History

Teddy Roosevelt’s Clove Cake

I’m grateful (sometimes) for history: family history, cultural history, and my own personal history. Teddy Roosevelt’s clove cake represents all three; but I don’t mean to limit history to just three categories. Human history, our planet’s history, the history of life on earth, are all fascinating. One of my favorite college courses was “European Intellectual History.” I loved this class because it was the first time the subject had been presented to me without the boring histrionics of male white ego such as war and politics; this class featured the history of art, music, medicine, and other more enlightened human achievements, and essentially ignored the kings and battles that had beleaguered the subject for my whole prior education.

I remember vividly to this day Dr. Anthony Esler drawing a skull on the blackboard with white chalk as he explained the revolution in Renaissance art that gave dimension to the human form again after the flat images of the Dark Ages – and then he used colored chalk to layer on flesh and features. It was a challenging course, and the first college class I got a B in, which I was proud of despite my history of straight A’s until then. History gives perspective.

Another Zoom call this evening with two dear friends recalled our personal history together over the past 48 years with laughter and insights. A big part of my childhood, which Debbie would have remembered too if I’d thought to share a piece with her virtually, was Teddy Roosevelt’s clove cake, which was my birthday cake of choice most years once I was old enough to choose, and has been a comforting staple since then. Teddy was a ‘friend of the family,’ I was told growing up, though I think the recipe came from a clipping in Ladies Home Journal. I’m grateful (again) for this recipe and the happy memories it evokes, for the way Zoom has brought long-lost people back into my life, and for these two wonderful women and our rich shared history. And I’m grateful for Teddy Roosevelt’s determination to protect and conserve natural landscapes and wildlife through numerous National Parks and Monuments and the US Forest Service.

Yesterday I had plenty of eggs and some time on my hands, and so I baked this wonderful cake for the first time in this fancy new bundt pan (for which I’m also grateful). Here’s the recipe, adapted for high altitude. Sorry, sea level people, I no longer have the original, though I think it included a bit more sugar and baking soda and a 25º temperature difference one way or the other.

1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
5 eggs
3 cups sifted flour
1 T ground cloves
2 tsp ground cinnamon
pinch salt
1 cup+3 Tablespoons sour milk
¾ tsp. baking soda

Pre-heat oven to 400ºF and grease a 10" tube pan. If you don't have sour milk (and who does, these days?) add the juice of half a lemon to the milk at the beginning and let it sour as you proceed with the rest of the mixing. Cream butter and sugar til light and fluffy, and add eggs one at a time (I throw in a splash of vanilla extract, too). Sift dry ingredients together except for the baking soda. Add a third of the dry ingredients to butter/sugar, then half the sour milk, another third of flour mix; stir the baking soda into the last half of the sour milk and add to the mix, then add the last of the flour and mix until just incorporated. Don't overmix, and then spoon the batter quickly into the prepared pan. Bake for 45-55 minutes until the house smells delicious and the cake is done. The nose knows, I thought last night, as I almost burned the cake before the timer went off. Cool ten minutes before removing from the pan. Once the cake has cooled completely dust with confectioner's sugar.

I’m grateful for waking up this morning to the lingering warm smell in the cold house, a brisk walk with Stellar, and coming home to coffee and TR’s clove cake for breakfast beside the cozy fire.

2 thoughts on “History

  1. “…the boring histrionics of male white ego such as war and politics”: indeed! touché! :—>
    There are so many more honed and powerful lenses through which to understand history. I love, for example, a book by Henry Hobhouse called _Seeds of Change: Six Plants That Transformed History_. I’ll send you the review I wrote for the San Jose _Mercury News_ in 1987 (!).

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