When Baking a Cake, How Hot Should the Oven Be?


Sometimes when I make a cake it rises very unevenly. A hundred-year-old cookbook gave me a clue about what might cause the problem:

A moderate oven will give the best results for nearly all cakes.

If the batter rises in a cone in the center you are using too hot an oven, and a crust has formed before the mixture has had time to rise; or too much flour has been used.

Mrs. DeGraf’s Cook Book (1922)

Old-fashioned Nut Pancakes

Nut pancakes on plate

Sometimes it seems like I get into a rut when making breakfast foods – and tend to just make the same two or three foods over and over. So I’m always looking for easy-to-make recipes for breakfast foods. I recently saw a hundred-year-old recipe for Nut Pancakes, and decided to give it a try.

This recipe is a keeper. The pancakes contained lots of chopped walnuts, and had a lovely texture and flavor.

Here’s the original recipe:

Recipe for Nut Pancakes
Source: Good Housekeepings’ Book of Menus, Recipes, and Household Discoveries (1922)

A hundred-years-ago many families still lived on farms and drank non-pasteurized milk; and, even in towns, much of the milk that was sold was not pasteurized. Back then, if the non-pasteurized milk was not used quickly, the “good” bacteria in the milk would turn it into a sour milk suitable for use in recipes. When making old recipes that call for sour milk, today’s pasteurized milk can be turned into a sour milk by adding a little vinegar or lemon juice to create a slightly curdled acidic milk.

Here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Nut Pancakes

  • Servings: 4 - 6
  • Difficulty: easy
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2 cups milk

1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice (I used vinegar.)

2 cups bread flour

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoons butter, melted

3/4 cup walnuts chopped

Put the milk in a cup or bowl, then stir in the vinegar or lemon juice. Set aside for at least 2 minutes

Put the bread flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder,, melted butter, and milk that has been combined with the vinegar or lemon juice in a mixing bowl; beat until smooth. Stir in the chopped walnuts.

Heat a lightly greased griddle or skillet to a medium temperature, then pour or scoop batter onto the hot surface to make individual pancakes.  Cook until the top surface is hot and bubbly, and then flip and cook other side.


1922 Decorating Tip: Avoid White Kitchens

Woman in kitchen
Source: Eddy Engineering Co. advertisement (Cement City Cook Book publsihed by First Baptist Church, Alpena. Michign (1922)

Decorating styles seem like they are constantly changing and evolving. Here is some 1922 advice for how to decorate your kitchen:

We come to realize what a big part color has to play in the attractiveness of the kitchen. Anyone who has both practical and theoretical knowledge of color, as well as of kitchens, knows that the pure white kitchen is a long way from perfection in either looks or cleanliness. The whiteness, no matter how clean it really is, takes on, after a time, a darkening and stained appearance, as though it got tired of being dazzling, with nothing for contrast. So if we want a kitchen to look as clean as it should be, let us give it contrasts of both color and tone. This will need to be done with the advice of someone who really know the technical properties of color combinations, but most of us can make a pretty satisfactory effect, if we use our eyes and copy the tones in nature, which seem to give a particularly clean and clear-cut impression – the beach against blue water, for instance, or a wet tree trunk against green leaves. Is it sensible to try to bring nature into the kitchen? Why not if it is to make life in the kitchen more worth living?

American Cookery (March, 1922)

Raisins and Bananas

Raisins and Bananas on plate

Bananas are tasty, convenient, and inexpensive. They are also a very healthy fruit with fiber and protein, and potassium and other nutrients. However, they can also be boring. So when I saw a recipe for Raisins and Bananas in a hundred-year-old cookbook, I decided to give it a try.

The bananas are baked with raisins in a light sugar syrup. The Raisins and Bananas were tasty, and would make a lovely fruit dessert or snack (or could be served at breakfast of another meal).

