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After a short hiatus, the project “Discovering North Carolina” is in full swing again and I am so happy to be able to share my experiences researching this great state. This is the first of three articles that will display the experiences I’ve had over the course of the past nine months and will leave you with three recipes, one representing each designated county. Check out my page Discovering North Carolina for project details and previous posts.
After attending the Got to be NC Festival and briefly learning about the Moravian culture, I continued my research for Forsyth County to gain a better understanding of its unique food culture. I browsed Old Salem’s website and corresponded with a couple of Forsyth County locals as I planned a visit to Old Salem Museums & Gardens. I was eager to stop by The Tavern for lunch to learn more about the traditional food and what life was like in this Moravian community.
Salem, NC, currently known as Winston-Salem, was founded in 1766 by a Protestant denomination seeking religious freedom who traveled from Bohemia and Moravia (currently known as the Czech Republic) to Pennsylvania and finally Salem, North Carolina. The settlers, known as Moravians, kept records of their lives, recipes or ‘receipts’ of what they ate, which allows for the Moravian food culture to be continued to this day.
I had the opportunity to bring my parents, who were visiting from Wisconsin, on a day trip to Old Salem. They were happy to browse through the Moravian history and culture as my father’s genealogy includes Bohemian heritage. As we eagerly waited for lunch at The Tavern, Lori who co-owns the restaurant spent some time with us discussing the Moravian food-ways they were striving to recreate. She expressed the importance of using seasonal foods, fresh produce from the gardens and using only items that would have been traded such as molasses and brown sugar in her pies and desserts. We also discussed her stance on using white or dark meat in the Moravian chicken pie, as this is an on-going debate among Forsyth natives. We sank our teeth into the savory grilled cornbread, crisp pear salad and flaky, tender, all white meat chicken pie. Dad enjoyed the fried chicken liver platter and we all savored each bite, embracing the sights and the sounds of the staff dressed in Moravian attire bustling around the hardwood floors. Our server enticed us with six mouth-watering dessert options to complete the meal. After a fairly quick decision, we smiled happily and let the luscious German Chocolate Pie and the warm, melt-in-your-mouth Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie consume us.
As we strolled around the town, Winkler’s Bakery was high on my priority list of places to visit. Before visiting Old Salem, I knew baked goods such as Moravian Ginger Cookies, Lovefeast Buns, Lemon Tarts and Moravian Sugar Cake were all favorites. Walking into the cool, brick building and being surrounded by the sweet aroma of yeast and sugar, we couldn’t resist sampling the sugar cake and sweet yeast roll. The interpreter dressed in his baker’s attire gave us a history lesson of how Christian Winkler bought the bakery in 1807 and discussed how each of the desserts were incorporated traditionally in holiday celebrations.
After choosing which sweet treats I wanted to take home with me, I had the opportunity to discuss the history of Moravian food with Joanna Roberts, Assistant Director of Interpretation at Old Salem. She discussed how sugar cake was known as a “Great Cake” in the 16-17th centuries, and later named “Sugar Cake” in the 19th century. A Great Cake was defined as any cake made from yeast, eggs, milk and butter. Sugar Cake was different in that it frequently contained potatoes, as most do to this day. According to Mrs. Hanes from Mrs. Hanes’ Moravian Cookies, the main purpose for using potatoes was to keep the dough moist and prevent it from drying out too quickly.
On the drive home I reflected on my experience at Old Salem and what I learned about the Moravian culture and food ways. The next step was to decide on a recipe which defined Moravian life. After much thought, I decided Moravian Sugar Cake would be the recipe of choice I would try my hand at making. After browsing through Preserving the Past, various recipes online and testing one recipe, I finally found a recipe that fit the buttery taste, soft texture and sweet flavor I was aiming for. Although Sugar Cake mixes and pre-made Sugar Cakes are available to purchase at Old Salem or Dewey’s, making your own from scratch brings the experience full circle.
Forsyth County may be known for being the home of Krispy Kreme, but the Moravian Sugar Cake has become a staple for holiday celebrations. Forsyth County and Old Salem have much to offer as they aim to celebrate their past heritage and unparalleled food culture. If you’re making your way to North Carolina during the summer or holidays, activities such as participating in a Lovefeast, learning the history of the Moravian Star or sampling the traditional Moravian fare may be just the ticket to embrace the unique food culture of this historical county.
