A Few Facts
I received word back from my aunt about GG Loney. Her full name was Louie (or maybe Lowie, which is how it’s spelled on her birth certificate entry on MNHS.org) Elizabeth Lewis, born Dec. 8 1902 to parents Albert and Sadie Lewis in Wendell, MN.
A cursory look at Wendell on Google Maps shows five or six total streets with a car repair shop. There is really nothing there. The nearest historical society is in Fergus Falls and they are running quite the family history hustle, charging $15 for a copy of a photograph that you are never, ever to reproduce. If you’d like another copy, you can pay another $15. That seems to me absurd but I suppose you must pay the bills somehow.
Beyond this basic information about Louie, I’m struggling to dig up anything further about her on the internet. I would really, really enjoy looking at her marriage certificate, but I cannot seem to locate it. I imagine I could start my free trial on Ancestry.com, but I don’t want to waste my fourteen free days until I exhaust all other channels. I just need to make time for a trip to Duluth to spend time with my grandma and dig up photographs. That’s where the treasure trove is.
In the meantime, I was searching for something other than handwriting to do in the way my great-grandmother would. Handwriting and ballpoint pens, after all, were a huge hit (2 views – my clickbait worked)! I decided on dessert, because I’m going to a party tonight where desserts will be featured. I found an incredible website of 19th and 20th century cookbooks and decided to choose one that seemed a likely candidate of something Louie might have encountered as a young woman. After briefly considering Everyday Desserts by Olive Green (definitely not a pen-name), I decided to go with Good Housekeeping’s Book of Recipes and Household Discoveries, 1920 first edition. Green’s book was published in 1911 and Louie would have been 9 years old when that came out, so I felt like it was less likely that she would encounter it. (This decision had nothing to do with the fact that all the recipes were written in paragraph form with little to no direction. “Bake in three layers.” At what temperature? For how long? These are important things for me to know!)
The recipe I chose to make is called Coffee Cream Sponge Cake. It had a list of ingredients that I had in my pantry and the introduction of the book assured me that if I “used accurate and level measurements and follow directions carefully” than my “success is certain.”
If I wasn’t an avid fan of The Great British Bake Off, I imagine this would have gone worse. As it is, my cakes do indeed look a great deal like sponges, which I suppose is a success. I’ve never whipped egg whites before, so I was pretty grateful for how those turned out. Here’s the cake-baking play-by-play:
The directions were more or less logical until I got to the filling, which I suppose must be a frosting of some kind. The filling called for me to “place the granulated sugar, brown sugar, and coffee infusion” – which I made up out of instant coffee granules and water to undetermined success – “in a saucepan and cook until the mixture threads.” Threads… I didn’t know that was a verb. I thought it must be asking for me to make a caramel-esque type thing, which I’ve never made before, but which I have seen prepared on cooking shows. Rather than look it up, I decided to wing it. Because Louie didn’t have the internet.
The pot boiled over. There was sugar syrup everywhere. I pulled it off the burner and poured it into a bowl. All the sugar had dissolved, but I was still unsure as to whether I cooked it till it “threads” and I couldn’t decide if it was burnt or if my “coffee infusion” had made the mixture attractively bitter. As I waited for the “sirup” to cool, I decided that the eggs in my fridge were not fresh enough to make an egg white frosting for these cupcakes. And given that I planned to share these with friends, I did not want to freak them out. And also, I was afraid. So I decided to make a buttercream instead.
The butter I had was frozen, so I made an attempt to dethaw it in the microwave. Some of it straight up melted on the ends but the soft middle seemed okay, so I creamed it, not terribly certain if it would work but relatively sure it couldn’t hurt to try. The syrup thickened nicely and incorporated well, creating a really light, pleasant buttercream. Overall, despite some points of confusion and panic, the cake turned out just fine.