For any student of history, elections, their processes and outcomes have been in dispute for as long as there have been elections. In fact, the colony of Connecticut was initiated by one such dispute. Early settlers of Massachusetts were entitled to vote only if they were vetted members of the Anglican Church and its law as imposed by Britain. One churchman, Thomas Hooker, objected to this restriction. Hooker took his followers to the area of Hartford and established the Connecticut Colony and its Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, which some historians hold to be the basis of the U.S. Constitution. It provided an outline for self-government in which the well-being of the community came before the individual. Free adult men were entitled to elect a governor and a legislative assembly to make laws.
Whatever else they were, which would include courageous, bold, intrepid and resourceful, both Massachusetts and Connecticut pilgrims appear to have been a rather dour lot. Celebrations such as Christmas were banned as Romish frivolities. As happens with such repressions, the human need for merriment and festivity simply sidestepped the religious holidays and adopted those secular ones that could be bent to the purpose. Election Day, which in earlier times was held on the first Thursday in May and happily coincided with spring’s arrival, was a perfect candidate for partying. The tradition of the great rum or brandy-soaked and spiced English cakes served with eggnogs and punches were resurrected as a voter turnout treat.
We have talked in these pages previously of Ameila Simmons and the first American Cookery book published in Hartford in 1796 using local ingredients and facilities. It was the first cookbook to ever pair turkey with cranberries, provide recipes for johnnycakes and Indian puddings. In her book she included a recipe for Hartford Election Cake a boozy spiced cake large enough to feed the entire community. This recipe called for 30 quarts of flour, 10 pounds of butter; 14 pounds of sugar, 12 pounds of raisins 36 eggs, 4 ounces of cinnamon, 4 ounces of coriander seed, 3 ounces of allspice, 1 quart of yeast and “enough” milk. It would certainly be interesting to know what fireplace or oven was able to accommodate a pan large enough to hold all such ingredients and to evenly cook the whole of it.
The cakes where more half bread than the type of lighter cakes we know today. Frequently slices were toasted and slathered with butter. By the mid 18th C Election Cakes and alcoholic beverages were freely served in Hartford to celebrate election returns with “all those who voted the straight ticket”. (One might wonder how the cake-giver knew who the cake-eater voted for, but we mustn’t be too nosey.) At some point, an aromatic rum icing was added and drizzled over each slice. The baking of these cakes was touted as a way for American women to participate in the electoral process. Never mind, that was then.
Though you will find a Chocolate Whiskey Cake on the website, this Election Day Cake recipe stands alone. Fortunately, the alcohol adds to its shelf life and it is terrific toasted and buttered. Let’s all hope that we find a way to de-polarize our nation after November 3rd. Maybe sharing a slice of cake with a neighbor will aid the process.