The Evils of Baking Powder

Learning to live with her mother-in-law was an understandable challenge for Rebecca Edwards, but never more so than when Mrs. Edwards’ constant criticisms and complaints drove her cook to quit on the very day guests were expected for dinner.

Links in Rebeccas Life-Baking Powder ad 1912
A 1912 advertisement

Sensing the woman’s dilemma, Rebecca confidently said:

“I can get dinner—as good a one as Mr. Romaine gets at a New York boarding-house, I dare say. Just install me in the kitchen for the day, and see what I can do.”

Mrs. Edwards had no choice but to accept Rebecca’s offer . . . even if her acceptance was somewhat ungracious.

Here’s how Rebecca described her day in her mother-in-law’s kitchen:

Links in Rebeccas Life-Baking powder card 1895
1895 Trade Card

 Mrs. Edwards was there, looking distressed and perplexed over every single thing that I touched. It was in vain that I assured her that I was perfectly well acquainted with legs of lamb, and that I had cooked as many fishes as there were in the sea, and that the summer Mrs. Demarest, of Boston, boarded with us, she asked me for the recipe for our fish sauce, because it was the best she ever tasted.

 With the question of dessert came up new trouble. It so happens that, not having had much time for studying the accomplishments common to girls, I gave much time and fuss to the getting up of especially dainty desserts. During the season we kept those dreadful Boston boarders I really became an adept at that sort of work.

1895 British advertisement

 But Mrs. Edwards didn’t believe it. She hovered over those eggs and that butter and sugar, and was sure I had too little butter and too much powder, and not the right kind of flavoring. I became almost distracted. Several times my tongue fairly ached to drop egg-beater and spoon, and say: “Well, now, Mrs. Edwards, if you understand this business better than I do, please attend to it, and I will go and take my ride.” I am so glad I didn’t do it.

 We nearly quarreled over the merits of soda and cream of tartar versus baking powder. Mrs. Edwards is certain that powder is an out-growth of this degenerate age; says the cake is neither so nice-looking nor so delicate that is made of it; that she always tastes the powder, and that she would never use it, if she went without cake. I was really obliged to be firm in that, for I understand the art of making cake with powder, and I don’t know how to make it with those other vile articles that must be balanced just so or they make a fuss.

Links in Rebeccas Life Kitchen baking powder front 1890
An 1890 trade card.

Still, I might have got along without saying: “So far as that is concerned, I can tell at the first mouthful whether there is cream of tartar in cake. I always taste it.”

Whenever I say anything of that sort, Mrs. Edwards is sure to remind me of my youth.

 “Young people are, and always have been, remarkable for their discernment,” she said, very dryly. “Their mothers managed to make very palatable cake with the despised stuff before they were born, and long afterward. But as soon as the daughters get so they can stir up a gingerbread they, of course, know more than their elders ever did.”

Links in Rebeccas Life-Baking flour trade card 1890
Perhaps another symptom of a degenerate age. An 1890 trade card for self-rising flour.

Now, what had that to do with the subject under discussion? I am sure I can’t see.

The simple truth is that Mrs. Edwards can’t even stir up a gingerbread. She knows nothing about cake-making; she has never been obliged to know. And I confess myself unable to see why, because a person has lived sixty years, she should be deferred to by one who has only lived twenty years, on a subject of which she knows nothing, while the other has given six or eight of her twenty years to the learning of that subject.

I wanted to tell my respected mother-in-law that such was my opinion, but I forbore, and meekly asked her if Jane, the second girl, could be trusted to set the table, or whether she would rather have me do it.

Rebecca’s dinner was a success. The guests ate serenely, and Mrs. Edwards, after the first taste, lost her anxious expression and regained her quiet composure that was so much admired in the fashionable world. In the end, Mrs. Edwards discovered that Rebecca really could cook a delicious dinner and Rebecca discovered that she could keep her temper in the face of her mother-in-law’s taunts and complaints.Cover_Links in Rebecca's Life 2 resized

You can read more about Rebecca Edwards’ life with her mother-in-law in Links in Rebecca’s Life.

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