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Friday, January 17, 2014

Ben's Birthday

Today, January 17, marks the 308th birthday for one of Philadelphia's most famous citizens--Benjamin Franklin. Of course, when he was born the date on the calendar was actually January 6, since Britain and her colonies wouldn't switch to the Gregorian calendar until 1752.

Mr. Franklin had a few things to say about age and aging (as did about most topics). For example, "At twenty years of age the will reigns; at thirty the wit; at forty the judgment"  (Poor Richard, 1741) and "All would live long, but none would be old" (Poor Richard, 1749).

If we wanted to celebrate Ben's birthday with an appropriately 18th-century cake, we might turn to Hannah Glasse's Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy, published in 1747. Here are her instructions to make a fruitcake-like "rich cake."

Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery. London, 1747. EL2 .G549a Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation

Take four pound of flour, we dried and sifted, seven pound of currants washed and rubbed dry, six pounds of the best fresh butter, two pound of Jordan almonds blanched, and beated with orange flower water and sack till they are fine, then take four pound of eggs, put half of the whites away, three pound of double refined sugar beaten and sifted, a quarter of an ounce of mace, the same of cloves and cinnamon, three large nutmegs, all beaten fine, a little ginger, half a pint of sack, half a pint of right french brandy, sweetmeats to your liking, they must be orange, lemon and citron.

Work your butter to a cream with your hands before any of your ingredients are in, then put in your sugar, mix it well together; let your eggs be well beat, and strained through a sieve, work in your almonds first, then put in your eggs, beat them all together till they look white and thick, then put in your sack and brandy and spices and shake your flour in by degrees, and when your oven is ready, put in your currants and sweetmeats as you put it in your hoop; it will take four hours baking in a quick oven, you must keep it beaten with your hand all the while you are mixing of it, and when your currants are well washed and cleaned, let them be kept before the fire, so that they may go warm into your cake. this quantity will bake best in two hoops.

Her "Butter Cake" seems somewhat simpler (except for having to beat the ingredients for an hour).

Hannah Glasse, The Art of Cookery. London, 1747. EL2 .G549a Rosenbach of the Free Library of Philadelphia Foundation

Take a dish of butter, and beat it like cream with your hands, two pounds of fine sugar well beat, three pounds of flour well dried, mix them in with the butter, twenty-four eggs, leave out half the whites, then beat all together an hour. Just as you are going to put it into the oven, put in a quarter of an ounce of mace, a nutmeg beat, a little sack or brandy, and seeds , or currants just as you please.

If you are tempted by her recipes, you can read a later edition of Hannah Glasse online.

To jump from the old to the new, in honor of Ben's birthday and as a great anticipation of our own upcoming exhibition Networking Before the Net: Sharing Information in the Pre-digital Age I wanted to share Visit Philadelphia's imagining of how Ben Franklin's Facebook page might have looked.




Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library.

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