Ask the Past: Elections

This election is really stressing me out. What can I do to take my mind off it?

I think that the best way to deal with anything a little bit stressful is with baking, and it turns out that the most appropriate thing to bake for an election is Hartford Election cake. There are a lot of versions of this recipe, and they tend to take two basic forms: one that's a kind of fruit bread, and one that's a kind of fruit cake. You could make either of them, or if you're particularly stressed, you could make both. Here's a recipe for the fruit bread type from the 31 August 1901 edition of the New Zealand Times:

Old fashioned election cake was a feature in every New England festivity years ago: it is often referred to by New England writers, and the following recipe has been handed down for several generations: Six and a half pounds of flour, 3 1/4 lb of sugar, 2 3/4 lb of butter, 2 lb of raisins. 1/2 lb of citron, 1 pint of yeast, 2 nutmegs, 2 quarts of milk (scalded and cooled), 6 eggs. Mix the flour, yeast and milk together at night; in the morning, when the dough is risen well, add the butter and sugar beaten together until perfectly smooth, add well beaten eggs and all the other ingredients. Work all together thoroughly with the hands, instead of using a spoon. Put the mixture in buttered pans, and leave it to rise from 4 to 6 hours. The old fashioned housewife always added a gill of wine or brandy, with the idea of ensuring good keeping qualities.

A gill is just under 150ml, but you could always add the gill of brandy to the election cake and drink the rest, which should help take your mind off the election while the brandy lasts. Alternatively, you can use this recipe from Miss Beecher's Domestic Receipt Book (published in 1850, and the full recipe title in it is Old Hartford Election Cake (100 years old)), which includes both wine and brandy, and as a bonus, seems laborious enough to keep you busy for a couple of days:

Five pounds of dried and sifted flour. Two pounds of butter. Two pounds of sugar. Three gills of distillery yeast, or twice the quantity of home-brewed. Four eggs. A gill of wine and a gill of brandy. Half an ounce of nutmegs, and two pounds of fruit. A quart of milk.

Rub the butter very fine into the flour, add half the sugar, then the yeast, then half the milk, hot in winter, and blood warm in summer, then the eggs well beaten, the wine, and the remainder of the milk. Beat it well, and let it stand to rise all night. Beat it well in the morning, adding the brandy, the sugar, and the spice. Let it rise three or four hours, till very light. When you put the wood into the oven, put the cake in buttered pans, and put in the fruit as directed previously. If you wish it richer, add a pound of citron.

If this sort of semi-bread recipe sounds a little weird to you, then this recipe from the 18 May 1899 edition of the Golden Argus might be more what you're after:

One and a-half cupful of butter, 2 cupfuls of sugar, 1 1/2 pint of flour, 3 eggs, 1 1/2 teaspoonful of baking powder, 2 cupfuls of raisins stoned, 20 drops of extract of vanilla, 1 cupful of currants, 1/2 cupful of citron chopped, 1/2 cupful of lemon peel chopped, 1/2 cupful of almonds shredded, 20 drops of extract of bitter almonds, 1 cupful of milk. Rub the butter and sugar to a light cream, add the eggs, and beat for a few minutes longer. Then stir in the flour and baking powder sifted together; add the raisins, citron, currants, lemon peel, almonds, extracts, and milk; mix to a batter, place paper in a tin, and bake for an hour and a half in a moderate oven.

And of course, if election cake isn't cutting it, you can always express your feelings florally instead. According to The Language of Flowers, red columbine means "anxious and trembling", so it might be an appropriate thing to have around the house until the election is over. And then if you're not happy with the result, you can replace the red columbine with major convolvulus ("extinguished hopes"), cypress ("despair"), or mandrake, snakesfoot, or dragonwort ("horror").

I'm sure that will help.

Half a dozen flowers with deep red petals shading to pale pink at the tips against an out of focus background of lush deep green leaves with drops of dew.
Anxious and trembling. Photo by Marcin Krawczynski

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