SWEET TREAT ‘EM@TheArboretum offers decades of summertime sweets from the 1870s time period of the folktale, “WUNDERGARTEN,” to the 2020s of today. I can’t imagine a more enchanting picnic place than under the cool, tree-canopied shade of the Wildflowers & Woodlands Garden at Sportsman Lake Park (Cullman County) which inspired “WUNDERGARTEN.”
The magical recipe box that fictional heroine, Frau Ruehl, brought to Colonial Cullman from her native Germany, was a treasure chest of sweet memories from gingerbread to Black Forest cake. She loved recreating old family favorites, but the industrious and innovative homemaker also enjoyed introducing her guests to flavors from her new world in America.
SWEET TREAT ‘EM@TheArboretum presents this smile-inducing, culinary history collection from the last 150 years of Cullman County candy, cake and cobbler cooks:
1870s—GINGERBREAD is the name we give to a variety of spiced, baked goods, typically flavored with ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves. Traditional German gingerbread became a sweet treat with the addition of honey, but in America, more available molasses was often the chosen sweetener.
1880s—MARSHMALLOWS, an essential element for summertime, campsite S’mores, were invented when a French chef added sugar to the fluffy, whisked root of the marsh-mallow plant (Althaea officinalis). Today, the main ingredients for marshmallows, one of few sweet treats I prefer factory-produced rather than homemade, are: sugar, gelatin, water…and air.
1890s—CRACKER JACKS are a very-American sweet treat concoction of native corn, molasses and peanuts. The brand was registered in 1896 and culinary historians consider it the first junk food. From its early days, it was packaged with a delightful, little prize nestled amongst the tasty kernels and legumes. The forgotten brand slogan from the 1890s was “The More You Eat, The More You Want,” but these catchy song lyrics are still regularly enjoyed today:
“Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd;
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,
I don’t care if I never get back.
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don’t win, it’s a shame.
For it’s one, two, three strikes, you’re out,
At the old ball game.”
1900s—BANANA SPLIT was invented by a Pennsylvania optometrist using banana fruit shipped from the Southern port of New Orleans. To be your own soda jerk, cut a peeled banana lengthwise, serve with three scoops of ice cream (one each of vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry) between the halves, drizzle with chocolate sauce and top with whipped cream and maraschino cherries. Crushed nuts (generally peanuts or walnuts) are optional. Our thanks to that 1900s optometrist—we’re keeping an eye out for the next sweet treat coming out of PA.
1910s—APPLE DUMPLING is a baked or boiled pastry-wrapped apple. Typically, the apple core is removed and stuffed with cinnamon, butter, sugar and sometimes dried fruits like raisins or currants. In 1879, Mark Twain included baked apple dumplings on a list of American foods “unmatched by European hotel cuisine.” Perhaps apple dumplings should be thought of as “creative-thinkers food,” considering they were the favorite sweet treat of Thomas Edison.
1920s—RUM CAKE is a type of dessert cake which contains rum. In most of the Caribbean Islands, rum cakes are a traditional, Christmastime sweet. Rum Cake recipes from the booze-soaked “Roaring 20s,” called for ½ cup rum to bake the cake and then it was soaked in rum to “season” in a cool place for a few days. Rum Cake is generally considered an adults-only dessert.
1930s—PEACH COBBLER was an affordable-for-some, Depression Era treat. This dessert originated in the British-American colonies with biscuits or scones topping the baked fruit. The word “cobbler” is thought to derive from the upper crust resembling a cobblestone path.
1940s—PINEAPPLE UPSIDE DOWN CAKE became popular after the Dole Pineapple Company sponsored a recipe contest. This creation involves lining the bottom of a skillet with pineapple slices, each plugged with a cherry, then covered with simple batter, baked and flipped for serving. After the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, this fruitcake had a huge new wave of patriotic popularity.
