When runaway slave Eliza Harris makes her famous escape across the Ohio River's ragged wintry ice floes in "Uncle Tom's Cabin," she little suspects how well she'll be treated in the Abolitionist North.
A network of kindly souls -- despite the terrible, newly enacted Fugitive Slave Law which would compel them to betray her -- helps Eliza and her tiny son slip past the bounty hunters to a peaceful Quaker settlement in Indiana.
There, the scene opens in what must have been for author Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Eliza, too, an absolute domestic heaven.
Left far behind are the howls of her frothy-mouthed hound pursuers and the shouts of rough slave traders. Instead, a "gentle tinkling a teaspoons and musical clatter of cups" playing over the sound of warm, cooperative voices announce that Eliza Harris is finally safe.
Eliza is so stunned when she hears that her valiant husband. George, has also escaped from the clutches of the man hunters that she takes no notice of dinner at the settlement.
But breakfast -- when the gentle radiance of her Quaker hostess shines over the newly reunited family -- is a truly wondrous event. Even the knives and forks themselves make a "social clatter" as they go onto the table, and the ham and the chicken, says Stowe, have "a cheerful and joyous sizzle in the pan, as if they rather enjoyed being cooked than otherwise."
So busy is she with descriptions of these cheerful proceedings and of Eliza's and George's feelings at sitting down with their Quaker hosts as equals, Mrs. Stowe has no time to supply her curious readers with recipes for these delectable breakfast foods.
But all is not lost for those who can't bear to read about griddlecakes with a "true, exact, golden brown tint of perfection" without at least having a nibble themselves.
Though Stowe later felt that she had not written "Uncle Tom's Cabin" herself but had been inspired for every influential word, the powerful novel (1851-52) was far from her only socially conscious work.
In 1869, with her sister Catherine Beecher, Stowe published a masterwork on "domestic science," a concept they introduced to elevate the "honor and remuneration" of traditional women's work.
In this compendium of practical hints and moral counsel entitled "The American Woman's Home," I caught a glimpse of the attitudes that made Stowe so praise the Quaker kitchen.
And in a companion work, "Housekeeper and Healthkeeper," by the prolific Catherine alone, I was delighted to find recipes for exactly those savory dishes served with such grace by Eliza and George Harris's brave hosts.
Catherine Beecher solves the ever-recurring problem of what to serve for breakfast with an absolute store of practical and appealing recipes. Mary Halliday's golden griddlecakes, historically minded cooks will discover, are rich and easy to prepare.
The following are Catherine Beecher's original recipes. Divide recipes in half for more typical modern-size meals.m Cream Griddle Cakes 1 pint of thick cream 1 tea-spoonful salt 1 table-spoonful of sugar 3 well-beaten eggs.
Make a thin batter of unbolted [sifted] or of fine flour [about 1 1/2 cups] and bake on a [greased] griddle.
Also featured at the happy Quaker breakfast are light and delicious corn cakes. Stowe's confiding sister promises that if the batter is poured to 1-inch thickness, these fine cakes will "puff to double the thickness, like sponge-cake." Sachem's Head Corn-Cake 1 quart of sifted corn-meal, scalded 1 tea-spoonful of salt 3 pints of scalded sweet milk or water 1/2 tea-spoonful of soda in 2 great-spoonfuls of warm water. 1/2 tea-cup of sugar 8 eggs, the whites beaten separately, and added that last thing.
Make the cakes 1-inch thick in buttered pans [2 by 12-inch] before baking [at 425 degrees F. for 10 to 15 minutes].
Here's one bonus recipe from little Harry, Eliza's son, who was the only guest with enough presence of mind to sample the dessert cakes brought to the Hallidays by kind neighbors the afternoon before.
Though Stowe doesn't tell us what variety he actually tasted, it may have been Gold and Silver Cake from Catherine Beecher's great-grandmotherly book. Gold and Silver Cake
This makes a pretty variety when cut and placed together in a cake-dish. For each, take 1 cup of sugar (for the silver, white; for the gold, brown), 1/2 a cup of butter, 1/2 a cup of milk, 2 cups of flour, 1 tea-spoonful of cream tartar, and 1/2 as much soda.
For the 1 use the yolk of 3 eggs [for the gold]; an the white, as stiff froth , for the other [silber]. Mix the cream tartar very thoroughly in the flour, and put the soda in last. Bake immediately [at 375 degrees F. for 15 to 20 minutes].
This makes 1 loaf [cake] of each kind, in flat pans [9 by 12-inch], and is to be frosted.