Enjoying cake at midnight

Minnehaha Springs was the place to be in the early 1900s. County residents made their way there for picnics, dances and other celebrations. Many affluent families had summer homes there, spending the warm weather months enjoying cool mountain temperatures and the many events in the surrounding “resort” area.
Lady Baltimore Cake with its three fluffy layers and nut and fruit filling was first served at the Lady Baltimore Tearooms in Charleston, South Carolina, in the late 1800s. It was also served at social events in the early 1900s in Minnehaha Springs.

Jaynell Graham
Pocahontas County has always had the distinction of being a place of hospitality, and that distinction may have found its beginning in Minne-haha Springs.

Minnehaha Springs, located north of Marlinton on Rt. 39, is a pastoral community today.

Through the years, it went from a community of two or three families, to a resort area that boasted “rest, recreation, recuperation and restoration, ball games, swimming, horseback riding, radio, music, singing, study, reading, tutoring” – and all of that at very reasonable rates.

There was a time when ladies and gents, dressed to the nines, rolled up the rugs and danced the night away, “enjoying Lady Baltimore cake near midnight.” 

Most folks can identify with the activities of that place and time – except, perhaps, “enjoying Lady Baltimore cake near midnight.”

What is the deal with that?

And what is a Lady Baltimore cake, and where did it come from?

The reference to that cake combined with the rural seclusion of Minnehaha Springs in the early 1900s has fascinated me for some time.

Recently, on an early Saturday morning, I was perusing a 30-year-old magazine.

Don’t ask.

Let’s just say I’m a little behind on my reading.

Anyway, right there it was.

A recipe for Lady Baltimore cake, the origin of which makes for interesting reading.

There was a Lady Baltimore, a granddaughter of King Charles II of England, but she was born in 1678 and died in 1721.

Baking powder, which is called for in the recipe, was not discovered until 1843, so it stands to reason that that particular Lady Baltimore had no hand in this particular mixing bowl.

After wading through the possibilities, it appears that Owen Wister, a writer from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is responsible for catapulting this cake into the realm of high society.

The cake was a specialty of the Lady Baltimore Tearooms in Charleston, South Carolina.
Researching the cake on the Food History website, one finds that it was there that Wister overheard a young man order a Lady Baltimore cake for his wedding, and decided to have a taste for himself, and penned his reaction:

“I returned to the table and she brought me the cake, and I had my first felicitous meeting with Lady Baltimore. Oh, my goodness! Did you ever taste it? It’s all soft, and it’s in layers, and it has nuts – but I can’t write any more about it; my mouth waters too much. Delighted surprise caused me once more to speak aloud, and with my mouth full, ‘But, dear me, this is delicious!”’

After falling in love with the cake, Wister, author of The Virginian, wrote a novel in 1906 titled Lady Baltimore, and used the cake in its romantic storyline.

Although the novel was not a hit, the Lady Baltimore cake gained the attention of dessert lovers in this and many foreign countries.

So – what better time to give this recipe a go than in these next few months when so many holidays are upon us?
Or – roll up the rugs and have a dance and “enjoy Lady Baltimore cake near midnight.”

Here’s one of many Lady Baltimore cake recipes to get you started:
Lady Baltimore Cake
Cake Layers
3 cups sifted cake flour
4 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
1 ½ cups sugar
¾  cup vegetable shortening
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. milk
1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
4 large egg whites

Filling and Frosting
6 dried figs, chopped
½ cup seedless dark raisins
½ cup chopped pitted dates
½ cup water
½ tsp. lemon juice
½ cup chopped Brazil nuts or almonds
2 large eggs whites
1 ½ cups sugar
2 tsp. light corn syrup
1/8 tsp. salt
½ tsp almond extract
Candied cherries
Slivered toasted almonds

Prepare cake layers:
Heat oven to 350º
Lightly grease three 9-inch round baking pans.
Line bottoms of pans with waxed paper; grease paper.
In small bowl, mix flour, baking powder and salt.
In large bowl, with electric mixer, beat sugar and shortening until fluffy.
Beat in flour mixture alternately with milk, until well mixed.
Stir in vanilla.

In small bowl, with clean beaters, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form; fold into cake batter.
Spread batter evenly into prepared pans.
Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until centers spring back when gently pressed.
Cool layers in pans for five minutes.
Turn out onto wire racks and cool completely.

Prepare filling:
In small saucepan, combine figs, raisins, dates, ¼ cup of the water and lemon juice.
Heat to boiling over medium heat;
Reduce heat to low and simmer until all liquid is absorbed.
Fold in nuts.
Set aside to cool

Prepare frosting:
In top of double boiler, combine egg whites, sugar, remaining water, corn syrup and salt.
Place over simmering water.
With electric mixer, beat until fluffy and stiff – 7 to 8 minutes.
Remove from hot water; fold in almond extract and beat again until stiff.
Fold 1½ cups of the frosting into the dried fruit mixture.
Assemble cake on serving plate, dividing filling between layers.
Frost top and sides of cake with remaining frosting.
Garnish with candied cherries and sliced almonds.
From An Arkansas Kitchen, by Lillian S. Fisher
But what does one do with the leftover egg yolks?

Well, you make a Lord Baltimore cake, of course.

A Lord Baltimore cake is a yellow layer cake, which sports a filling of pecans, almonds, maraschino cherries and macaroon crumbs.

Note: If you happen to make a Lady Baltimore cake, send a photo to jsgraham@pocahontastimes.com or mail to The Pocahontas Times, 206 Eighth Street, Marlinton, WV 24954 and we will publish it in the weekly edition of the newspaper.

Game on?

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