Sunday, September 25, 2011

It's got Raisins in it. You like Raisins: Pork Cake

My friend Stella is on a historical kick at the moment. She's been exploring old cookbooks, posting crazy recipes and lore and shared this little tidbit from De Witt's Connecticut cookbook and housekeeper's assistant.(1871):

A little four line bit that contained all the ingredients, directions, processes and proclamations regarding this dessert. Yep, dessert. Yep, with pork. I imagined, on reading the recipe, that it would be something like a cross between mincemeat and barbeque. In keeping with the time, it was likely to be heavy, and primarily flavored, well, like cloves and raisins. So why in the world did I make it? Because Stella is allergic to pork, and there it was, a cake made with pork. I had to know.

When you think about it, we make cakes with eggs and butter and don't give it a thought. Eggs provide protein and structure, butter is lovely lovely fat. But really, couldn't both those things be replaced? Well, there's protein & fat in ground pork so that should work. As for structure, well, this was never going to be angel food.

I did have a concern (many, actually) about the pork. Pork as we know it is a lean meat, bred that way because of crazed calorie conscious consumers in the 80s who demanded more fat be removed during trimming and less fat present in the meat itself. Well, my only fat in this cake would be from my pork. Luckily, my farmer's market has a couple of terrific meat producers. They understand fat, and why it is good. They smile at me when I ask for fatty things. I got to hear all about boar hybrids and proper diets and was presented with more ground pork than I needed which is good because I really want to just eat the pork, sans cake. Mmmmm pork.

And so, armed with scale and scoop, I made the cake. Easy mixing, one big bowl. I did a half batch, because I don't commit to seven cups of flour unless I know what I'm getting in to. The batter was thick enough going in to the oven that a toothpick came out clean *before* I started baking it, so I relied on instinct for doneness and in that slow oven doneness happened at about the hour and a half mark. After baking, the half batch weighed 3 pounds, 2 ounces. Sheesh.

So..... how was it?

Now, I'm inclined to think well of spice cakes in general. I love a good spice cake, gingerbread is one of my all time favorites. Yes, there was a bit of a meaty aroma while this was baking but it wafted away after coming out of the oven. It was dense, like a good hearty meatloaf, but the flavor was... not bad. There were raisins and cloves and molasses and it was pretty good. However, it felt like it had developed its own gravity field and it was only a matter of time before spaghettification began. But it was certainly palatable. I did find another pork cake recipe, this one from about 50 years later that used eggs and baking soda, but at that point I would say skip the pork, and just go for a good gingerbread recipe.

But hey, now I know.