Monday, November 03, 2008

Cast Your Vote to Bring Back Election Cake

You may not realize that cake has long-standing political connotations.

Of course, there’s the infamous “Let them eat cake,” comment from Marie Antoinette. (Remember what happened to her?) Some key political figures have had pastries named in their honor, including the Washington Pie and the Abraham Lincoln Cake.

There’s also the highly politicized, national debate on obesity where snack cake is often viewed as a culprit. Some activists fling pastry as a political statement. There are also several stories where cake has figured prominently in the discussion during this historic election season in the United States.

Both 2008 presidential candidates appear to have inspired the inner baker in their constituents. “Yes We Can” has become not only a campaign slogan, but a culinary chant. And, you probably can’t get through a day without hearing a reference to who’s entitled to what share of the pie, or a politician who would like to have his –or her – cake and eat it, too.

Then, there’s the story of Election Cake, which amounts to a sweet incentive for doing ones civic duty. In “How America Eats,” published in 1960, food writer Clementine Paddleford provides a venerable recipe for “Grandmother Gilette’s Election Cake,” and discusses how in the mid-nineteenth century, farmers would travel into town to vote at the town meeting. They made a community holiday of the excursion, and Election Cake was served.

One historian traces the origin of Election Cake to 1771 New England where a set of itemized expenditures found in Connecticut list the cost of cake as part of the Election Day festivities. While there are many variations, Election Cake is similar in style to an English fruitcake, or sweet bread leavened with yeast. It contained spices and dried fruits that were readily available in the early American kitchen such as cinnamon, nutmeg, currants and citron.
Election Cake was prepared with the intent of serving a large community gathering, many of whom needed to put aside agricultural work to vote. It needed to be worth their while. Election Cakes were huge, sometimes weighing upwards of 12 pounds. Amelia Simmons, author of the first American cookbook, “American Cookery,” includes a recipe for Election Cake in the second edition of 1796. The recipe requires thirty quarts of flour, ten pounds of butter, 14 pounds of sugar, 12 pounds of raisins and three dozen eggs. By the dawn of the 20th century, the Election Cake custom declined, voting become more localize and the democratization of cake gradually faded from the polls.

How could the serving of cake disappear from such a significant community event? It sounds like a vast right-wing conspiracy if you ask me. These days, voter turnout barely reaches 50 percent (although that may change this year). Could this poor showing at the polls perhaps be connected to a scarcity of cake?

Each year, when I go to vote, my former elementary school music teacher, Mrs. Weber signs me in. Imagine how voter turnout – and our national outlook – might be improved if Mrs. Weber were to hand each citizen a delectable slice of cake just before they cast their ballot?

In 1988, Marion Burroughs of the New York Times provided this recipe for Election Cake using modern methods and ingredient proportions and this is the recipe that I am endorsing for the 2008 Presidential Election. It’s a “lighter” version than the original cake, and while it won’t feed an entire community, it does yield two substantial loaves.

Pundits may note that my Election Cake was slightly burned at the edges, but then it has been a rather scorching campaign season. I offer it along with a plea for all who can to be sure to get out and vote and a call to reinstitute the tradition of serving cake at the polls. What a sweet way to bring the country together. Maybe some likeminded politico can squeeze an Election Cake referendum into one of those dreaded pork barrel projects that have been mentioned once or twice this year?

By the way, T.W. the Baker is not a bad label exactly, but it does tend to be somewhat of a gross generalization and misses a lot of the finer nuances like thinker, writer, historian and philosopher.

©2008 T.W. Barritt all Rights Reserved

14 comments:

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) said...

Gosh, I think you're on to something! If voting itself isn't enough of an incentive, perhaps we should be serving cake at the polls. Rock the vote? Rock the cake!

~~louise~~ said...

Hi T.W. (the blogger:)

I am so so happy you are calling to action the Election Day Cake and its historic significance.

This is going to be my first time voting in Pennsylvania. Perhaps, the "swing" vote needs to revisit Election Day Cake. Although, in this farm community, it is possible I will be getting a slice...or two...

I'll keep you posted...

P.S. I wonder if the purpose of Election Day Cake was its keeping qualities. Two years is an awful long time for a cake to keep and, an election campaign to continue. Undecidedly delicious?

Dairy Queen said...

If every calorie is a vote...I'll vote on pound cake...pile it on! Everybody vote!!

Helene said...

This is a nice cake. Thanks for sharing. I don't vote, I'm in Canada. We voted last month.

Susan from Food Blogga said...

Oh, I definitely vote to bring back the election cake. I may just bake one today to share with some other voters as we stand in line for hours! :)

veron said...

They really should be serving this cake at the polls with a nice cup of coffee! I just voted!

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Well, it seems unanimous that we should bring back Election Cake! Veron, I've been watching coverage of the long lines in Richmond this morning, and thought of you! Glad you got through. Louise and Susan, let me know what kind of cake you encounter in your states! Lydia, I want to see photos of your Election Cookies! DQ - Perhaps we can share a slice of pound cake in Texas!

Here's my update - I arrived at the polls at 6:01 a.m., and there was already a line of about 30 plus people. I've never seen that many people at the polls that early in suburban Long Island. However, for the first time in years I did not see Mrs. Weber, and there was no cake. Perhaps with the next administration ...

bakinghistory said...

I enjoyed your post T.W.! I was so pleased to see your Election Cake, I had hoped to bake one as well but I have had no time. Loved the recipe and of course the historical notes.

Cakespy said...

YES! You know I am loving this one. And party preference aside, I think that everyone will vote cake in 2008!

Kathy said...

Your cake looks delicious. When I read your entry yesterday morning before going to the polls, I had every intention of coming home and trying out the recipe, but that didn't happen. Maybe today!

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

Manuela - thanks you so much! I thought you would enjoy this story!

Hi Cakespy - so glad you've joined the Cake Party!

Kathy - Election Cake keeps well, and is a perfect day after treat!

~~louise~~ said...

Hi T.W.,
You are not going to believe this...not only was there an Election Cake at the local fire hall, there was a HUGE bake sale! I was so excited not only to vote but also to sample tidbits of local baked goods. No lines, thank goodness or, I would have rolled out...in all the excitement, I forgot to get my I voted sticker:( I'm upset about that...the sweets were GREAT!

Tiffany said...

I'll vote for that!

bakerbabes@gmail.com said...

As the "inner baker" I thought that it would be interesting to share the results of our election bake-off. Our Obama bar out sold our McCain cake 4 to 1!