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Have a Slice of Old Glory

July 01, 1998|LEILAH BERNSTEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For many, the true spirit of the Fourth of July is in the food. When the fireworks have faded and the flags are back in the closet, it's often the memories of fried chicken, potato salad and apple pie that linger.

Of course, food was a prominent part of the holiday 50 years ago, too. On July 4, 1948, an article appeared in the Los Angeles Times women's section called "Fourth of July Maintains Traditions in Feasting." It included recipes for orange honeyed ham and Betsy Ross cake.

The ham recipe calls for removing the skin of a completely cooked ham, then baking it fat side up, uncovered, at 325 degrees, eight minutes per pound. Then you remove it from the oven, pour off the fat and score the fat surface in diagonal lines. Next, sprinkle it with whole cloves and pour over it a blended mixture of 1 tablespoon grated orange peel and 1 cup each of orange juice and orange honey. Then return the ham to the oven and continue baking at 400 degrees, basting frequently, until it is glazed and brown.

The Betsy Ross cake is named in honor of the Philadelphia seamstress who is said to have designed and sewn the first U.S. flag. It's well documented that about a year after the Declaration of Independence was signed, the Continental Congress resolved that the flag be 13 alternating red-and-white stripes with 13 white stars in a blue field. Ross' contribution, according to legend, was the arrangement of five-pointed stars in a circle.

In this 1948 cake recipe, layers of raspberry jam and vanilla pudding represent the flag's stripes, and 13 stars are stenciled with powdered sugar in a circular pattern on top. You can create either white stars of powdered sugar or golden brown ones surrounded by powdered sugar.

Another interesting feature of this recipe is the use of cake mix in the ingredient list, a sign of how home cooks of the post-World War II era embraced convenience foods. Along with frozen foods, like the ubiquitous TV dinners of the 1950s, cake mixes were intended to make food preparation quick and easy.

In 1947, Betty Crocker introduced a ginger cake mix, followed in 1948 by Pillsbury's white and chocolate cake mixes. By the early 1950s, Duncan Hines was offering white, chocolate and yellow cake mixes.

According to Harvey Levenstein's book "Paradox of Plenty: A Social History of Eating in Modern America," General Mills' Betty Crocker cake mixes were among the "great marketing success stories of the time." Originally, only water had to be added. "However," Levenstein writes, "marketers soon realized that cake-baking was still too important a part of the housewife's self-image to eliminate her contribution completely. They therefore had the directions changed slightly to require the addition of one egg." Of course, there's also the fact that a fresh egg makes a better cake.

When decorating the top of the Betsy Ross cake, consider placing some raspberries or blueberries in the center of each star to enhance the Fourth of July color theme.

BETSY ROSS CAKE

1 (18 1/4-ounce) white cake mix

1 to 3 egg whites (depending on cake mix instructions)

Oil (amount depends on cake instructions)

Water (amount depends on cake mix instructions)

1 cup raspberry jam

1 (3.4-ounce) package vanilla pudding

2 cups milk

Powdered sugar

Prepare cake mix and bake in 2 (8-inch-round) baking pans according to package instructions. Let cool.

When cool, halve each layer horizontally. Set 1 browned top layer aside. Spread 1/3 cup raspberry jam over top of each of remaining 3 layers.

Prepare vanilla pudding according to package instructions. Let cool. Spread 1/3 cup pudding over each jam layer. Stack cake layers, ending with fourth layer with no jam or pudding.

For powdered sugar stars, place sheet of paper on top of cake and draw 12 stars around edge and 1 in center. Cut out stars and place sheet back on top of cake. Sift powdered sugar over paper, then lift off. For golden brown stars, create paper stencils in star shapes and place around cake top's edge and in center. Sift powdered sugar over top of cake. Remove paper stars. Serve cake same day.

8 servings. Each serving, with 1/3 cup oil and 3 egg whites:

444 calories; 471 mg sodium; 5 mg cholesterol; 16 grams fat; 70 grams carbohydrates; 7 grams protein; 1.88 grams fiber.

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