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My favorite shopping therapy is wandering the Paris flea market on Sunday afternoon.  There is something for everyone - from genuine antiques to obvious Rolex knock-offs.  I’m always hoping  to purchase an art object with an interesting backstory at a bargain price.  It never occurs to me to look among my own belongings for such treasures - it took our recent change of residence for me to discover one family heirloom hiding in plain sight!

While packing, I came upon a slim century-old volume of recipes from the Women’s Guild of St. James Episcopal Church in Sycamore, Illinois. Prominent among the contributors were Rose and Mrs C.O. Boynton (Lucetta), my husband’s grand and great grandmother respectively. The modest book’s yellowed pages were stapled, but it's not so modest title is: Perfection,


Like so many self-published books, this one bears no copyright notice, but tucked among the book’s back pages is a sepia newspaper clipping dated 1893.    What luck!  I had found a connection between past and present expressed in a medium I could recreate for the family, including Lucetta’s four-year-old great, great, great granddaughter.

I chose to test one of Lucetta’s contributions, a Coffee Cake recipe even though I wasn’t sure it could work.  Will a cake rise if it contains five cups of flour and only one teaspoon of  baking soda? I had to find out.


The first hurdle was to decide how to bake from a recipe with no directions for    selecting a cake pan, preheating the oven, mixing the ingredients or baking time.

My solution was to prepare the cake as I would a modern recipe:

  • I set the oven temperature at 350 degrees and thoroughly buttered a large Bundt pan.
  • I beat two sticks of room temperature butter in a Kitchen-Aid mixer for 2 minutes to aerate it.  (Lucetta  would have had to beat the butter for five minutes by hand to get the same results.)
  • I added in the sugar with the mixer running over the period of a minute and continued beating the mixture another two minutes.  Then I added the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each egg was incorporated.
  • I sifted the flour and spices together, and added  them in three installments alternating with coffee then molasses over which I sifted the baking soda (the recipe’s only direction).  The raisins went in last.
  • I spooned the batter into the prepared mold and baked  it until the cake’s internal temperature reached 200 degrees, one hour and ten minutes later.
  • After cooling for 10 minutes in the pan, the cake slipped out easily onto the rack to cool completely.


Lucetta was right, of course.  The cake is excellent: rich, spicy and not too sweet.  I dressed it up with a shower of confectioner’s sugar and placed it on a shiny platter so it would look like Perfection itself.