I have a beloved, vintage family cookbook (Purity Cookbook, 1945 edition), which is tattered and food splattered but contains the recipe that inspired Recipe for a Perfect Wife: the “Busy Day Cake.” It’s a basic, white cake that can be decked out with fancy adornments—like the sugared flowers my 1950s character, Nellie, uses—or kept simple with a shake of sprinkles. As a writer who works from home (and often bakes for procrastination) I love that something like the Busy Day Cake exists—because who isn’t busy these days? Writing this novel raised a lot of questions for me about gender roles and expectations, questions I am not sure there are full answers for, but it also made me appreciate my daily life in a new way. I have choices and freedoms about how I spend my time (cake baking in the morning, writing in the afternoon), unlike many of the women of past generations.
Busy Day Cake, Purity Cookbook (1945 edition)
½ cup butter
⅓ teaspoon lemon or vanilla extract
1 ¾ cups granulated sugar
2 ½ cups sifted Purity Flour
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup sweet milk
4 egg whites, unbeaten
Cream butter until it is soft and creamy, add flavoring while creaming. Add sugar. Sift together flour, salt, and baking powder and add to butter mixture, followed immediately by the milk and unbeaten egg whites. Stir mixture quickly and gently until it is well blended. Spread carefully into well-greased 7 x 12-inch cake pan and bake in moderate oven (350°F) for 60 to 65 minutes. Allow baked cake to set for 20 to 25 minutes before removing from pan. Cool and spread with any desired icing.