November 29, 2021

Get the backstory on this modest cake with big New England flavor

by joeyphoenix

Choose How to Share

Featured image for “Get the backstory on this modest cake with big New England flavor”

The House of the Seven Gables is about to take a deep dive into the history and the deliciousness of the molasses cake. There are reasons for its abiding presence in America’s food history.

How does the molasses cake call to us? So many ways. The first communication is likely visual. Its sticky surface glistens with a dark treacle-y moistness. Next up is the aroma. Breathe in the ginger. The molasses. The cinnamon with its subtle whisper, “Holiday!” A molasses cake is complex, layered with big flavors highly regarded here in New England. It’s a comfort food with formidable roots.

Those who join Kaylee Redard on Wednesday, December 1, will receive the holiday gift of a scrumptious one-layer molasses cake recipe that hearkens back to colonial Salem. Add to this a virtual one-hour discussion and baking demonstration. Molasses cake probably thrilled the wealthy Turner family that, in 1668, built and occupied the Turner-Ingersoll mansion or, as it is known today, the House of the Seven Gables. 

This free Colonial Classics presentation, sponsored by The House of the Seven Gables, 

Is one of several food demonstrations coming up this winter that are focused on comfort foods. Redard, assistant visitor services manager, is excited to prepare this sweet treat. Participants are encouraged to ask questions and share their own knowledge of comfort foods that come with storied traditions. Register here:

“I’m really looking forward to this one,” Redard says. “It’s a very accessible recipe, modernized for today’s bakers, and reliant on all the normal ways we make a cake. But the history behind it is very interesting.” The recipe comes from a book of recipes titled, “Early American Cookbook: Authentic favorites for the Modern Kitchen.” It’s available in the Museum Shop.

John Turner and his son, both sea captains based in Salem, traded in molasses from the Caribbean. When Turner II died, 1742 probate records show that molasses valued at 59 pounds was stored in his molasses warehouse in Salem, along with sugar valued at 30 pounds. Since father and son were wealthy, the Turner women did not have to wrangle with the thick, dark syrup. They relied on indentured servants and enslaved women to bake in the brick ovens built into the outsized fireplace. 

While colonists brought recipes with them from England, they adapted their cooking to take advantage of the region’s local foods such as fish and shellfish, and what could be grown or acquired locally including root vegetables, apples and corn. Some Salem residents had the exciting option of accessing what the traders brought into port from their voyages. Some of those treasures — spices, sugar and molasses — made this ultimate comfort food possible.

In his bestselling novel, “The House of the Seven Gables,” Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote:

“Life, within doors, has few pleasanter prospects than a neatly arranged and well-provisioned breakfast-table. We come to it freshly, in the dewy youth of the day, and when our spiritual and sensual elements are in better accord than at a later period; so that the material delights of the morning meal are capable of being fully enjoyed… .”

The iconic mansion has long known the pleasures of a delicious meal, beautifully presented. Hawthorne, even in his fiction, rejoiced in the delights of comfort food, food that excites all the senses.

Creative Collective’s 2021 #StayLocal Campaign

Initiative encourages community to shop small and support local small businesses this November and December

It’s time for #StayLocal2021 – follow the hashtag for the best of local eats, drinks, experiences, and shopping North of Boston.

The approaching Holiday season is putting people in the shopping, eating, and drinking mood as small businesses across the North Shore are gearing up for the busiest time of the year. Following up the successful 2020 #StayLocal campaign, Creative Collective is launching #StayLocal2021, encouraging individuals to shop and support small this upcoming holiday season. Learn more.