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Lemon Gingerbread from Lucy Washington

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
March 30th, 2015

Blog post by Lori Hostuttler, Digital Projects and Outreach Archivist, WVRHC.

The WV & Regional History Center is truly filled with treasures – one of my favorites happens to be the Lucy Washington Cookbook, A&M 3212.  Lucy Washington’s grandfather was a nephew of President George Washington.  She lived in Jefferson County, West Virginia, where many Washington family members held land and built homes.  In 1840, Lucy married John Packett.  Their home, Locust Hill, was located near Charles Town.  

Postcard showing two trees and visitors in from of Locust Hill building
Locust Hill was the site of a Civil War skirmish between Confederate General Jubal Early and Federal General Philip Sheridan on August 21, 1864.  The home is no longer standing.
Girl seated on stump, with bullet holes visible in the brickwork of the building behind her
Evidence of the Civil War battle, bullet holes, are visible on the walls of Locust Hill.  Catherine Packett is pictured seated on the stump.

The Washington family has a significant history in the eastern panhandle, but today I really want to write about Lucy Washington’s recipes.  Lucy lived from 1823 to 1881.  She collected recipes, just as we do today.  Her collection also contains home remedies for colds, sores and other ailments as well as instructions for household needs such as dye and candle making.  The cookbook is a remarkable look into Lucy’s kitchen and domestic life in the nineteenth century.

As I perused the handwritten recipes, I thought it would be fun to try to recreate one of them.  One of Lucy’s recipes, Lemon Gingerbread, caught my eye because it seemed relatively simple.  More important, it also sounded like it might taste good.

Original Lemon Gingerbread recipe from Lucy Washington's Cookbook

The original, handwritten recipe for Lemon Gingerbread.

For the most part, I was able to transcribe the recipe.  The words leading up to the final ingredient of cayenne pepper are difficult to interpret. The recipe reads:

“Lemon Gingerbread


Great the rind of 2 or 3 lemons and add the juice to a glass of brandy then mix the grated lemon in one pound of flour make a hole in the flour pour a half pound of treacle half pound of butter melted the lemon juice and brandy mix up all together with an half ounce of grated ginger and…unclear [suggestion: quarter of an ounce]…cayenne pepper.”

I love to cook and to bake, but I have never undertaken an endeavor like this.  My first step was to make sure I had all of the ingredients. Most of them are common to our modern pantries.  The only one that might be unfamiliar is treacle, which is another name for molasses.  I use molasses in ginger snap cookies, but also in small amounts in chili and baked beans.

Ingredients on a table

All of the ingredients called for in the original recipe in their modern form.

The recipe calls for a larger quantity than I really wanted to prepare for this experiment.  It also lacks some ingredients that I would normally use when baking a quick bread. (Breads that do not include yeast are called quick breads.)  Last but not least, I didn’t have time – or patience, to be truthful – to make the recipe as is and I was concerned that it might not be very tasty.  So I decided to adapt the recipe a bit.  I looked at several recipes for gingerbread and developed my own version.

Ingredients on table

The ingredients I added that were not in Lucy’s original recipe.

I added an egg and buttermilk to make sure the bread was moist; salt and cinnamon for flavor; and baking soda to help it rise.   At least one of the modern gingerbread recipes did not include any egg, so I think it would have been fine to omit it.  The other change I made was to bake this as mini muffins instead of an 8×8 square.

Mini muffin tin

The muffins – we did eat four of them right out of the oven.

The results – the gingerbread was moist and tasted good, but the lemon did not stand out at all.  The molasses flavor dominated the muffins.  I made a quick glaze to add lemon flavor which helped a little.  I shared the muffins with my significant other and my colleagues who gave them generally good reviews.   This was a fun experience for me and I plan on working with more recipes from Lucy Washington’s collection in the future.  My adapted recipe as made for this blog post:

Lemon Gingerbread Mini Muffins inspired by Lucy Washington Packett

Dry Ingredients:

2 1/3 cup flour

1 ½ teaspoon ground ginger

½ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

A pinch of cayenne pepper

Wet Ingredients:

2 Tablespoons lemon zest (approximately 2 lemons – add more for greater lemon flavor)

Juice of two lemons

¼ cup brandy

½ cup (1 stick) butter, melted

1 cup molasses (add less if desired)

1 egg, slightly beaten (can be omitted)

1 cup buttermilk

Glaze (optional):

Add lemon juice to one cup of powdered sugar until desired consistency.

Combine dry ingredients and set aside.  Combine wet ingredients and add to dry.  Mix well.  Fill mini muffin tins ¾ full.  Bake for 20 minutes at 350 degrees.  Drizzle with glaze while warm. Makes 48 mini muffins.

4 Responses to 'Lemon Gingerbread from Lucy Washington'

  1. Anita Hoffman Says:

    Are there any plans to publish the cookbook? I would love to have a copy if it ever became available!! Thank you!

  2. Jane Metters LaBarbara Says:

    We don’t have any publication plans at this time, but I’ll keep that in mind–if we get it transcribed, it would make for quite a fun book!

  3. Mike Kendra Says:

    This missing part of the recipe you couldn’t read….

    “…a quarter of an ounce…”

    Search for Lemon Gingerbread from Godey’s Ladies Magazine, 1861, almost a perfect match, just a few minor details different.

  4. Jane Metters LaBarbara Says:

    Thank you, I’ll add that suggestion to the post!

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