Mrs. Beeton Christmas Cake ~1861

Simple Christmas Cake Recipe.

This Christmas Cake recipe is from the famous Mrs. Beeton’s recipe collection c. 1861. A few things about this particular recipe. First, I think it’s fascinating how the editors include the average cost of the recipe at the end of each recipe.

1 s. = 1 shilling
6 d. = 6 pennies/pence

Tried to find a currency converter for you, my dear readers, but the interwebs failed me on this one.

The second fun aspect of our Christmas Cake recipe is the fact that you dissolve the baking soda into vinegar before adding it to the cake. Really? I use this same technique to unclog drains. Are we thinking that this was just for show?

Happy Holidays!

More Fun Discoveries from Antique Cookbooks

6 thoughts on “Mrs. Beeton Christmas Cake ~1861

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  1. I couldn’t resist doing a little research for the currency conversion, LOL! First, a quick Google search said GBP 1 = 20s and 1s = 6p. So the total cost of the recipe is 1.5s or 0.075 pounds sterling. in 1861. I’m a lot more familiar with USD price indexes so I worked from that angle but you can do it without the dollar conversion if you can find the information.

    First, a check of the currency exchange rate between USD and GBP. WSJ has that as USD 1 = GPB 0.7336.

    Now we need a USD price index for 1861. This isn’t straightforward since the “official” US CPI wasn’t computed until 1913. I found a 1960 National Bureau of Economic Research paper by Ethel D. Hoover of the Bureau of Labor Statistics that computed price indexes back to 1851. The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis does a lot of work in economic history and extended that paper to compute comparable price indexes through 2018 in 1967 dollars. They found that The 1861 index was 27 and the 2018 index was 752.9 (extrapolated from year-over-year Q1-Q1 pricing data). So 2018 price = 1861 price * (2018 index/1861 index) gives us the conversion: USD 1 in 1861 = USD 27.8852 in 2018.

    Now we convert 2018 USD 27.8852 to 2018 GBP using the exchange rate from the WSJ. $27.8852 * 0.7336 = GBP 20.4566.

    For the next step we translate the 1861 British price to a 2018 British price. The University of Wyoming has a historic currency converter going back to the 1200s for GBP. Knowing that the total cost of the recipe is 1s 6p which represents 0.075 GBP the currency converter says that 1861 1s 6p = 2018 GBP 5.63.

    Finally, we use the current exchange rate between the dollar and the pound sterling from the WSJ and find 2018 GBP 5.63 = 2018 USD 7.67.

    So the recipe in today’s currency cost GBP 5.63 or $7.67.

    Now, how much was the recipe in 1861 USD? I wasn’t able to find an exchange rate calculator going back that far and I suspect that was because in 1861 US currency was in its infancy and not widely recognized around the world. Coinage was generally valued based on its gold content. A little more research turned up a site from a historical statistics society that did a conversion based on the gold standard in both the US and Britain. Essentially they convert each currency to the amount of gold it could buy based on the price of gold in each country at the time. Based on their conversion the cost of the recipe in USD in 1861 was approximately 36 cents.

    And that was literally the most fun I’ve had in weeks!!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. HA! Economists… You never know what’s going to set them off… That was so much fun to read. You have a rare gift, my friend. Is it time to join a historical society to help them with their price conversions? If nothing else, at least there’s a paper in this or an app you could develop. 😛 Fantastic. Just fantastic.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m still thinking about this actually because 36 cents sounds like a LOT of money for this recipe. The gold equivalency was the best way I could think of to equate 1861 GBP and 1861 USD. In 1861 the US had already had three major gold rushes while the UK’s gold rushes have been in Canada and Australia. This year was also at the height of Manifest Destiny with the Homestead Act passed in 1862. I have some theories:

        1.First US gold rush was in 1799 in North Carolina and the second was in Georgia in 1829. In 1861 both states had seceded from the Union and the Battle of Fort Sumter had ignited armed conflict. Gold from North Carolina and Georgia would have stayed the Confederacy and used along with cotton to try to lure European countries into an alliance.

        2.The California gold rush began in 1848 and lasted until 1855. It wasn’t until 1869 however that the transcontinental railroad system was complete. Therefore getting gold from California to the east coast was still difficult, compounding the gold scarcity in the Union states.

        3.In 1861 there was no widely-accepted national currency. It was the tail end of the “Free Banking” era in which banks were loosely regulated by the individual states and issued their own currency. Depending on the reputation of the bank and the distance from the bank to the transaction, the currency was discounted from its face value. By 1861 most of the bank failures that were to happen from Free Banking had already happened and then nationally regulated banks and a common currency began in 1863 with the National Bank Act.

        So, taking all of this together I don’t think using a gold equivalency standard is the right approach here. I don’t think the asset had commoditized to a point where we can invoke some sort of purchasing power parity in terms of its exchangeability and thus a “yardstick” of sorts for value. I think similar to a modern CPI we’d need to construct a basket of goods routine purchased by households in the US and the UK in 1861 and draw a comparison. I know in the 1850s there was a price index of sorts used to measure the relative prices of goods purchased by Vermont farmers. That might be a starting point.

        Deep thoughts over Christmas eggnog! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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