We Found Marion’s History-Making Pumpkin Spice Cake

1912 pumpkin spice cake w fresh pumpkin custard frosting by bakethiscake

We’re resurrecting a little slice of American cake history with this very vintage homemade pumpkin spice layer cake recipe slathered with fresh pumpkin butter custard frosting, oh way. So put your avalanche of email on hold, hide your briefcase or your school books from sight and put on an apron (or at least tuck a dish towel in your jeans). It might just awaken something meaningful for you the way that autumn spice aromas can tug mysteriously at our hearts.

1912 vintage pumpkin spice cake with pumpkin custard frosting by bakethiscake

Rough Day Cure: This hundred year old cake works wonders on a rainy or chilly day, especially if you might have awakened on the dark side of the mattress. Think: “Every day can’t be the best day, do what you can right now, don’t hesitate.”  (“The Best Day” by Atmosphere)

wheelbaw hauling pumpkins at the pumpkin farm by bake this cake

The DIY Kitchen Crafting Plan: It starts with a luscious and long forgotten 1912 recipe. We’ve tinkered with it a tad so that the flavors are brightened and lightened.  Then, when your kitchen is absolutely dreamy with those winter spice aromas, you can charm it out with a heavenly Pumpkin Custard Frosting starring our sweet and spicy Pumpkin Spice Butter.

pumpkin-cider-butter-overhead-by-bake this cakeTry To Top This: And maybe you’ll even decide top your creation with a scoop of your own homemade Pumpkin Spice Ice Cream. Cozy comfort on the home front doesn’t get much better than this!

Easy Homemade Creamy Fresh Pumpkin Ice Cream Recipe by bakethiscake

Make It And Own It (But You Gotta Share): If you can squeeze in a little time to make it, I think your people are gonna love you for it. ‘Cause this is the kind of dessert that brings folks and forks together with a smile. A big, group smile. Because cake time translates to face time.

Pumpkin Sugar Cookie on a blue Bauer plate and orange candy bowl by bake this cake

The Great Pumpkin versus Squash Debate: I’m not sure why many cake historians think that American pumpkin cake failed to make an appearance until the 1940’s. Maybe that’s because pumpkin was often referred to as squash or orange squash or winter squash (as opposed to summer squash or yellow squash).  But squash (as we know it today, in SO many varieties) makes an excellent substitute for pumpkin in most recipes calling for pumpkin. Yes sir, even pumpkin pie.  In fact, we have to go there — pumpkin IS actually a form of squash. There, I said it! This makes a perfect segue to our research project of “Pumpkin And Squash Cake”. I know. The squash word and cake, together. Squash Cake. So yeah. Boom!

Small Pumpkin for Roasting Bake This Cake

Pumpkin Spice Without Cloves or Ginger: Although we tend to think of pumpkin as if it comes songified with pumpkin pie spices, pumpkin on its own, I’m sorry, has no intrinsic pumpkin spice mix loaded into it. We know that, I know we do, but we can’t help but go there with pumpkin. So….the double-take is that, without the spice blend, pumpkin has a rather nature-natural, bright and simple flavor. (We even put pumpkin in our Halloween Neighborhood House Chilli.) BUT we will be loading up our cake with spices, just not all the traditional spices. We’ll be using allspice, nutmeg and cinnamon (and we added an option for orange and lemon too).

Pumpkin farm pumpkins by LifeForcePhotos for bake this cake

A Century of Frank Talk: This hundred-year-old recipe is brought to us by Marion Harland, though that was not her real name. That was her pet nom de plume. It does have a nice ring to it, don’t you think?  Her real name was Mary Virginia Hawes-Terhune. Virginia was her middle name because she was a true Virginia gal, born and bred on a traditional Virginia plantation.  Mrs. Terhune graced our presence from 1830 to 1922. And she was always ready to be her authentic self and tell it just like she saw it with all the candor she could muster. Check it out…Common Sense cake quote by Marion Harland bakethiscake

Common Sense For The Household: Mary was a prolific author from the age of 16 (using the pen name, Mary Vale), published by the age of 24, and going strong, even into her nineties when she was blind (by dictating to her assistant). Here’s cheers, Mary, to your direct and candid style!

