Fondly, Pennsylvania is HSP's main blog. Here you will find posts on our latest projects and newest discoveries, as well articles on interesting bits of local history reflected in our collection. Whether you are doing research or just curious to know more about the behind-the-scenes work that goes on at HSP, please read, explore, and join the conversation!
We are nearly finished with phase one of the Greenfield Digital Project -- transcribing and adding basic XML encoding to 300+ documents selected from HSP's collections to help tell the story of Bankers Trust Company, the first large bank to fail in Philadelphia during the Great Depression.
As we’ve investigated the story of Bankers Trust, we’ve learned about its quick rise and steep fall, how its failure affected 100,000+ depositors, how it became part of a “publishers’ war” between two Philly newspapers, and much more.
One of the last sets of documents we've been transcribing are papers from the Clearing House Association of Philadelphia records (collection 1908). This banking association was officially organized in 1858 to better coordinate daily exchanges between its member banks. Bank presidents in the city had already been meeting regularly for several years to talk shop, but after the serious financial panic of 1857, they decided to adopt the clearing house system begun in New York. Now, member banks were formally connected and staff could meet in one common place to settle daily balances, such as when a customer from one bank deposited a check from another.
Bankers Trust Company was elected to membership in the association in September 1930. But its tenure in the group would be brief.
When Bankers Trust voluntarily turned over its operations to the Pennsylvania Department of Banking on December 22, 1930, the Clearing House Committee of the association issued a public statement intended to calm depositors in other banks. Signed by eight bank presidents, the statement assured, “[w]e believe that the financial situation in Philadelphia is basically sound.”
But the situation was perhaps not as secure as the Clearing House Committee hoped.
Franklin Trust Company, one of the eight banks listed on the Clearing House Association statement, faced its own bank run the same day that Bankers Trust closed. Within 10 months, it too was taken over by the state Department of Banking. Altogether, about one-third of Philadelphia’s banks failed between 1930 and 1933.
The Clearing House Association records are open to researchers, as are the Albert M. Greenfield papers (collection 1959), which details much of the Bankers Trust story thanks to Greenfield’s service on the bank’s board of directors.
In a few weeks, we'll turn out attention to annotating our selected documents. We’ll be researching and writing brief histories of the people, businesses, and organizations involved in the rise and fall of Bankers Trust, as well as creating other web content aimed at helping teachers use these primary source documents in the classroom. You can read more about how our work fits into a larger effort funded by the Albert M. Greenfield Foundation here.
Since becoming HSP’s Rights and Reproductions Associate in July 2011, I’ve fielded countless questions about what exactly “R&R” entails. I often tell curious folk that I handle orders for digital copies of HSP materials and the rights to publish these materials in books, exhibitions, and other media, but this description only skims the surface of how a reproduction request goes from first contact to completed order. Inspired by my colleague Cary Majewicz’s fabulous blog entry on a day in the life of an archivist, what follows is an insider’s look at a day in MY life as HSP's Rights and Reproductions Associate.
Date: Not so long ago
Time: The standard work day, 8:30-5:00 with ½ hour lunch
Place: The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1300 Locust Street
Around 8:30, I arrive at the Digital Center on the 4th floor and log into my computer. While the activities I undertake for R&R (research, record creation, digitization, etc.) can vary greatly from day to day, one constant is that I always begin my day by checking the R&R e-mail account. In an average week, I receive about 10 to 15 R&R requests, which adds up to about 50 requests per month. The nature of these requests run the gamut, from authors who have already identified an image in our digital library, to genealogists looking for family history materials in our online catalog, to those individuals who need me to research and identify items for them. Not every request turns into a full-fledged R&R order - I refer some requests to our Research by Mail service, which tackles more extensive research questions and can provide patrons with summaries and photocopies of their findings.
Wading through the inbox, I make mental notes about responses and next steps, particularly those that require research of collection materials. This particular morning, I have two new requests that fit that bill. The first is from a representative at a new Harriet Tubman museum and visitor center who needs specific entries from William Still’s journal of the Underground Railroad. The second request is from a researcher interested in watercolors and manuscripts by Richard Nisbett, an artist and poet who was also a patient at a Pennsylvania mental hospital in the early 1800s. I jot down some quick notes about these requests and spend about 30-40 minutes responding to e-mails, sending out invoices, and other correspondence before delving into my research.
