opinion

Spice cake with casual racism

So I was going through my cookbooks, as I am wont to do, and I found this tattered old “Year Book” that was dated 1929 in a bunch of little books that were bundled together in a bag. I must have picked them up at a thrift store or estate sale. I dunno. I go to a a lot of these things and get books. Anyway, I got a little excited because I like old recipes. Turns out though that this Year Book was a blank book that someone from… I want to say 1970 or something, was using to paste recipes from the newspaper. 1971 was the only date I could find. Or… and this is completely possible too, there were two people using this book, one from the 1950’s and one from the 1970’s like a mom and daughter. Because there were recipes in the book and then there were diary entries from a child or teenager talking about band practice and parties and (believe it or not) “spying”. The diary entries are not dated and they are mostly in pencil so much of the writing is faded. Plus the penmanship isn’t very good, so a lot of it’s difficult to make out.

Anyway, I came across this recipe for “Arabian Spice Cake” and it looks kind of tasty. I think it’s from the fifties because that’s when Spry vegetable shortening was at its height. I tried to shrink the image, but then the recipe was lost.

old recipe.

So I guess this was before the USA became obsessed with cinnamon because they called this “Arabian” spice cake, which we now know is pretty racist. But back in the fifties, they didn’t think so. I guess we’d call it Spice Cake or something. But that’s not all, on the back of this recipe I found these little tidbits:

news tidbits from I’m guessing the forties

Come to think of it, this must be from the late 1930’s early 1940’s given the reference to the fuehrer, the AFofL and the CIO… I mean that makes it World War 2, right? So yeah. Spry vegetable shortening came out in 1939 and was popular until the 1950’s.

Anyway, the tidbits on the right are something one would expect in the paper back then, and for decades afterwards. I suppose they’re meant to be amusing, and they probably got a good chuckle from their readers. For me, it’s almost like reading some random person’s Twitter feed, 1930’s style. Then again, given the racist garbage that spews out of the mouths of some folks these days, these are almost — and I say almost — quaint. But it was this kind of casual racism (and sexism) which lead to the normalcy of where we are today. This informal dismissal of women and minorities that — over time — allowed certain people think it’s okay to dismiss people of color and women in a much more brutal fashion. The thing is, back then society as a whole basically just accepted that this was okay, and it simply got worse. That’s why there are so many places in the world that are in a turmoil right now –why people are protesting on the streets, and pulling down monuments to racists all over the world. Why we as a society are calling to remove stereotyping mascots like Aunt Jemima, because we shouldn’t accept casual racism or sexism.

Anyway, I thought I’d share. Maybe you’d like to make the cake, dear reader. I mean, it sounds like an interesting recipe to me. I’d make it myself, but I don’t have anyone to share it with during this quarantine and I’m not eating the whole thing myself. If you do make it, let me know if it’s any good.