Spongecake and Books: A Mid 19th Century Child’s Memoir

The other day I came across a reference to a book published in 1926, Caroline Hewins’ memoir called A Mid Century Child and Her Books. Since I began my career writing for children and young adults I couldn’t resist a peek at the books that captivated young readers in another century. Turns out that one of the most popular books of the time was Peter Parley, by Samuel Goodrich, a man as popular in  his day as today’s JK Rowling. On a trip to the South in 1846, the author was mobbed by hordes of adoring children who loved not only his lavishly illustrated books, but also subscribed to his magazine which ran for nearly 40 years.

Army Optics Army and Navy Stories captivated young would-be soldiers in 1865, and The Two Hungry Kittens (1866) stole the hearts of every reader. Many books of the day contained beautiful, idealized images of children, such as this c 1890 illustration of a little girl.

I love the first chapter of this memoir in which Miss Hewins writes of an annual summertime visit to the home of a favorite aunt who lived across town in Boston. After traveling by steam car and horse car, she arrived at her aunt’s house where she was served “a pitcher of lemonade and a loaf of spongecake…and books to look at.” It reminded me of  my own childhood summers and the books I enjoyed : Black Beauty (although it made me cry), Little Women, Hurry Home Candy, Charlotte and the White Horse, Kenny’s Window, Harold and the Purple Crayon, and so many more.

Since I can’t think of anything more pleasant than a summer afternoon of  lemonade, cake and books, I thought I’d share a favorite recipe for coffee cake that’s easy to make and perfect for Sunday brunch or a book club meeting.  Here goes:

Dorothy’s Chocolate Chip Coffee Cake

1 16 oz box of pound cake mix

1 cup semisweet chocolate morsels ( the French ones are best)

1 eight ounce carton of sour cream

1/2 cup milk

2 eggs

Streusel topping (recipe below)

Combine one tablespoon of the dry cake mix with the chocolate morsels and set aside. Combine the rest of the cake mix, the milk, eggs, and sour cream and mix on low speed of mixer till blended. Increase speed to medium and beat for 3 more minutes. Spoon one half of the batter into a lightly greased 13 x 9 inch baking pan. Sprinkle the chocolate  morsels evenly over the batter and then add the rest of the batter.  Top with the streusel topping and bake at 350 for 25 minutes or till the cake tests done. Cool on a wire rack.

For the streusel topping, combine 1/2 cup brown sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, and one tsp ground cinnamon. Stir in  1 cup finely chopped pecans and 2 tablespoons melted butter.

What about you? What were your favorite childhood books?