I decide to start with the request for entries from William Still’s journal of the Underground Railroad, which is already digitized and available for view in our digital library. The patron is requesting images of 14 entries, several of which mention Harriet Tubman. The entire volume consists of about 200 images and it takes me about an hour to browse each image and locate the entries the patron has requested. I e-mail my findings to the patron, along with information on the reproductions process and questions about her project. All told, the average R&R order involves at least 1 to 2 hours of research and correspondence before digitization even occurs, including time spent locating materials, determining reproduction and usage fees, invoicing patrons, and processing payments.
After all the e-mail and image browsing, I need a break from my computer so now seems like a good time to search for materials by Richard Nisbett. I begin with our online catalog and find a volume of poems by Nisbett, which is actually stored next door at the Library Company of Philadelphia. Since our buildings are adjacent, HSP keeps some materials on deposit at the Library Company and vice versa and I occasionally go to the Library Company to pull one of our items. I look up the volume’s call number in the Library Company’s online catalog, then make my way downstairs to HSP’s card catalogs.
Since the patron is interested in the full extent of our materials by Richard Nisbett, I search both the graphics and manuscript catalogs. Unfortunately, I don’t find any watercolors or other graphics by Nisbett, but I do find an entry for another volume of poems in the Simon Gratz autograph collection.
Conveniently, the Gratz collection is stored on the first floor and I locate the volume on the shelf without too much trouble. While I’m still on the first floor, I grab the key to the Library Company, which is accessible through the “Limbo Room” on the 2nd floor. At the Library Company, I locate the other volume by Richard Nisbett and take both items back to my desk, where I can finally e-mail the patron and let him know what I’ve found.
Typically, I continue to research collection materials and respond to e-mails as they come in throughout the day. For statistics, I track the number of initial requests that begin R&R orders, but this is just a small portion of the e-mails I receive on a daily basis. A key part of the R&R rhythm comes from juggling several orders at once and these orders are often at different stages of completion, which leads to a fairly constant stream of e-mails between patrons and myself.
Thankfully, though, R&R involves much more than responding to e-mail and after invoicing and payment is worked out, it's time to digitize materials and post them to our digital library. Like R&R inquiries themselves, the materials that patrons order reflect the sheer breadth of our collections, from lithographs, watercolors, and photographs, to diaries and correspondence, to entire manuscript volumes. Depending on the nature of the material, digitization can take anywhere from half an hour to several days or weeks; today, I'm chipping away at a mass digitization request for an entire 280-page volume from our collection of early American monographs. Entitled The constitutions of the several independent states of America [call# Am 1781 Uni Sta Con], the volume was published in 1781 and was ordered by a man in Oklahoma who hopes to authenticate his copy using a digital copy of ours.
Since this is a bound volume, it can't be flattened on a scanner; instead, I've been using our overhead Hasselblad camera to photograph and edit the volume page-by-page. The book's binding is tight, which makes it particularly difficult to keep it flat and get a clean shot of the text that falls in the center of the book, what we refer to as the "gutter." My best efforts involve an oh-so-glamorous combination of a book cradle, Mylar strips, and weights to hold the pages and binding in place for each shot.
Especially towards the middle of the book, the process of setting up each page to capture as much of the text as possible is slow-going and requires 5 or 6 test shots before I'm confident enough to take the final, multi shot. The multi shot takes several minutes and consists of four shots, which are then layered and combined into one comprehensive image. Once the final image loads in the camera software, I export it to the desktop and then begin the process all over again, carefully turning the page and weighing it down. This afternoon, I capture 30 images (equivalent to 60 pages) in about two and a half hours; all told, the entire volume will take about 11 hours to digitize, followed by an additional 2 hours to format the images before sending the final product to the patron either through file transfer or snail mail.
Following digitization, all materials digitized for R&R are uploaded to our digital library, which now boasts over 30,000 digital images. As the Rights and Reproductions Associate, I'm also responsible for creating catalog records for digital images, as well as performing quality control checks on the records that my colleagues create. Depending on the amount of metadata involved, the average digital library record takes about 40 minutes to create and edit, a process that often includes the creation of collection and entity records for related authors, artists, and objects.
