of Female Beauty, although some scholars have speculated that the book was actually written by her husband, Alexander Walker, who also wrote Beauty: Illustrated Chiefly by an Analysis and Classification of Beauty in Woman (1836).

Female Beauty warns women against the dangers of "cosmetic impositions," which may be made from harmful ingredients such as lead or vinegar that will penetrate the skin and cause permanent damage. Instead, the author argues that simple changes in clothing style and color can greatly improve appearance without harming one's health. The book also offers advice on nutrition, sleep, exercise, bathing, and other aspects of life that can contribute to a woman's beauty.

"Management of Red Complexion." "If red predominates in the complexion, then red around the face removes it by contrast, and causes the yellow and blue to predominate." - p. 292.
Other women's fashion books like this can be found in the Clements Library holdings by searching the Mirlyn library catalog for subjects such as "Clothing and dress," "Beauty, Personal," and "Women--Health and hygiene."

Further Reading:
Robyn Cooper, "Victorian Discourses on Women and Beauty: The Alexander Walker Texts." Gender & History vol. 5, no. 1 (Spring 1993): pp. 34-55.