According to Atlas Obscura, Election Day used to rank much higher on the holiday scale—a day for people to file into town from far-flung farms and celebrate their right to vote. Since women were more than a century away from being granted that right, they encouraged (white, landowning) men to vote by passing out thick slices of spiked, spiced fruitcake. Before this particular treat became an Election Day staple, it was known as “muster cake” and baked for colonial men whom the British military had “mustered” for training. Once Britain had lost its hold on the colonies, women reappropriated the cake as a symbol of democracy.
A recipe from Amelia Simmons’s 1796 cookbook, American Cookery, reveals just how much of a community endeavor election cake really was: In addition to a pint of wine and a quart of brandy, it calls for a staggering 30 quarts of flour, 10 pounds of butter, 12 pounds of raisins, and 14 pounds of sugar. Because household ovens couldn’t accommodate such a mammoth dessert, women would use communal bread ovens.
These days, however, bakers usually make much smaller versions of election cake. Key among them are Susannah Gebhart and Maia Surdam—owners of OWL Bakery in Asheville, North Carolina—who led the charge to resurrect the tradition during the general election of 2016. Together with Richard Miscovich, the department chair of Johnson & Wales University’s College of Food Innovation and Technology, the bakers devised a recipe for election cake that calls for sourdough starter or instant yeast, sherry (which is optional), and rehydrated fruit, among other ingredients. The result is a dense bundt cake that Gebhart described to NPR as “not too sweet.” “It’s quite a beguiling little cake,” she said.
[h/t Atlas Obscura]