As the day winds down, I read and respond to more e-mail messages, record some payment deposits, and sign and file a few invoices, usage agreements, and other R&R paperwork. Before signing off for the day, I make a list of tasks I'd like to tackle tomorrow, including creating catalog records for new R&R orders and following up on voicemail messages. However, like every day of R&R, this list is fluid and open to change depending on what new requests and challenges greet me in the morning. Whatever tomorrow brings, I know I can expect another busy and somewhat unpredictable day in the life of R&R at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
At the end of every holiday season, I, along with millions of others exasperated celebrators begin to take stock of all the spending. Where did you let loose your holiday funds this year? If recent trends are any indication, most people did their shopping online. Though brick-and-mortar stores saw many spenders as well, it seems likely that online shopping will continue to be a very viable (and preferred) choice for most shoppers.
Though our online purchasing power has ramped up over the last few years, shopping meccas remain in many major cities, such as New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. Philadelphia’s own retail star has dimmed some over the past, but its Center City neighborhood is undergoing something of a shopping revival. However, among the chains and independent stores, the area lays claim to only one large free-standing department store: Macy’s. It wasn’t that long ago, though, that Center City had four major, long-running department stores all within a few city blocks: Wanamaker’s, Strawbridge and Clothier, Lit Brothers, and Gimbels. These stores brought the spending community together to one location that was easy to navigate and convenient for drivers as well as public transportation riders. They also helped set retail trends that continue to this day.
Below is a bit of history about each. HSP has a number resources and images (more can be found in our Digital Library) concerning the histories of Philadelphia’s great retail stores. Many Philadelphians carry with them memories of shopping at these places. Feel free to share yours in the comments section below.
Wanamaker’s – 13th and Market streets (now the site of Macy’s)
John Wanamaker (1838-1922) was a well-known merchant, entrepreneur, and lifelong resident of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He opened his first Philadelphia clothing store, Oak Hall, with partner Nathan Brown in 1861, and founded John Wanamaker and Co. several years later in 1869. In 1876, they opened “A New Kind of Store” known as the Grand Depot at 13th and Market Streets. This store later became the flagship store, which eventually branched out into central and southeastern Pennsylvania. Satellite stores were also established in New Jersey, Delaware, and New York City. Wanamaker was at the forefront in many areas in retailing including merchandising, employee relations and advertising.
In the mid-1990s, Hecht’s took over all of Wanamaker’s branches, including the Philadelphia flagship store, which, after being closed for several years, became Macy’s in 2006.
In 1955, flagship store employee Frederick Yost, also a visual merchandiser and advertiser created the Christmas Light Show that included lighted character timed to an audio recording. The display has been renovated and updated throughout the years and continues to be a highlight (and tradition) for many of Macy’s holiday shoppers.
(HSP’s extensive John Wanamaker collection contains both records of the store and Wanamaker’s personal papers.)
Strawbridge and Clothier –Market Street, between 8th and 9th streets
This major department store began as a small dry goods store founded by Justus C. Strawbridge (born 1838), an enterprising young Quaker from Mount Holly, New Jersey, in 1861 in a rented three-story building at 8th and Market streets in Philadelphia. Strawbridge developed a close friendship with Isaac H. Clothier (born 1837), one of his cloth dealers from Philadelphia, and the two decided to partner. Strawbridge and Clothier opened July 1, 1868, and a new five-story store replaced the old building. For a time, this store served as the only place in Philadelphia where one could purchase both domestic and European goods under one roof.
In 1930, despite the economic depression, the company expanded their store to a satellite branch in Ardmore, Pennsylvania—it was the first time a local department store branched out to the suburbs. In the 1960s, Strawbridge and Clothier further diversified by opening a discount chain of stores under the name “Clover.” Strawbridge and Clothier remained a family-run business until it was sold to the May Department Store Company in 1996. The Philadelphia store officially closed in May 2006 after being in operation for 138 years.
Lit Brothers – Market Street between 7th and 8th streets
In 1893, Samuel and Jacob Lit opened their first department store in Philadelphia. In an environment that already included plenty of competition, the Lit brothers set their store apart by offering lower prices on similar goods. It developed a popular millinery department with the slogan “Hats Trimmed Free of Charge.” In the early 1900s the store was rebuilt into a flagship site that took up an entire city block. The store was bought in the 1920s by the investment and trading house Bankers Securities Corporation, run by Philadelphia financier and philanthropist Albert M. Greenfield.
Lit Brothers became known for its “Enchanted Colonial Village,” a Christmas display like those developed by other department stores. This tradition started in the 1960s, and the village was designed by Philadelphians Thomas Comerford and was built by Christian Hofmann, a German toy creator.
This was the first of the four stores to succumb to financial troubles — it filed for bankruptcy in the 1970s. The Lit Brothers flagship store closed in 1977.
