The card says white cake, but with two cups of raisins…
A similar cake with slightly different proportions appeared under the name “white fruit cake” in the April 10, 1910 edition of The San Francisco Call:
To “C.H.,” of Bolton, Ga.
Dear C.H. (Bolton, Ga.).
In answer to your request for a recipe for white fruit cake, please accept the enclosed. I have tried it and we like it very much.
White Fruit Cake
Whites of three eggs; one large cupful of pulverized sugar; one-half cupful of butter; one and a half cups of flour; two level teaspoonfuls of baking powder; one large cupful of chopped raisins; chopped citron–as much or as little as you fancy.
Beat the whites of the eggs very stiff and fold in, last of all. Bake in a moderate oven, in a mold or in a large shallow pan. F.M.K. (Pittsfield, Mass.)
For your excellent, and brief, formula we are your grateful debtors, albeit it was meant for a single reader. I laid hold upon it for the general good.
I should explain pulverized sugar. In the 19th century, you would bring home a container of sugar in the form of a solid 11-pound cone. Of course, unless your recipe calls for 11 pounds of sugar in a cone shape, you face some difficult choices.
Option number one is to try to break this sugar apart yourself. It’s possible; people did it. Devices like a sugar nipper (a cross between pliers and scissors) or a sugar devil auger (used to drill into the compressed sugar in barrels) could get you started, and from there, you grind, grind, grind. Hope you had a snack before you started baking this cake, because this might take a while.
Option number two is to go to your grocer and acquire another form of sugar. By the second half of the 19th century, we had learned two methods of granulating sugar; one was to use a rake as it dried to keep the crystals separated and the other used centrifugal force to dry crystals in motion.
The problem, however, was that there was no Food and Drug Administration. The risk of buying pre-broken sugar is that it had a reputation for being frequently adulterated with things to increase its volume and make it whiter. Like, say, Plaster of Paris. (No pre-broken sugar was available to Americans in consumer-size containers until 1898, so you had to worry about the refinery, the wholesaler, and the retailer handling it.)
If you do choose the second option, however, you have to pick a size of sugar. The granulating methods weren’t exactly perfected and crystals of different sizes would form, then be passed through screens to sort out different sizes of sugar. Your sizes in the mid-to-late 19th century:
Sugar Candy — Rock candy, basically. It was the purest crystals you could get, so candymakers liked it, but it was very hard and didn’t easily dissolve, so unless you were making candy, it could probably be called pain-in-the-neck sugar.
Sugar cubes — Creatively enough, sugar cubes. Sale began in the 1870s.
Granulated sugar — More or less the same size to what we know today, and first arriving in the 1850s.
Powdered sugar — This grade, which appeared in 1851, was the consistency of what we’d call caster sugar, or superfine sugar, today.
Crushed sugar — This was actually tan in color, not white, and was crushed in the store. Generally, you needed to crush it further with a rolling pin and sift the result to make a cake.
Pulverized sugar — When grading granulated, powdered, crushed, and other types of sugars, whatever fell through all of the screens would be sold as pulverized sugar. This included some brown and tan sugars, but generally speaking, grading was done of white sugars, so it was primarily white.
So while modern powdered sugar is a fine substitute for pulverized sugar, if you wanted to make a cake that’s period authentic, you could mix some brown and white granulated sugar in a food processor and process until it’s pulverized.
From the box of A.D. from Lutz, Florida, by way of Pennsylvania in the 1940s, and originating in Ohio in the 1920s.
2 cups white sugar
1 cup butter
1 cup water
4 cups flour
2 cups raisins
3 Tbsp. baking powder
3 egg whites