Cakes and Ale at Woodbine: From Twelfth Night to New Year’s Day

By Paul Theerman, Associate Director

Part of the Margaret Barclay Wilson collection of cookbooks and cookery, Cakes and Ale at Woodbine: From Twelfth Night to New Year’s Day is a pseudonymously published light novel of mid-century Fordham, New York. Ostensibly the work of “Barry Gray,” the book was written by Robert Barry Coffin (1826–1886), one of the “Bohemians” of antebellum New York.[i]  He was a critic for, and eventually editor of, the Home Journal, later renamed Town and Country, which continues in publication to this day.  This book was first published in 1868; the Library’s edition is from 1883.

The “cakes and ale” of the title is not culinary, but purely literary. On the title page is this quote from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night: “Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?” (Act 2, Scene 3).

sir-toby-belch

Sir Toby Belch uttered the line “Dost thou think, because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?” the epigram for the novel. This is an image of Lionel Brough in a 1901 production.

“Cakes and ale” are not only mentioned in Twelfth Night, they are parts of Twelfth-Night celebrations: the merriment on the day of (or day before, depending on how one count) the feast of the Epiphany on January 6, the twelfth day after Christmas. Coffin is therefore having fun with the title, “From Twelfth Night to New Year’s Day,” as it means from January 6 all around to January 1: a romp through the year, touching on all the major holidays in turn. Each day is an occasion for indulging in cakes and ale, “the good things of this life” (p. 13): Epiphany, the first day of spring, a birthday, Easter, the fourth of July, “summer,” Christmas and a Christmas wedding, and then New Year’s.

Set at the author’s purported cottage, Woodbine, in Fordham, New York, domestic scenes alternate with long fanciful stories, much of which contrast city and country life, to the decided benefit of the latter! Toward the end of the book, the narrator has an imagined (perhaps alcohol-induced) encounter with Santa Claus, who says he prefers the large expansive chimneys of the country to the narrow ones of the city, and thought that the new city fashion of Christmas trees might put him out of a job:

“When the city folks first began to talk about Christmas trees, and introduced them into their nurseries, it nearly broke my heart; for I feared that my occupation . . . was gone” [p. 225.]

The virtues of the country always win out, in grand matters of love, and more prosaic ones of cakes and ale.

May you have a great holiday season, and may you get all the cakes and ale you want!


Another literary retreat, left, the Edgar Allan Poe house in Fordham, New York, where the author lived from 1846 to 1849, some 20 years before the recounted events in Cakes and Ale, also set in Fordham, a village only recently connected to the city by rail.  Right, a view of the Poe cottage in its rural setting.

References

[i] “Gray, Barry (1826–1886) [Robert Barry Coffin],” in “The Vault at Pfaff’s: An Archive of Art and Literature by the Bohemians of Antebellum New York,” https://pfaffs.web.lehigh.edu/node/54192, accessed December 22, 2016.

Image Sources

“Good Cakes Like Us Are Baked With Care and Royal Baking Powder!” (Item of the Month)

By Arlene Shaner, Reference Librarian for Historical Collections

Some of the most engaging materials in the cookery collection of the New York Academy of Medicine’s Library are late 19th and early 20th century advertising pamphlets. Small books of recipes, histories of coffee, tea, spices, and other foods, and brochures touting the health benefits of one product or another offer a window into the changing tastes of the American public, new innovations in the mass production of foods, and the development of mass market advertising. A number of these pamphlets came to us as part of NYAM Fellow Margaret Barclay Wilson’s collection of books on food and cookery, donated to the library in 1929.

RoyalBakingPowderCo_TheLittleGingerbreadMan_1923_cover_watermarkOne charming example is The Little Gingerbread Man, published in 1923 by the Royal Baking Powder Company, located at 108 East 42nd Street in New York. Written in rhyme, the pamphlet tells the story of the land of Jalapomp, where baking has been declared illegal because of the ineptitude of the cook. Poor Princess Posy, whose birthday is approaching, worries that she won’t have a cake. Alerted to the sad state of affairs by a little Flour Fairy, the Queen of Flour Folk sends Johnny Gingerbread and his friends off in a chocolate plane to save the day. Toting a tin of Royal Baking Powder and a copy of the New Royal Cook Book for the cook, the fragrant baked treats convince the king that baking powder and new recipes will set things right before they head back home to Cookery Land.

A tin of Royal Baking Powder features prominently in most of the pamphlet’s illustrations, and the cookbook appears as well. You, too, can try your hand at making some of the Royal treats, as almost every page also contains a recipe for baked goods, including one for gingerbread men. Readers of the pamphlet (or their mothers, since the book itself was clearly meant for children) could obtain free copies of the New Royal Cook Book by writing to the company as instructed on the final page of the story.

Although she is uncredited, the author of the pamphlet was probably Ruth Plumly Thompson, who wrote more than 20 volumes of the Oz series, a continuation the stories told in L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and its many sequels. The illustrations are attributed to Charles J. Coll.

Click the images to read the full pamphlet: