Monday May 5th Made some sponge cake this morning
& swept & dusted rather more than usual Jane washed
the clothes and put them out without rinsing & let
the hard rain come on them. Has been a driving
storm all the […] day Mrs Stetson & Mrs
George [Ames] were here to tea Harriet was taken sick
and went to bed. Charles Mitchell came to see
her in the stage[…]
Jane McHanna had an idea this morning. If nature was going to keep throwing stormy weather at her on Laundry Day, she’d make it work for her rather than against her. Instead of rinsing them herself, she hung those towels, shirts and all else outside and let the rain rinse the suds off. The “hard rain” saved her some tub time, although hanging those heavy clothes with the suds still on them couldn’t have been easy work.
Meanwhile, Evelina stayed indoors sweeping, dusting and doing some light baking. Instead of firing up the brick oven, she probably baked her sponge cake right in a tin stove that she most likely had in her kitchen.
Sponge cake was a dessert whose recipe the Puritans brought over from England. In western cooking, it was one of the earliest iterations of a yeastless batter. Mary Peabody Mann wrote in her 1858 cookbook, Christianity in the Kitchen, that sponge cake “if made right, is the least injurious of any form of cake, because it contains no butter.” She cautioned, however, that “it is very difficult to make it good. Eggs must be perfectly fresh, in the first place. They should be kept in cold water the night previous, and the whites should be beaten in a cool place, separately, and to a thick froth, with a cork stuck cross-wise upon a fork, and without stopping once.” Sarah Josepha Hale, meanwhile, in her 1841 The Good Housekeeper, offered her own admonishment that cakes, “those tempting but pernicious delicacies [,are]…to be partaken of as a luxury.”
The man who called on the ailing Harriett Ames Mitchell was her brother-in-law, Charles, who had once lived with Harriett and Asa in Cambridge, before they moved to western Pennsylvania. Charles, younger by several years, was a good friend of the family. Mrs. Stetson was also a friend of the family and Almira Ames was a cousin. Everyone sipped tea while rain fell on the roof, the road, the garden and the white, wet laundry.