- 1814: The earliest possible reference to saleratus I could find is from a rootsweb.com description of pioneer women of Madison, Ohio. A woman named, Mrs. Elisha Wood (Polly Doty), evidently arrived in Madison in 1814, “when saleratus was made by burning cobs in an outdoor oven . . . ” (it is possible they were making the less refined potash though).
- Research into store account books from the 1820s and 1830s in New England, conducted by Old Sturbridge Village indicates that saleratus was sold for household use in very small quantities.
- 1828: Eliza Leslie’s 1828 edition of Seventy-Five Sweetmeats for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats, contains a recipe for Lafayette Gingerbread that calls for pearl-ash dissolved in milk to lighten the cake; however, the 1832 edition suggests that sal-aeratus may be substituted for pearl-ash in the Lafayette Gingerbread recipe.
- An early account of saleratus comes from an advertisement in the November, 8, 1830 edition of Baltimore’s American and Commercial Daily Advertiser. The advertisement reads: “Sal’ eratus – 20 boxes best quality just received and for sale by W. Rhoads, 12 Bowley’s Wharf.”
- Lydia Marie Child’s 1830 cookbook, The Frugal Housewife, Dedicated to those Who Are Not Ashamed of Economy, has a recipe for Indian Cakes that requires, “a handful of saleratus.”
- Eliza Leslie also suggested using sal-aeratus in the 1832 edition for a recipe for Gingerbread Nuts.
- Old Sturbridge Village documents also reveal that an 1836 Treasurer’s Report from the Shrewsbury Female Charitable Society lists saleratus as an item to be donated to a Mrs. Carey.
The Recipe: Saleratus Cake
Source: The Sarah D. Griffen, Clyde Griffen, and Margaret Thibault Collection of Goldsborough Family Papers, Maryland State Archives, Baltimore, 1845 (MSA.SC 2085-0-13-1)
Modern Recipe Adaptation
(This recipe makes half the amount of the original recipe.)
- 2 2/3 Cups Flour, Divided (make sure your flour is whisked until it is light)
- 1/2 teaspoon Ceylon Cinnamon
- 1/2 Teaspoon Nutmeg
- 1/4 Teaspoon Mace
- 1/4 Teaspoon Cloves
- 1 Pound Dried Fruit (golden raisins, Zante currants, raisins)
- 6 Ounces Butter (1 1/2 sticks) Softened
- 1 1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
- 2 Eggs
- 1 Cup Sour Milk, Divided - (this can be cultured buttermilk or just 1 cup milk with 1 tablespoon white vinegar or lemon juice)
- 1/2 Teaspoon Saleratus (or baking soda)
- 1/4 Cup Brandy
- Preheat the oven to 375º F.
- Grease a cake mould such as a tube pan or a bundt pan. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and place the prepared cake pan on top of it.
- In a medium sized bowl, mix together 2 1/2 cups of the flour with the spices and set aside. If you are using baking soda instead of saleratus, you can whisk it into the flour and skip steps 6 and 7.
- Mix the remaining 1/4 cup flour with the dried fruit in another medium sized bowl and set aside.
- Mix together the butter and sugar with a wooden spoon or an electric mixer. Add the eggs, 3/4 cup of the milk, and the brandy. Mix until well blended.
- In a small bowl, whisk the saleratus into the remaining 1/4 cup of milk.
- Add the saleratus/milk mixture to the batter and mix together until well-blended.
- Add the flour. Mix until well blended but do not over mix the batter.
- Add the flour-coated dried fruit and mix until evenly distributed.
- Spoon into the prepared cake pan. Bake for 50 minutes or until a knife inserted comes out clean.
- Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes.
- Remove cake from baking pan and dust with powdered sugar while still warm.
1. Food History News, Vol. IV, No. 2
3. Food History News, Vol, IV, No. 2, p. 4
4. Leslie, Eliza. Seventy-Five Sweetmeats for Pastry, Cakes, and Sweetmeats, 1828 ed., p.67