Here’s the original recipe:

recipe for Raisins and Bananas
Source: Cement City Cook Book (Published by First Baptist Church, Alpena, MI, 1922)

Here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Raisins and Bananas

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: moderate
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1/2 cup sugar

1 1/2 cups water

1 cup raisins

6 bananas

juice from 1 lemon

Preheat oven to 375° F. Put sugar, water, and raisins in a saucepan; stir. Using medium heat bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, and cool until lukewarm.

In the meantime, peel bananas and remove any stringy fibers. If desired cut the bananas in half. Arrange in a baking dish, then pour the raisins and syrup over the bananas. Put in oven and bake until the syrup is hot and bubbly, and the bananas tender. Remove from oven. May be served either hot or cold.


Celery au Gratin

Celery au Gratin

A hundred years ago celery was often served as a cooked vegetable, so I decided to make a recipe  for Celery au Gratin that I found in a 1922 cookbook.

The Celery au Gratin was tasty with pieces of celery embedded in a delightful cheese sauce.

Here is the original recipe:

recipe for Celery au Gratin
Mrs. DeGraf’s Cook Book (1922)

I used butter instead of shortening when making the sauce for this recipe.

Here’s the recipe updated for modern cooks:

Celery as Gratin

  • Servings: 3-4
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

2 cups celery, cut into 1-inch pieces

2 cups water

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup milk

2 tablespoons butter + 1 tablespoon butter

2 tablespoons flour

dash salt and pepper

3/4 cup grated cheese (I used cheddar.)

1/2 cup fine soft bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 375° F. Put celery pieces, water and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil using high heat, then reduce heat and simmer until the celery is tender (about 10 minutes). Then remove from heat, and drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the liquid to use in the sauce. Set aside.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in another saucepan, then stir in flour and dashes of salt and pepper. Gradually, add the milk and reserved celery liquid while stirring constantly; Continue heating and stirring using medium heat until the sauce thickens.

Put half the cooked celery in a 3-cup casserole dish; add 1/2 of the sauce, then top with  1/2 of the grated cheese. Repeat in same order. Set aside.

Melt 1 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan.  Add the breadcrumbs and stir. Continue stirring until the breadcrumbs are crispy and light brown.

Sprinkle the buttered breadcrumbs on top of the layered celery. Put in oven and bake for approximately 20 minutes or until hot and bubbly.


1922 Advice for Where to Serve the First Course of a Dinner

dining room table
Source: Ladies Home Journal (September, 1915)

Here’s some hundred-year-old advice for where to serve the first course of a dinner:

Before answering this question specifically let us first say that there is no special course which is invariably the “first course of a dinner.” The first course may be shell fish; it may be soup; it may be the chief meat dish –according to the number of courses served and formality of the dinner. But whatever may be the first course, there is only one place where it should be eaten, and this is at the dining-room table in the dining-room.

During recent years, however, the custom has arisen of serving a small portion of some sapid and well-relished food, whose function of to stimulate appetite, as a beginning to the dinner. This beginning is not thought of as one of the courses, it is too unsubstantial, and the frilly little morsels used for this purpose are listed under the headings: “Some Beginnings,” “Appetizers,” “avani-diners,” or other similar phrase. A salpicon, which, correctly, is a very small portion, no more than a good tablespoonful, is an example of such a beginning. So is a canape. So used to be the original cocktail. At a gentlemen’s dinner it used to be customary to have canapes and coctails passed in the library soon after the guests assembled. Canapes were, then the crisp and crusty morels which could be eaten from the fingers; and cocktails were composed of ingredients now under legal ban.

At present our cocktails are of two kinds: the semi-solid kind, calling for the use of a fork, such as the oyster cocktail, which is really one of the courses, since it is only a new fashion of serving the shellfish. The place to eat this is in the dining-room. The other kind of cocktail is made of fruit juice or a mixture of fruit juices, etc., and this, according to a late fashion, is brought to the drawing-room, or wherever the guests are assembled–and now that guests are not expected to arrive on the stroke of the minute-hand, it helps the pleasant passing of a period of waiting for some belated one, to sip the cocktail during the quarter of an hour allowed after the time named for the dinner.

American Cookery (March, 1922)