Gimbels – Market Street, between 9th and 10th streets
Adam Gimbel (1815-1896), a Bavarian by birth who immigrated to the United States in 1840, opened up his first retail store in Vincennes, Indiana in 1842. At a time when bartering and negotiating sales was still common, Gimbel introduced fixed pricing in his store; that is, everything had a set price that was non-negotiable. This “one profit system” became was one of the hallmarks of modern retailing. Gimbel was also one of the first retailers to accept returns and give refunds.
With the introduction of railways throughout the Midwest and the changing economic landscape of the mid late 1800s, some of Gimbels old stores were closed, while other branches were created. Gimbels opened in Philadelphia in 1894 at 9th and Market streets. At the time, Gimbels was controlled by several of Adam Gimbel’s sons and grandsons, and the family continued the tradition of offering reliable goods and services at fixed prices.
In 1920, Gimbels, prompted especially by Ellis Gimbel, began sponsoring a Thanksgiving Day parade, which is considered the nation’s oldest. Gimbels was associated with the annual celebration for over 60 years until the store closed in the mid-1980s.
I’m posting this on behalf of Jenna Marrone, intern for the processing of the Indian Rights Association records.
The story of Native Americans in the United States is not an unfamiliar one. Most of us are at least somewhat aware of the complicated and tragic relationship between the U.S. government and Indian tribes throughout the country’s history. For contemporary audiences, well-known phrases like “The only good Indian is a dead Indian” and “Kill the Indian…and save the man” sound like bad dialogue from an old Western film.
Much of what we know about Native American history is shrouded in mythology. Certainly, that’s how I felt as I began to process the Indian Rights Association (IRA) papers with Willhem Echevarria, project archivist at HSP. My first task was to sort through boxes of loose newspaper clippings that spanned from the 1870s to the 1980s. As I organized the clippings, I scanned through them, noting the strange evolution of public opinion on the “Indian situation” over time. Anytime I came across a particularly offensive headline or a quirky handwritten note, I thought hopefully, “Well, maybe they’re just being ironic. Herbert Welsh, such a kidder!”
I suppose the Enlightenment thinkers were right, however, and seeing is believing, because it wasn’t until I found visual evidence from the U.S. Indian Schools files that I began to get a clearer picture of the so-called “Indian situation.”
“Are you serious!” I exclaimed one afternoon as I flipped through a 1918 yearbook from the Carlisle Indian School. Willhem glanced up from his desk with an are-you-working-or-are-you-playing-with-the-documents-expression. “Look!” I said, shoving the yearbook at him. It was open to a picture of students dressed for a theatrical production – dressed, may I add, as conquistadors and explorers, among other famous figures from history.
“Who would make a Native American dress like Cortez?” I asked as we shook our heads over the picture. There are many more images like this one in the collection, scattered throughout the annual reports and yearbooks for schools like the Haskell Institute, the Hampton Industrial and Agricultural School, and the Sherman Institute. The philosophy behind these boarding schools was simple: transform young Native Americans into “good citizens” and productive members of society. To achieve this end, Indian schools focused on teaching industrial trades to boys, while girls learned housekeeping or nursing skills. Some children were forcibly removed from their reservations, and many students were given new Anglo names upon arrival. While I’m sure (or rather, hope) that there were some legitimately good intentions floating around there, underneath the positivist rhetoric remains a constant intention to Anglicize the Native American population.
So, what was the IRA’s role in the Indian school movement? What were their intentions in lobbying for Native American rights? And how might we measure their success? The Indian Rights Association records contain answers to all these questions and more. Among the surprising headlines, the occasionally appalling images, and the revealing notes lies a new story waiting to be told.
Oftentimes, history can seem like an accumulation of paper trails, a collection of stories told through the letters, diaries, and other written records that our ancestors leave behind. However, graphic materials are also compelling historical artifacts, as I’m continually reminded while working on rights and reproductions orders at HSP. Within our rich and diverse collections, HSP houses over 300,000 graphic items and these materials, whether they be photographs, watercolors, lithographs, maps, or other media, are a valued part of the historical record and often integral to the stories that our patrons aspire to tell.