1950s—BAKED ALASKA is ice cream and cake topped by a browned meringue. The secret is to have a VERY HOT oven that quickly browns the meringue without melting the ice cream. For a “showboat dessert,” you could notch it up to a “Bombe Alaska” which calls for dark rum to be splashed over the Baked Alaska. Then, the entire thing is flambeed while being served—TAH-DAAAH!
1960s—CHOCOLATE FONDUE was a “hippie happening, melting pot” with skewered chunks of pound cake being dipped in melted chocolate. Give piece (of cake) a chance.
1970s—BLACK FOREST CAKE, or in the original German, “Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte” is a chocolate and cream cake with a rich cherry filling. Traditionally, “kirschwasser,” sour cherry liqueur is added to the cake. In fact, German law (not something with which to be trifled) mandates that any dessert labeled “Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte” must have sour cherry liqueur. Ja!
1980s—TRIFLE is so “veddy British,” it was destined to soar to worldwide popularity in the decade that gave us the fairytale marriage of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer. Trifle is a layered dessert, often created in a clear glass compote so diners may ogle the architecture. Usually, there is a thin layer of sponge cake soaked in sherry, a fruit layer, a slather of fruit jelly, custard, then (because too much trifle is not enough) showily topped with whipped cream.
1990s—MOLTEN LAVA CAKE is pretty much a chocolate sponge cake that isn’t fully cooked and has a runny center. It’s sorta like eating a warm, intensely rich cup of melted chocolate while nibbling on a chocolate Twinkie.
2000s—FROZEN YOGURT is akin to sweet ice milk except that it’s yogurt, so, of course, it’s good for you. I’m certain many doctors recommend it. Well, that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.
2010s—CAKE POPS are all about re-purposing. Re-purposing is good for the environment, right? Cake pops help us make sure leftover cake crumbs are being totally consumed. Simply make a little ball of cake crumbs and cake icing and plunk that on a stick. This sweet treat is like a “cake lollipop.”
2020s—CRONUTS are the lovechild of a flaky croissant hooking up with a puffy doughnut. They were probably created by God with some help from those heavenly bakers who made angel food cake, but Chef Dominique Ansel of NYC generally gets the credit. The most popular Cronuts have a cream or fruit filling and are topped with a glaze. (Super easy cronut recipe below)
SWEET TREAT ‘EM@TheArboretum gives you 15 decades of history-making, no. 1 desserts to savor at the Wildflowers and Woodlands Garden at Sportsman Lake Park in Cullman this summer.
CELEBRATING IN THE WUNDERGARTEN This culinary storytelling series imagines foods made by Frau Ruehl, gardener heroine of the folktale “WUNDERGARTEN,” set in 1870s Cullman County.
EASY, SUPER EASY, HOMEMADE CRONUTS
- 1 box Pepperidge Farms puff pastry, 2 sheets
- 1 egg, beaten
- 2 cups grapeseed oil
- 1/4 cup of white sugar
- 1/4 tsp. of cinnamon
- (Optional: crème anglaise to pour on top)
- Unfold your puff pastry sheets (they come folded into thirds) and leave them out at room temperature to defrost—about 15 to 20 minutes. Brush the top of each sheet with your beaten egg. Fold the sheets back into thirds and set in the freezer for about 15 minutes.
- Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Once oil starts to bubble, it’s ready. Take puff pastry out of the freezer, and without unraveling, cut out 3 donut shapes out of each sheet. If you don’t have a donut cutter, then use a small glass. Use a “pastry tip” (or other small, round object) to cut out small holes from the center.
- Fry each donut ring in the oil for about a minute on each side. The first one may take more than 1 minute since the oil may not be at optimal heat, but the goal is to get a deep, golden color. Once done, move the cronut to a paper towel to slightly cool on.
- While you continue to fry the rest of the cronuts, dip and roll the already made, slightly warm cronuts into your sugar-cinnamon mixture. If desired, pour crème anglaise over the top.
SWEET TREAT ‘EM@TheArboretum and AUF WIEDERSEHEN Y’ALL!
Find all columns in this series at www.cullmantribune.com/tag/celebrating-in-the-wundergarten.