A Culinary History

. December 1, 2014.
new_cyclopaedia_of_domestic_economy_TP_CropStraight

If there’s a month for baking, December takes the cake. Besides fruitcake, Santa Lucia buns, and sweet buttery fruit breads like panettone and stollen, December has a rich legacy of Christmas cookies. But here’s something slightly more unusual: New Year’s cookies.

Versions of this cookie are common in 19th century cookbooks, sometimes called “New-Year Cakes” The taste is reminiscent of traditional Swiss Springerli, and in New England they add a lemon glaze. What stands out in all these is the distinctive flavor of caraway seeds.

 Caraway was a popular flavoring for sweet dishes long before Europeans knew of vanilla, which was originally derived from the seedpod of a new world orchid. It’s typical that  holiday recipes are retained longer, or change more slowly, than other kinds of foods – they become inviolate because they’re associated with tradition. Even if they have no religious significance, over the years they become the taste of the holiday.

 This month’s recipe is an interpretation from Mrs. Elizabeth Fries Ellet’s 1872 New Cyclopaedia of Domestic Economy and Practical Housekeeper : Adapted to All Classes of Society and Comprising Subjects Connected With The Interests Of Every Family: one of many fascinating “whole house” books, including 19th century Domestic, Household or Family ‘Cylclopedias (or Cyclopaedias) in the Janice Bluestein Longone Culinary Archive.

Here’s the original

NEW-YEAR’S COOKIES

Weigh out a pound of sugar, three-quarters of a pound of butter-stir them to a cream, then add three beaten eggs, a grated nutmeg, two table-spoonfuls of caraway seed, and a pint of flour. Dissolve a teaspoonful of *saleratus in a teacup of milk, strain and mix it with half a teacup of cider, and stir it into the cookies–then add flour to make them sufficiently stiff to roll out. Bake them as soon as cut into cakes, in a quick oven till a light brown.

 *Salreratus was a crude and early form of chemical leavening, one step along the way from potash to our modern baking soda and powder. Recipes typically called for it to be mixed with something acid: vinegar, sour milk, or even molasses. That’s the job the hard cider does in this recipe. But, our modern baking soda doesn’t require activation, and it dissolves completely, so there’s no need for the straining step.

New Year's Cookies Ingredients

Here’s a modern interpretation. To experience something more like the original, use the full 2 teaspoons of caraway seeds.        

1 stick of butter

2/3c sugar

1 large egg

1-2 tsp whole caraway seeds

3/8 tsp nutmeg

2/3c flour

1 tsp baking soda

8 tsp milk

4 tsp hard cider

2c more flour

Directions

Preheat oven to 375°

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy 

Add the egg and beat until light and fluffy, then scrape the bowl. Mix the 2/3c of flour with the spices and baking soda, add to the egg/butter mixture and beat briefly till smooth. Add milk
and cider to dough and mix in. Scrape the
bottom and sidews of the bowl add the 2 c
of flour and mix just until uniform.
Roll out ~ 1/8 inches thick on a lightly floured board and cut, Bake on a greased cookie sheet ~15 minutes until light brown.

Author Bio:

 JJ Jacobson is Outreach Librarian and Curator, American Culinary History Collection, at the Special Collections Library of the University of Michigan Library, where she works with the Janice Bluestein Longone Culinary Archive. 

Trending

Mittenfest

  Here’s what Mittenfest means to me… If I imagine a day when I’m no longer ‘on the scene…,’ when I’m no longer as ‘into’ live local music…, when I’m slowing down and not keeping up as much as I do…, then the fondest memories, the most vivid mental Polaraoids that will slide through my

Domino’s Farms Aids Ann Arbor’s Need for Office Space

Domino’s Pizza and Arbor Research are both launching new office building projects at Domino’s Farms. Domino’s Pizza is creating a 33,000-square-foot building on the north side of Domino’s Farms, expanding to their current space. Arbor Research is creating a new 49,500-square-foot headquarters building on the east side of Domino’s Farms. Both buildings should be completed

A Physician’s Perspective on Legalized Cannabis

On Tuesday, November 6th, Michigan became the 10th state to legalize cannabis for recreational use. Ten years ago, we had become the 13th state to legalize Cannabis for medical use. I voted for the medical cannabis law years ago because, in my view, cannabis is not a dangerous product, and too many people were being imprisoned for its use. At that time, however, I did not subscribe to the argument that there were legitimate medical uses for cannabis. How things have changed.

Tiny Expo at Ann Arbor District Library—A Curated Holiday Gift Fair with Flair

The Tiny Expo is a gem of an indie arts and crafts fair for vendors with original and unexpected products that make wonderful gifts but may not be an obvious fit for Ann Arbor’s mainstream art fairs. Shoppers who crave artistic, high quality products with diverse price points will find a rich variety of unique, handmade products to choose from.