As late as 1817, the population of present-day Manayunk hovered around 60 inhabitants, but the construction of a canal and dam to regulate the Schuylkill, along with the establishment of Manayunk’s first mill in the 1820s, helped the area blossom into a manufacturing hub that drew comparisons to Manchester, England. Still considered part of Roxborough, the expanding mill town was known by the name of its dam, “Flat Rock,” but rapid population growth brought a push for a proper name. In 1824, the names “Udoravia,” “Hydoravia,” and “Bridgewater” all came under consideration, but it was “Manaiung,” the Native American word for river, that ultimately provided inspiration for the name “Manayunk” (p. 24). On June 11, 1840, Manayunk officially incorporated as a borough, completing its transformation from, in Jones’ words, a “once quiet and retired valley” to a miniature town that finally became part of the extended city of Philadelphia in 1854.
The more I read about the early history of Manayunk, the more I came to appreciate this painting and the other images in our collections as snapshots of a moment time that perfectly capture Manayunk’s development from a stretch of open farmland along the Schuylkill River to a budding industrial center. Explore HSP’s Digital Library (http://digitallibrary.hsp.org/) for more great graphic materials that complement and enhance our understanding of the past – you never know what visual history you’ll uncover.
In July of this year, HSP undertook a project to survey its microform holdings. Microform includes both microfilm and microfiche. Microfilm is like 35mm film, while microfiche is tiny images on a sheet of paper. HSP holds approximately 23,000 microfilm reels and 10,000 microfiche leaves, including facsimiles of serials, vital records, manuscript collections, and other materials. This project has two primary objectives: 1) compiling an inventory of the microform holdings and related data, including physical condition, image quality, intellectual property status, whether materials has already been digitized elsewhere, and other factors; 2) as time permits, I will assess select microform’s suitability for digitization based on physical condition and intellectual property concerns. So, where did I start with this project? I began by combining two already existing databases, and updating the new one with fields that help to describe the metadata that HSP wants to collect (physical condition, image quality, intellectual property status, etc). I also took note of the various locations around HSP where there is microfilm (there is film on 4 of our 5 floors!).
My day to day work includes working with film from one of these spaces. I either create or update a record for each film or set of films (collections). I check each individual reel for physical condition and image quality. When there are many reels in a collection, I “spot check”-- choosing films from the beginning and end of the collection. In some cases, the collections are quite large, and have been filmed at various points over time. An example of this is the Philadelphia Inquirer, which was filmed in sets over the course of many years. When something like this occurs, I make sure to “spot check” film from each date. One fun part of this job is getting to see the fun colored film that different film companies have used – I have seen blues, red, pinks, and yellow, among others.
What obstacles have I come across during my work? For the most part, the largest obstacle I have run into has been preservation problems. The main preservation problems with microform include degradation (usually redox blemishes - colored dots from oxidation), vinegar syndrome, and discoloration of the film. Vinegar syndrome refers to the smell from the off-gassing and decay of the film, which over time also degrades the film so that it comes brittle and fragile. Other preservation problems stem from eroding tape or rubber bands that have been used to keep the film from unspooling. In these pictures, you can see how the tape leaves residue on the film. You can also see how an old rubber band holds onto the film, and breaks when taken off.
The great news is that the progress of this project is on target. At the end of the six-month project, in late January, there will be a complete inventory of the microform holdings at HSP, ready to be used for reference work and to be consulted for digital projects in the future.
Several years after its failure, Bankers Trust Company became entangled in a ‘publishers' war’ which pitted two of Philadelphia’s most prominent newspapers against each other: The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Record. The larger backdrop for this conflict was the vicious political battle raging in the city as well as the rest of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as Democrats, for the first time in years, began to wrest control of government from the Republican Party. George Earle III, elected Pennsylvania’s governor in November 1934, was the first Democrat to be elected to the position in 40 years.
In the summer of 1937 Moses Annenberg, staunch Republican and owner of The Philadelphia Inquirer, began to use his newspaper to attack Albert M. Greenfield. For years a backer of the Republican Party, Greenfield had by this time switched his allegiance to the Democrats and worked ardently to see them gain control of the government. Greenfield’s political involvement as well as the fact that he was the chief financial backer of The Inquirer’s rival Democratic paper, The Record, made him a prime target. Annenberg used these attacks as a way to discredit The Record, Greenfield, and others affiliated with the Democratic Party. J. David Stern, owner of The Record, and Greenfield did their best to reciprocate.