Marion Harland cake quote 1870 by bake this cake

Mary, Mary, Quite a Life! She married a minister, was the mother to 6 children (3 of whom died in infancy, I’m sorry to say) and she was a writer. A hard-working writer, fer shure!  Many of her novels were serialized in Atlantic Monthly and Century Magazine and then book publication began with a fury. She wrote a veritable library of books with a remarkable range from: etiquette books, witty cookbooks, music books, fiction novels aimed toward women and books documenting her travels through the Middle East and Europe.  But her autobiography, “The Story of a Long Life”, tells her story best.

Marion Harland Mary Virginia Terhune by bakethiscake

Her Books Are Still in Print! Yes, most of her books are literally still in print! How about a ghost buster like “Where Ghosts Walk” documenting her travels to palaces and other places where famous people once lived that she believed were haunted? Yep, you can download  a kindle version of her very first household book (written in 1871) offering practical tips for maintaining a household, in “Common Sense in the Household: A Manual of Practical Housewifery“. Right off the bat it sold more than a million copies! Here’s my cute print copy from 1902…

Common Sense in the Household book cover by bakethiscake

Teach Your Children, Teach Them Well: She raised 3 writers and even co-wrote with them along the way.  Christine Terhune and Virginia Terhune-Van de Water wrote about childcare, cooking and housekeeping. Her son, Alfred Payson Terhune, skyrocketed to fame as a writer (in a totally epic way) with his dog breeder adventure stories. He rubbed elbows with the likes of Cecil B. DeMille and Sinclair Lewis . His beloved collie stories like “Lad, A Dog” (selling over a million copies) are cherished by both adults and children even today. Visit his amazing Victorian mansion and estate now preserved as Terhune Memorial Park – Sunnybank still open to the public on the shores of Pompton Lakes.

Albert Payson Terhune, seated, outdoors, with three collies, Lad (lying on the floor), Bruce (rightmost collie), and Wolf (next to Terhune); this image was published in: Duren, George Bancroft; Dodge, Mary Mapes (ed) (March 1922).

Mary’s son, Albert Payson Terhune, writing with three collies. Lad (lying on the ground).

Later in her writing life, Mary focused on the  home front with helpful books and newspaper columns for the young and inexperienced housewife of the day. Her column was hugely popular and kept her busy-busy-busy. It was called…

Marion Harland's newspaper column 1912 bakethiscake

Our cake jump-off recipe appeared in the Chicago Tribune on February 23, 1912 as part of her wildly popular column.

1912 pumpkin cake recipe by marion harland by bakethiscake

Top O’ The News 1912:  Yes, 1912 was a good year for cake. But what else was also going on in the world?

RMS Titanic departing Southampton on April 10, 1912.

RMS Titanic departs Southampton on April 10, 1912.

A grove of cherry trees on the national mall taken during the National Cherry Blossom Festival.Grove of cherry trees on the national mall during the National Cherry Blossom Festival.

 Color cover of the book Tarzan of the Apes, written by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Julia Child gives the KUHT audience a cooking demonstration

Julia Child by KUHT

Brightening the 1912 Recipe – Modifications: We substituted unsalted butter for lard and we left out the raisins (but please put them back in to celebrate the founding of Sun-Maid farmers cooperative in the year, you guessed it, 1912). (BTW, we’re guessing at 1 cup of raisins for the reference to a “package” in the original recipe.) Recipe testing showed that the quantity of nutmeg seemed too strong so we reduced the nutmeg by half. (But go for the whole pod of nutmeg or use 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg to keep to the original.) Oh, and we added a splash of lemon and some orange peel to brighten the flavors. Let us know in the Comments if you make the original to the tee.

