Friday, April 11, 2014

Clove Cake

by Sheila Connolly

This is another recipe that Olive Barton Warner of Granby made regularly (although I’m not sure how you could bake a cake in a wood-burning cast-iron range--that may go a long way to explaining the density of a lot of old cake recipes).  

Funny how flavors come into fashion and then go out again. I’ve always liked cloves (including the clove-flavored Necco wafers—remember those? Another old New England brand). The flavor is pungent and distinctive. You’ll note that this recipe uses equal amounts of cinnamon and cloves, but it’s the clove flavor that wins out. 

Once again I had to go hunting for a recipe, and found one from a decade ago labeled “100 Year Old Clove Cake.” The list of ingredients is simple, and of course the cake involves a lot of butter and eggs—all the good stuff. But that’s what you had to work with on a farm in 1880. What else were you going to use?

Clove Cake

1 cup butter, softened
2 ½ cups white sugar
5 eggs, at room temperature
3 cups flour
1 Tblsp ground clove
1 Tblsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup sour milk (okay, ick, but you can add a Tblsp of white vinegar to your whole milk) 

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease and flour a 10” tube pan (I used my favorite vintage pan, which turns out to be precisely the right size—it holds eight cups). 

Cream the butter and the sugar together.  Beat the eggs in a bowl and add all at once. Blend. 

Sift together the flour and the spices. 

Stir the baking soda into 1/3 cup of the milk, and add it to the butter/sugar/egg mixture and mix. 

Add the rest of the milk, alternating with the flour mixture. 
Pour the mixture into the tube pan and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let it cool for 10 minutes on a rack, then invert the cake onto the rack and let cool completely. 
The result is moist and flavorful, and keeps well.

The real home of Olive Barton Warner, and
site of the Orchard Mysteries
(the kitchen is around back)



  1. Sheila - This is a wonderful historic recipe, and the photo of Olive's home is such a lovely inspiration. Thank you for sharing both. I like the flavor of clove, too, it's a downright cozy spice--although I think I'll pass on those clove-flavored Necco wafers. But I would definitely go for your Clove Cake. It looks like a perfect afternoon coffee or tea cake. I could see it as a fantastic winter/holiday cake, too, with a bit of powdered sugar or a light glaze and a festive garland around it. (LOL on your observation: What else would you use on a farm 100 years ago but butter and eggs? Agreed, extra virgin cold-pressed coconut oil would indeed be hard to come by! :))

    Have a delicious weekend,
    ~ Cleo

  2. Lovely, Sheila. These glimpses into the past are fascinating and tasty too of course!



  3. Great fun.
    I have a clove story for you. A friend of my mother's filmed our backyard wedding (1971, hippy style). She invited us to come over to see the film (It had no sound) and served dinner. The entree was lasagna. She proudly announced that she had a "secret" ingredient in her recipe. Could we figure it out? Pretty much in unison we said, "Clove." Not the most subtle of flavors and a really obvious taste in lasagna! I don't recommend it.

  4. I love the flavor of cloves. I remember chewing clove gum! I also remember doing a role on stage where I had to "smoke" clove cigarettes (not so fun). I'm not a smoker. LOL This cake sounds yummy and easy. I'll bet a powdered sugar icing would go nicely on it, too. What's a little more sweetness?

    Daryl / Avery

  5. Oh, yum, and I would like the powdered sugar icing, too, Daryl. This recipe kind of reminds me of a spice cake my grandfather used to make, but he would have added strong, cold coffee to the icing instead of water. Wouldn't that be a great combo with the clove/cinnamon flavors?

    They still make that clove chewing gum (Beeman's), although it's not easy to find.

    Re: sour milk--you can also add lemon juice instead of the vinegar, and it does the same thing. I've been making a sour milk coffeecake for decades, a recipe from my childhood, and the directions say to use either lemon juice or vinegar. Both acids, I guess.

    1. I've had Beeman's, but I'm partial to Teaberry, which is also hard to find. The sour milk coffeecake sounds good too.

  6. Sheila, I LOVE the flavor of cloves. This recipe looks scrumptious! Wasn't the Necco factory near the courthouse in Cambridge?

    1. I don't recall where the courthouse is/was, but the factory was in Cambridge on the way to the Longfellow Bridge, I think. Good memory!

    2. We fly into Boston and then drive up into Maine twice a year. The route from the airport to 95 goes by a Necco office/factory.

  7. I'm surprised that this recipe wasn't handed down. Maybe it warped into something else over the decades? Your Bundt cakes always turn out so beautiful. I should bake more cakes like this.


  8. I remember this cake! It was in my mother's big old cookbook, and I made it now and then when I was just learning to cook. I need to do that again, for its nostalgic warmth and sheer deliciousness. Thanks, Sheila!

    The Warner house looks exactly as you've described it in the orchard books. I saw many just like it when I lived in Worcester--and I also saw the Necco factory in Massachusetts, too. I usually made a face--I never liked Necco wafers!