Portsmouth Orange Cake (1932) ★★★★

The cake I want to share with you today has a bit of an interesting history, much of which is strongly tied to New Hampshire. Portsmouth Orange Cake is included in a list of suggested foods to eat while in New Hampshire:

"Spongy and sweet in all the right places, Portsmouth orange cake is a favorite of many New Hampshire natives, who feasted on the dessert as children and who now consider the soft cake a summertime staple. It is usually made with orange zest or rinds and often with orange-flavored cream-cheese frosting. But some Portsmouth area restaurants and home bakers also add fresh-picked cranberries from New Hampshire bogs to sweeten the already wonderful after-dinner delight."

The earliest mention I found was in Green's Receipt Book (1894). This book, amazingly, seemed to have been very devoted to this particular cake recipe, as the title page actually advertises in very large print that it includes "the original receipts for Famous Portsmouth Orange Cake..." The first section of recipes is for cakes, and is preceded with a note stating, "First, I will give the receipts collected in Portsmouth, including Famous Portsmouth Orange cake, Black cake, and Walnut cake." Below is the supposed authentic recipe in its entirety:

It seems like the recipe was consistently popular, as forty years later it was still being printed in cookbooks. I've found several mentions of the cake from the 1930s, not including the version featured here, which is from 1932. It was also included as a suggestion for a worker's lunch in Ida Bailey Allen's Cooking, Menus, Service (1935) and a 1935 advertisement in the Portsmouth Times refers to a "Mello Gold Orange Cake" as "an ideal hot weather treat," which may or may not be the cake we're discussing here. I found newspaper references to Portsmouth Orange Cake throughout the 1970s and 80s as well. One of these mentioned the cake as part of a Christmastime feast. A recipe for the cake was also included in the 1975 The Thirteen Colonies Cookbook, a book highlighting foods from each of the original 13 colonies of the United States. This recipe is very basic and different from older recipes. If Portsmouth Orange Cake was a recipe brought over by settlers from the Old World, then this may be an early version of the recipe. Oranges had been introduced throughout Europe by the mid 1600s. It is interesting to note that the Thirteen Colonies version is most similar to the 1894 version from Green's (compare the methods of handling the eggs). This recipe is a good example of how methods and ingredients can change over time.

Original Recipe:

The Verdict:

Overall, not bad. But not amazing either. The cake itself was really dense and a bit bland. It also stuck to the pan a lot, but luckily because it was so dense I pried it out without any breakage. The icing was okay, but tasted way too strongly of orange zest. It overpowered every other part of the cake. As a whole, it was a nice concept - the fresh sections of orange in the middle were really nice and refreshing too. I would definitely eat this voluntarily, but I wasn't impressed enough with the cake to want to make this again myself. I'm going to give this 4 stars, but its probably closer to 3.5 stars.

Modernized Recipe:

(Adapted from The Sunny South and Golden West Cook Book)

1 cup SUGAR
3 tablespoons ORANGE JUICE
1 cup FLOUR
1 teaspoon BAKING POWDER

2 tablespoons LEMON JUICE
2 tablespoons WATER

1. Preheat the oven to 350F and liberally grease two 9 inch round cake pans.
2. In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs and sugar together until thick. Stir in the orange juice. Add the flour and baking powder and fold together.
3. Divide the batter between the two pans and bake for 10 - 15 minutes.
4. While the cakes are cooling, make the frosting. Mix the zest of half an orange with the icing sugar. Add the lemon juice and depending on the consistency, add water to make a thick but spreadable icing.
5. Spread the icing on the top of the first layer, and fill with thin sections of orange (thinly slice an orange, cut each slice in half, and cut off the peel). Place the second layer of cake on top and spread the rest of the icing on the top of the  cake layer.


"Food Not To Miss In New Hampshire." KC Community News. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Nov. 2013. <http://prewww.kccommunitynews.com/travelgetaways/18691300/detail.html>.

Green, Ralph. Green's Receipt Book. Concord, N.H.: Republican Associated, 1894. International Correspondence School & American School of Correspondence Directories Archive. Web. 2 Nov. 2013. <http://www.icsarchive.org/icsarchive-org/paperback/cookbooks/greens_receipt_book_1894.pdf>.

Mello Gold Orange Cake. Advertisement. Google News. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Nov. 2013. <http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=vZFeAAAAIBAJ&sjid=t0sNAAAAIBAJ&dq=portsmouth%20orange%20cake&pg=2584%2C3133062>.

Olver, Lynne. "New Deal Food Programs." The Food Timeline. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Nov. 2013. <http://www.foodtimeline.org/fooddecades.html>.

Anje graduated with a Honours Bachelors degree in History with a minor in Museum Studies. She currently lives and works in Japan's least populous prefecture as an assistant English teacher.

1 comment:

  1. It's too bad that it wasn't all that tasty, as it looks gorgeous!