Sun-Maid, since 1912

Sun-Maid cooperative, since 1912

Baking Powder Gone: Please notice that there is no baking powder in this recipe. It uses 5 eggs, cream of tartar and baking soda, so it produces a nice, moist cake. It also produces a large quantity of batter so it makes 2 large layer cakes, however, you may want to divide the batter between 3 cake pans and double the frosting recipe.

Engraving decoration from The Williamsburg Art of Cookery edited by bakethiscake

Ingredients for Pumpkin Spice Layer Cake: (in order of use)
1 cup chopped raisins, chopped coarsely (we left them out, sorry Sun-Maid)
5 large eggs
4 cups pastry or cake flour (we used cake flour)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg pod (or 1-1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg, reduced from 1 whole pod)
2 cups granulated sugar
3/4 cup unsalted butter (or 1 cup unsalted butter if you drop the lard), room temperature
1/4 cup lard (or substitute 1/4 cup unsalted butter, that’s what we did)
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 cup milk (we used 2%)
Modern Option: 1/2 teaspoon dried orange peel, super fine chop
Modern Option: 1/2 teaspoon good quality natural lemon flavoring

Tools Needed for Pumpkin Spice Layer Cake:
Two 9″ round cake pans (or even better, use three 9″ cake pans for traditional sized cake layers)
Parchment or wax paper and cooking spray (or butter), for the cake pan prep
Grating tool, to grate fresh nutmeg, if you’re using a nutmeg pod
Sharp straight-blade knife, for chopping raisins, if you’re adding raisins
Medium bowl for warming eggs to room temperature
Electric mixer
Whisk or sifting tool for flour
Spatula (as in rubber scraper)
Fork, for blending eggs
Measuring cups and spoons

1912 pumpkin spice cake with pumpkin custard frosting by bakethiscake

Preparations in task order:

You can use your phone, your e-tablet or your laptop to scroll right through this recipe because we’ve set it out in the exact order needed to make it happen in the most efficient manner. Hopefully, you won’t have to re-read or go back for additional reading. Just scroll and go!

Oven and Pans:

1. Set the oven rack to center position and pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.

2.   Spray two 9″ cake pans with cooking spray (or butter), line them with parchment or wax paper and spray them (or butter them) again.
Note: If you are using three 9″ baking pans, prep all 3 pans in the same fashion (I know you know that).

Preparing 2 or 3 cake pans for 1912 pumpkin spice cake by bakethiscake

Raisin, Butter and Eggs Prep:

3.  If you want to use raisins (we didn’t), chop into coarse bits and set aside:
1 cup raisins

4.  Bring to room temperature by nuking in the microwave for a few seconds and set aside:
1 cup unsalted butter (or 3/4 cup of unsalted butter if also using 1/4 cup of lard)

2 cubes room temp butter by bakethiscake

5.  Fill a medium bowl with warm tap water and “soak” for about 5 to 10 minutes:
5 large eggs in their shells
Tip: Warming the eggs, even for a bit to take the chill off the cold shells, will produce a fluffier cake.warming-eggs-in-warm-water-bakethiscake

6.  Crack the eggs into a medium-sized bowl and use a fork to thoroughly mix, about 30 strokes, and set aside.

fork beaten eggs by bakethiscake

Dry Ingredients Bowl:

7.  In a large bowl, combine with a whisk or sift together twice:
4 cups pastry flour or cake flour (we used cake flour)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg pod* (or 1-1/2 teaspoons ground nutmeg)

*Original recipe calls for 1 whole grated nutmeg pod, equal to 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg

Spices and dry ingredients for 1912 pumpkin spice cake by bakethiscake

8.  Using a whisk or spoon, stir into the dry ingredients, if you choose to use them (we didn’t):
the prepared chopped raisins

Batter Bowl:

9.  In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat on high-speed until light, about 2 minutes:
2 cups granulated sugar
the prepared room temperature unsalted butter (we used 1 cup with no lard)
1/4 cup lard (substitute the same amount of unsalted room temperature butter)

Creaming sugar and butter for 1912 pumpkin spice cake by bakethiscake

10.  Beat into the creamed sugar-butter mixture on high-speed until light and creamy, about 3 minutes:
the prepared eggs (5 room temperature, fork-beaten large eggs)

Creamed butter sugar eggs in 1912 pumpkin spice cake by bakethiscake

11.  Beat in on high-speed until just incorporated, about 30 seconds:
1 cup pumpkin puree

Adding pumpkin puree to 1912 pumpkin spice cake by bakethiscake

Here’s what it looks like at this stage, all golden and speckled…

Pumpkin puree blended into 1912 pumpkin spice cake batter by bakethiscake.

