| “Ah, so exactly what is a Hypatia Club?” “I don’t know, but inside it says it is in Cushing, Oklahoma.”
I held the book up, rifling the pages. “There are 576 pages with a handwritten recipe or other stuff. It isn’t just different recipes; each one is a different handwriting. Looks like the person who contributed a recipe wrote it out herself.”
Joe put away paint and paintbrushes and came to sit by me where I perched on the orange vinyl of a Danish Modern love seat that served as part of the sparsely outfitted living room. I’ll bet they sold it for a fundraising project.”
We turned through the pages. Joe laughed, “Look at this one! Burnt Leather Cake?”
“That writing is so hard to read I can barely make sense of it, but it really does say to start with burning something – a cup of brown sugar. Do you really think that would taste good? I have been trying to learn not to burn things when I cook!”
“Sounds more like a western movie to me.” Joe winked at me.
I found other recipes amusing, too… “I wonder about Epicurean Peas with frozen peas and shredded lettuce cooked together!.” We saw there were pages of cleaning and household hints and advertising for local businesses as well as a wide variety of recipes. All the different handwriting gave it a personal touch. Here we were, in Oklahoma, with lots of Oklahoma people offering their favorite recipes! Their names were almost as much fun to read as the names of their dishes.
The book became more than a curiosity. It was, after all, a cookbook! In the first week of my marriage, I began a habit which continues. I assess my pantry, pick recipes accordingly, and make menus for the week along with the list of groceries I need to buy. Because I kept the small note papers on which I wrote these menus and grocery lists for January 1 through Valentine’s Day 1964, I do not have to trust memory to tell you the first recipe I used from the Hypatia Club Cookbook, nor that I used that recipe before I had been married for a week. The first time, I chose the recipe because it required ingredients I knew I had, and it was simple. The name attracted my attention since I was proving my money managing abilities. After that first time, there were different reasons for choosing it. None of the reasons have anything to do with the way it looks, because it is not a pretty cake. In fact it is unlike any other cake you will bake! Plain. My mother-in-law would have called it a “sad cake”. But at least one person declares it is just plain good.
“Joe, what do you want for your birthday cake?”
“Cheap Cream Cake.”
“I’m planning Father’s Day lunch. Any requests?”
“Cheap Cream Cake, please.”
“Here’s to you, Valentine!”
“Woo Hoo! Cheap Cream Cake!”
Once a marble cake fan, Joe now favors this simple, not-so-sweet cake. I love that this is his favorite. All these years later, with people looking for low-fat desserts, I smile and say, “I know a cake recipe you could try.”
CHEAP CREAM CAKE
I am not able to reproduce the uneven, quavery handwriting here, but the abbreviations and spelling are exactly as they appear in the Hypatia Club Cookbook. Have fun figuring out the missing directions!
1 c. sugar 1 tbsp butter, 1 egg, c. sweet milk, 2 c. flour,
2 tsp B.Powder, 1tsp. Vanilla. Bake in two layers.
Beat 1 egg, ½ c. sugar, ¼ c. flour together.
Stir this into 2 c hot milk. When thick
flavor and spred on cake when cool. Mrs. Frank Combes
I have used other recipes from the book such as Raw Tomato Relish from Lois Deacon and Kosher Dill Tomatoes by Ophelia Simon. I still love thumbing through the book and looking at the writing – some spidery, some back slanted, some tiny and neat, some with sketches, some barely legible. With today’s technological advances, I can research and publish a book from my own corner in the kitchen if I wish. I can certainly Google Burnt Leather and Hypatia Club.
Yes, there really is a vintage recipe named Burnt Leather Cake in which you scorch brown sugar in a heavy skillet to make syrup which flavors both cake and icing. It is mentioned in letters and journals from The Oregon Trail in the 1880’s, and is reported to be delicious.
Also, if you were still wondering, Joe… The Hypatia Club was founded nationally in 1886 by Mary Elizabeth Lease as a woman’s self-improvement organization, and was politically active in the early days of women’s rights. The purpose of the club was intellectual development and social stimulation.
But the name of the book is mostly lost now. We just call it the Cheap Cream Cake Book.
Many thanks to all the women who wrote down their good recipes and shared them with not only the Cushing, Oklahoma community, but also whoever used and left it in my first kitchen. Your recipes, your names, and your handwriting have traveled far.