Welcome to “Eating History,” a series in which Jaya Saxena of the New-York Historical Society mines the vast archives of the museum and library in search of vintage images and ephemera that offer a look into how New Yorkers used to dine. Follow the museum @NYHistory for more.
Let’s say you want to teach your kids how to bake, but you also want to make sure they think about the Bible while doing it. Solution? Scripture Cake, a puzzle of a recipe that requires the baker to remember verses of the Bible to successfully make it.
I found this recipe in the personal cookbook of Isabella Vache Cox, a woman living in Valhalla, NY at the turn of the 20th century, which is in the New-York Historical Society’s Library Manuscript collections. No one is quite sure where the cake comes from; Hushpuppy Nation has found an early version in the Atlanta Constitution from 1897, but it probably existed long before that.
So how does it work? The recipe calls for things like “four and a half cups of I Kings IV:22″ and “two cups of I Samuel XXX:12.” Each of those passages will have a reference to an ingredient. For instance, “two cups of Nahum III:12″ takes you to a passage that reads, “All your fortresses are like fig trees with their first ripe fruit; when they are shaken, the figs fall into the mouth of the eater.” Hence, two cups figs.
Below is the recipe, along with the passages it refers to.
- 4 and a half cups I Kings IV:22 – “Solomon’s daily provisions were thirty cors of the finest flour”
- 1 and a half cups of Judges V:25 – “He asked for water, and she gave him milk; in a bowl fit for nobles she brought him curdled milk.” (so curdled milk=butter)
- 2 cups of Jeremiah VI:20 – “What do I care about incense from Sheba or sweet calamus from a distant land? Your burnt offerings are not acceptable; your sacrifices do not please me.” (This one is confusing, but the cookbook notes it’s sugar. Go figure.)
- 2 cups I Samuel XXX:12 – “…part of a cake of pressed figs and two cakes of raisins. He ate and was revived, for he had not eaten any food or drunk any water for three days and three nights.” (This one is raisins)
- 2 cups of Nahum III:12 – “All your fortresses are like fig trees with their first ripe fruit; when they are shaken, the figs fall into the mouth of the eater.”
- 1 cup of Numbers XVII:8 – “The next day Moses entered the tent and saw that Aaron’s staff, which represented the tribe of Levi, had not only sprouted but had budded, blossomed and produced almonds.”
- 2 Tablespoons full of I Samuel XIV:25 – “The entire army entered the woods, and there was honey on the ground.”
- Season to taste of II Chronicles IX:9 – “Then she gave the king 120 talents of gold, large quantities of spices, and precious stones. There had never been such spices as those the queen of Sheba gave to King Solomon.” (A.k.a., season to taste with whatever spices you want. I’d recommend nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice.)
- Six Jeremiah XVII:11 – “Like a partridge that hatches eggs it did not lay are those who gain riches by unjust means. When their lives are half gone, their riches will desert them, and in the end they will prove to be fools.” (Do not use partridge eggs).
- A Pinch of Leviticus II:13 – “Season all your grain offerings with salt. Do not leave the salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings; add salt to all your offerings.”
- Half cup of Judges IV:19 – “‘I’m thirsty,’ he said. ‘Please give me some water.’ She opened a skin of milk, gave him a drink, and covered him up.” (Note in the book says, “last clause,” so I’m going with milk over water).
- Two teaspoons of Amos IV:5 – “Burn leavened bread as a thank offering and brag about your freewill offerings– boast about them, you Israelites, for this is what you love to do,” declares the Sovereign LORD.” (Did you guess that leavened bread is a hint for baking soda in this one?)
Simple enough, right? Well, mostly, until you get to the baking instructions, which say, “Follow Solomon’s prescription for making a good boy, Proverbs23:14, and you will have a good cake.” This bring you to, “You shall strike him with the rod And rescue his soul from Sheol.,” which I’m guessing is the biblical equivalent of “mix well” but hardly helps for oven temperatures.
I followed the classic mix-dry-ingredients-into-wet ingredients method here, creaming the butter and sugar together first, then adding the eggs, milk, and honey. To that I added the mixture of flour, baking soda, and spices. Once that came together, I added the chopped figs, raisins, and almonds, and I threw the thick mixture (which really had more of a cookie batter consistency) into a bundt pan and baked it at 350 degrees for what wound up being about an hour.
The result? An actually pleasing, fruity cake! Thinner cake pans may actually work better than a large bundt, to let the thick batter cook through without burning the crust, and a simple glaze would be a great addition to add some sweetness. But I’m just thinking about the french toast I want to make out of this over the next few days.
Who knew the Bible could be such a culinary guide? Thanks, Solomon!