People Make Publishing: Recipes from the Good Ol’ Days

9780803258013Erica Corwin is the Electronic Marketing Coordinator at UNP. 

I wanted to pass along great pictures as a follow up to my Hanging Basket Grow Kit post but unfortunately the seeds barely sprouted and the squirrels helped themselves to the growing medium. I moved on, shifted gears, and I thought it would be fun to try a recipe from Nebraska Pioneer Cookbook compiled by Kay Graber. Collected here are a variety of recipes from Nineteenth-Century Nebraska, including selections from the early days, the sod house period, recipes from European Immigrants (kolaches, anyone?), railroad car recipes, cowboy meals, and fancy city food from the 1880s.

I didn’t have the nerve to try something like Chicken Pie, where the recipe instructs you to “singe and draw the fowl” and I didn’t have a kettle of corn cobs to use for smoking bacon, so I tried a straightforward recipe for Dutch Apple cake.

The recipe is only one paragraph long and consisted of mixing dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, very little sugar, and salt), cutting in the fat, (didn’t specify what kind of fat, I used butter but I suppose lard might’ve been the choice of the time?) then adding an egg and a cup of milk. This formed the bottom layer of the cake.  A topping made of apple slices that had been cooked in water, sugar, butter, and cinnamon for a few minutes topped the bottom layer.

Corwin_Photo 1
Simmered apples.
Corwin_Photo 2
The cake before baking, hopefully it won’t get too soggy!

My only baking instructions: “Bake twenty minutes in a moderate oven.” What’s a moderate oven? My guess was 350 degrees, but the cake was still doughy in the middle after 20 minutes. I bumped up the temperature to 375 degrees and left the cake in the oven another 10 minutes.

Cornwin_Photo 3
Fresh from the oven: Dutch Apple cake!

The cake was pretty tasty and disappeared before I had a second piece. The cake layer was soft and not overly sweet, and the apple mixture kept the cake moist. A scoop of vanilla ice cream on top of the cake would’ve made it even better.

To help other contemporary bakers, here’s my interpretation of the recipe:

Cake ingredients:

2 C flour

3 tsp baking powder

1 TBS sugar

¼ tsp salt

4 TBS butter, sliced into TBS pieces (you could try lard or Crisco!)

1 egg

1 C milk

Apple topping:

1 ½ C sliced apples (I used a mix of Gala and Granny Smith apples)

1 tsp ground cinnamon

½ C sugar

2 TBS butter


Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cook the apples in ½ C water over low heat for five minutes. (They should be gently simmering.) Add the cinnamon, sugar, and butter and cook for two more minutes. Remove from heat and let cool.

Combine the dry ingredients, and then cut in the butter. (You could do this with two knives or forks, a pastry blender, or take a short cut and use a food processor.)

Mix in the egg and milk and pour into a greased pan. (I used a 9 x 9 square pan.) Spread the apple topping over the top and bake for 20-30 minutes. Start checking for doneness at 20 minutes. (Insert a toothpick in the center. If it comes out clean or with a few dry crumbs, the cake is done.)


-Erica Corwin

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