Besides alleging improper political dealings with top Democratic officials, the newspaper focused on his association with Bankers Trust Company. Bankers Trust, which was still undergoing liquidation, continued to be a sore topic for many Philadelphians. The Inquirer began to print articles blaming Greenfield for the bank’s failure. During the gubernatorial and U.S. senatorial elections of 1938, the newspaper, along with the Pennsylvania Republican State Committee, sponsored two radio broadcasts by Philadelphia attorney Daniel G. Murphy: “Let’s face the facts” and “The Closed Banks-who got the money.”
In the former address, Murphy accused the Earle administration and its backers of corruption, claiming that the State Banking Department had given preferential treatment to Greenfield and his associates who still owed millions of dollars to closed banks, including Bankers Trust Company.
In the second, Murphy contested that Greenfield had known about the bank’s impending failure, and had one of his firms withdraw $300,000 from the bank five days before it closed. The Inquirer gave the radio address full coverage, reproducing Murphy’s statement and including a photo-static copy of the check showing the supposed withdrawn funds.
Greenfield refuted these claims in a radio address, entitled “The Closing of Bankers Trust- the wrong of 1930.” This marked the first time that Greenfield had spoken publicly about the bank and his affiliation with it since its closure.
Besides radio addresses, Greenfield bought newspaper ads denouncing Murphy and Annenberg. The Record also began to print slanderous articles about The Inquirer owner, including charges that he was involved in illegal horse betting.
Annenberg and Greenfield ultimately sued each other for libel, but the suits were withdrawn in May 1939 with the signing of mutual public apologies.
If you like animals and old pictures, then Pets-In-Collections might be the site for you! This Tumblr site was recently started by librarians at Bryn Mawr College, and several local (and now international!) organizations have contributed pictures, including HSP, the Free Library of Philadelphia, the Independence Seaport Museum, and Villanova University. It's really simple to submit your own images; just check out the site and follow the directions. A new picture is posted each day and it's a fun site to follow. Enjoy!
This image is courtesy of the Australian National Maritime Museum.
Last Wednesday Nov 16th, HSP celebrated the publishing of Ellen Emlen's Cookbook. Sound familiar? That's because we posted about it here.
The event included a display of our historical cookbooks from the collection, including Martha Washington's cookbook, both of the Mrs. Penn's cookbooks, a 2nd edition of Amelia Simmons' book printed 1808 as well as the original manuscript cookbook from Ellen Emlen.
I spoke about the conservation of the original work as well as some of the learning opportunities to be found in the book.
Jennifer McGlinn joined us as well. She cooked the meatballs, gingerbread and Mr. Atherton's punch. She also spoke of the history of gingerbread and gave us tips for working with historical recipes.
Jennifer has generously shared the transcribed recipes with us and they are posted here. Make sure to reference your copy of the facsimile!
Miss James’ Gingerbread (p. 120)
Mrs. Emlen has edited this recipe from the original writing. She called for one tablespoon of ground allspice, but then writing in a heavier pen, “I’ve only put a tea[spoon].” I think she was quite right; a whole tablespoon would have been too strong, here. I have added a heaping teaspoon to this version.
I have also slightly altered the amount of baking soda she suggests. This is a very large cake with lots of acid in the form of molasses and sour cream. Using one-and-three-quarters teaspoons of soda creates the right amount of leavening.
The addition of salt is yet another variation. We add salt to just about every cake and cookie these days, and for good reason. It buoys the flavor of the other ingredients and makes the final sweet product sweeter and more flavorful. Salt was rarely added to nineteenth-century baked goods. I believe it to be a necessary addition here.
As for the sour cream, here, again, Mrs. Emlen originally incorporated milk into the cake, but added a note, again in a heavier pen, that “sour cream is better.” I think she was correct. The thickness and tartness of the sour cream heightens the flavor and helps to create a soft cake with a delicate crumb. It should be noted, as well, that the original recipe called for combining the baking soda and milk (or sour cream) before adding it to the other ingredients. Using today’s baking soda, it is just fine to whisk it into the dry ingredients as we do with most cake and cookie recipes.
Finally, Mrs. Emlen’s recipe calls for a “wineglass of brandy.” Earlier in the century and quite probably up until Mrs. Emlen’s time, a wineglass referred a small amount, about one-quarter cup. This batter is very thick, however, and really needs more of what we would consider a substantial wineglass—one cup. You can use all brandy if you like, but I found that incorporating a bit of brandy along with apple juice, cider, or even better, a spiced cider (try Trader Joe’s brand), adds a lot of flavor to the finished cake.
Despite the size of this gingerbread, it only requires about forty minutes in the oven. Serve it plain or with lightly sweetened whipped cream or ice cream.
