Steamed Jam Cake

photo-9Dan and Nadara sent me a tattered brown notebook from Aunt Margie’s keepsakes. With frayed pages and faded writing, this listing of household expenses, journal entries, and a few recipes dates from the 1860s and 70s.  At the same time I was reading Laura Engalls Wilder’s Little House On The Prairie, a novel taking place at this time, to my granddaughters. While Wilder’s family traveled from Michigan to Missouri, my grandparents moved from Wisconsin to Colorado.

Life for all these early pioneers was rustic. As Leslie and Alexis looked around their comfortable house with its state of the art kitchen and we read about cooking in a “spider” over an open fire, I asked them to imagine how early settlers might have baked a little cake or their cornbread. As the girls and I paged through the old booklet of nineteenth century accounts, we found a recipe for steamed cherry pudding. The next day I met them after school with a small cherry cake steamed inside a saucepan, and we had our answer.

Based on the traditional Irish steamed jam pudding, this cake can bake in a saucepan on a quiet burner of the stove and provide a tender teacake or a warm winter dessert without heating up a big oven. The batter is simple enough for a child to mix, and although it takes an hour to slowly steam, the anticipation brings our pioneer history into today’s kitchen.

Steamed Jam Pudding

Raspberry, cherry or strawberry jam
1 oz. finely chopped dried cherries, currants, raisins or cranberries (¼ cup)
1 ½ oz. soft butter (3 tablespoons)
2 oz. sugar (5 tablespoons)
grated rind ¼ lemon (optional)
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 egg (large*)
2 ½ oz. all purpose flour (½ cup)
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons milk

*If using an extra large egg, subtract 1 tablespoon milk.

Choose a pudding basin, a small soufflé dish, a glass beaker or Pyrex pint measuring cup, or a deep ovenproof soup bowl that will fit on a small rack inside a deep saucepan or Dutch oven.
Butter the dish and line the bottom with a circle cut from a waxed paper butter-wrapper placed print-side down. Spread 2 tablespoons jam over the bottom and a little up the sides of the dish. Fill the saucepan with a quart of water and bring to a simmer.

In a mixing bowl cream the soft butter with sugar, lemon peel and vanilla until fluffy. Add egg and beat vigorously with a whisk or beater. Sift over the flour, baking powder, salt, and mix. Blend in milk and beat again 10 seconds. Stir in dried fruit of choice and spoon batter into prepared mold. Smooth the top and cover with a piece of waxed paper or parchment, then clamp on a square of aluminum foil secured with a rubber band. Lower the ovenproof mold on to the rack or a saucer in the simmering water, cover and allow to steam at a gentle gurgle for an hour and 15 minutes. If using heavy pottery, cook the pudding 15 minutes longer. Remove from saucepan, lift off foil and paper and test for doneness.

Loosen edge of cake and invert onto a serving dish. Peel off butter wrapper circle and glaze the cake with more warmed jam thinned with a little water if needed. Cool slightly before cutting into wedges and serve to 4 or 5 with whipped cream.

Mary Jo’s cookbook is available at

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One Response to “Steamed Jam Cake”

  1. jodie Says:

    I love this sweet story!

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