Moravian Sugar Cake
Slightly adapted from Winklers Moravian Sugar Cake
1 (1/4 ounce) package active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup water (110 degrees F)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup instant mashed potatoes
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 1/4 cups all purpose flour, divided
3/4 cup water
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon whole milk
6 tablespoons melted butter, cooled
1 tablespoon butter, sliced into bits
1 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup melted cooled butter
Pour yeast and 1/2 teaspoon sugar into warm water, stir with wire whisk until yeast dissolves. Set aside until liquid has foamed. Combine dry ingredients (sugar, instant mashed potatoes, salt, 1 cup flour) in large bowl and mix with wooden spoon. Add wet ingredients (3/4 cup water, yeast mixture, eggs, milk, butter) to dry mixture, stir to combine. Gradually add remaining flour to mixture and combine to form a soft bread dough consistency. (This is not intended to be kneaded.) Place dough in greased bowl, turning to coat thoroughly. Place the one tablespoon of butter bits into dough. Let dough rise in warmed oven until it doubles in size, about an hour. Punch dough down, transfer and spread in greased 9×13 baking pan with 2 inch sides. Let rise for 30 minutes. Sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon. Punch fingers into dough, making small holes. Drizzle the remaining 1/2 cup of melted cooled butter over the dough to cover, let dough rise 30 minutes. While dough is rising, preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Bake 13-14 minutes, until toothpick comes out clean and is golden brown. Serve warm and enjoy!
Tip: Cake can be frozen and reheated in the oven at 350 degrees F for 10 minutes.
Resource: The Town of Salem. http://www.oldsalem.org/learn/the-town-of-salem/ Accessed October 11, 2014. Updated March 3, 2015.
As a Moravian Pastor let me clarify something for you. The Moravians did not come to America seeking religious freedom. They came as Missionaries to the Native Americans and enslaved Blacks, first in 1735 to Savannah GA at the invitation of general Oglethorpe. The Act of Parliament of 1749 guaranteed their religious freedom as an afterthought. When this was threatend in the “War of Jenkins’ Ear” in 1740 they went to Pennsylvania to evangelize the scattered German Protestants there. Secondly, they were German-speaking religious refugees originally coming from the Habsburg lands of Bohemia and Moravia, who found refuge on the estate of Count Zinzendorf in Saxony in 1722. Thirdly, using the Instant Mashed Potatoes in your sugar cake is fine if they are used red hot. Krispy Kreme Donuts also have potatoes in them.
your articles bring back many memories. My mom’s family grew up in Forsyth county and my grandmother lived at the Brother’s Home on Main street in Old Salem. after her husband died in the 30’s leaving her to raise 3 young children she made good money selling her baked goods. Sugar cake was served in the church at the Square initially to feed the two bands one which roamed the town to wake people up at 3-4am for the sunrise service in God’s acre. the other band stayed at the Moravian church graveyard at the corner of the square responding, eventually the two bands became closer until all the sunrise goers were in the graveyard for the church service facing the rising sun with the 2 bands. Needless to say my Nana spent days keeping her family in sugar cakes. Her second great bake-off at Easter was a 3-4 layer white cake with coconut frosting made from scratch. we all drove from both Michigan and Pennsylvania for the weekend. we washed the grave stones and laid flowers on Easter Saturday. Finally it’s my memory that the tavern had no windows on the first floor to avoid seeing people imbibing in alcohol. Not sure when the windows were added to the 1st floor. of the tavern. My grandmother spent hours well into her retirement dressing little Moravian dolls including male server dolls and diener dolls that she sold in a shop on Main St.. We spend holidays and vacations in Old Salem, the most wonderful place to roam. Pam Kuhn, Denver Colorado
Pam, thank you so much for sharing your priceless memories and your family’s history! It was an honor to work on this project visiting Old Salem, learning so much about life as it was. I would have loved to have tasted your Nana’s sugar cake and white/coconut cake! So interesting there were bands to wake up everyone for sunrise service. I hope to return to The Tavern and roam around Old Salem again soon. Thank you again for taking the time to read and comment on this article as your memories touch my heart. My goal of this project was to talk with the people of the counties and really grasp what life was like and how food was engrained in their culture. Your memories have brought Old Salem to life in my mind! I’m so happy to hear you were all able to reunite over the Easter holiday! My best to you all and Happy Easter!