Makes one 9-by-13-inch cake
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 heaping teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup molasses
1 cup apple juice, cider, or spiced cider (or 3/4 cup juice and 1/4 cup brandy)
1 cup sour cream
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter and flour a 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking pan (nonstick is useful here).
Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, and allspice in a large bowl.
Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl, using an electric hand mixer) and beat on medium speed until smooth, light, and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, incorporating each one thoroughly before adding the next. Add the molasses, mixing until combined. Reduce the mixing speed and add about one-quarter of the flour mixture, beating until smooth. Alternately add the juice, sour cream, and the remaining flour, ending with the flour and stopping occasionally to scrape the sides of the bowl, until the batter is smooth.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the cake has risen, is golden brown, and a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Set the pan on a wire rack for about 10 minutes before turning out the cake to cool completely on the rack.
Meatballs (p. 8)
These meatballs, originally prepared in the nineteenth century with leftover cooked rare meat, prove quite successful when made with fresh ground beef. Typical of the period, Mrs. Emlen’s recipe given to her by Mrs. Wharton calls not only for herbs, bread soaked in milk, and onion, but also ground or freshly grated nutmeg and lemon zest and juice. The latter, while particularly unfamiliar to many of today’s cooks, is splendid here, contributing a brightness and freshness to the flavorful meat.
Brown these meatballs simply in a bit of olive oil, or, if you wish, dip them first in egg and then dredge them in breadcrumbs, as Mrs. Emlen suggests in a preceding recipe for chicken and oyster croquettes. This recipe calls for shaping the meatballs into walnut-size rounds, but of course, you can make them any size you wish.
Makes about 30 meatballs
1 slice hearty white bread, torn roughly into pieces
1/4 cup milk
1 pound ground beef
About 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon coarse salt
Pinch of ground black pepper
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Zest and juice of 1 small lemon
Olive oil for browning
Combine the bread and milk in a small bowl, soaking the bread completely. Set aside until the milk is absorbed, about 3 minutes.
Combine the beef, parsley, onion, nutmeg, salt, pepper, egg, and lemon zest and juice in a large bowl, gently mixing to incorporate all of the ingredients. Form the mixture into walnut-size balls (about 30).
Heat about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Place some of the meatballs in the pan, leaving about 1/2 to 1 inch in between each one, and cook until browned on the bottoms, about 5 minutes. Turn the meatballs and cook until firm (fully cooked) and browned on the other sides, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer the meatballs to a paper towel-lined baking sheet and set aside to keep warm. Clean the pan, if necessary, and heat additional olive oil to cook the remaining meatballs in the same manner.
Mr. Atherton’s Punch (p. 144)
The following recipe is based upon Mrs. Emlen’s (originally Mr. Atherton’s) own with several alterations. First, she calls for preparing twice this amount, which produces nearly a gallon of punch. Next, I have reduced the amount of brandy and rum she called for; add it all if you wish, but it is quite strong prepared this way. Finally, I have not only used lemon zest here, but sliced lemons and juice, as well. Relying on only lemon zest makes for a very strong and bitter final product. Adding the juice along with lemon slices results in a punch that quite like a refreshing spiked lemonade.
This punch can, indeed, sit aside in the refrigerator for a while, but I wouldn’t recommend steeping the zest and lemon slices in it for more than a couple of hours, as it will grow too bitter. In addition, after about seven hours or so in the refrigerator, the lemon loses its freshness and brightness.
Makes about 6 cups
4 cups water
1/2 cup brandy
1/2 cup light rum
About 1 cup sugar, plus more as needed
Bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from the heat and add the brandy and rum. Zest and juice 3 of the lemons and add to the water and liquor mixture. Slice the remaining 2 lemons into thin rounds and add to the mixture. Using your hands (use gloves, if necessary), squeeze the lemons to extract as much juice as possible. Add the sugar, stirring to dissolve. Add more sugar, if necessary.
Set the punch aside in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Strain and chill until ready to serve.
HSP would like to thank Jennifer for sharing her transcription of the recipes with us! Jennifer has her own blog which can be found here: http://jennifermcglinn.wordpress.com/
We would also like to thank the over 50 people who attended the event.
Jennifer McGlinn (left) and Tara O'Brien (right) referencing the original Ellen Emlen manuscript (on the table) to the printed facsimile (in hands).
All images are courtesy of Sharon Gershoni