12.  Using a rubber scraper, gently fold in, alternating between wet and dry ingredients in 3 stages, then beat on low-speed for about 30 seconds well incorporated:
the prepared Dry Ingredients mixture
1 cup milk (we used 2%)

Folding batter with dry ingredients for 1912 pumpkin spice cake by bakethiscake

13.  Modern Option: Beat in on low-speed until just incorporated:
1/2 teaspoon dried orange peel, super fine chop
1/2 teaspoon good quality natural lemon flavoring

Adding orange peel to 1912 pumpkin spice cake by bakethiscake


Natural Lemon Flavoring for 1912 pumpkin spice cake by bakethiscake

Here is what the final pumpkin spice batter looks like. Take a little taste and see if it is perfect and to your liking because the cake will taste just like the batter. (No, I don’t think a tiny little taste will kill you, even if there are fresh eggs in the batter.)

1912 pumpkin spice cake batter by bakethiscake

Divide And Conquer:

14.  Divide the batter evenly between two 9″ baking pans, using a spatula to spread the batter evenly in the pans.
Note: If you want a more traditional-sized layer, you may divide the batter between 3 cake pans and double the frosting recipe.

dividing 1912 pumpkin spice batter between 9 inch baking pans by bakethiscake

Bake This Cake!

Bake on the center rack at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes (about 5 minutes less for 3 cake pans) or until golden brown, edges of the cake have pulled away from the sides of the pan, the cake humps fully at the center point and a toothpick inserted at center position returns clean. As with most baking, but perhaps especially with this cake (since it does not use baking power), I recommend the use of an internal temperature probe that will read approximately 190 degrees (in order to prevent under baking or over baking this cake).

1912 pumpkin cakes hot from the oven by bakethiscake

Let the cakes cool on the counter for about 5 to 10 minutes before carefully cutting around the edges of each pan and gently turning the cakes onto a cooling rack lined with parchment (to prevent denting the cakes). When the cakes are thoroughly cooled, at least 45 minutes, slice the hump to level the cakes and frost them up pretty.

For travel, after they are thoroughly cooled, these cakes can be set back into their pans and covered to carry for a quick frost at the event.

stacking 1912 pumpkin cakes for travel by bakethiscake

Pumpkin Custard Frosting: You might like to whip up a little Pumpkin Spice Custard Frosting for this cake.  It is made by blending in 1/3 cup of Pumpkin Spice Butter (or a high quality commercially prepared pumpkin butter) into a batch of Heirloom Custard Frosting. This old-fashioned custard frosting uses a simple stove top custard with granulated table sugar instead of powdered sugar. Be sure to double the recipe for a 3-layer cake or to frost more than 2 layers.

Heirloom custard frosting stovetop by bakethiscake

Just swirl in 1/3 cup of pumpkin butter into the custard frosting and there you have it!

homemade pumpkin spice custard frosting by bakethiscake

A loverly slice of history for your friends and family brought to you by the ever-fabulous Marion Harland.


You might also try cream cheese frosting, chocolate ganache or orange frosting. Maybe try adding a little pumpkin butter to those frostings?? Let us know in the Comments section your favorite frosting for this cake.

pumpkin spice butter with apple cider by bakethiscake

Thank you for joining me on this fun cake romp with Marion Harland and her Pumpkin and Squash Cake. I do hope you’ll get a chance to bake it and share it. And maybe find your way to some heartfelt conversation over  a delightful slice of your own history-making cake.



Leslie Macchiarella Los Angeles


Olvera Street Margaritas, LA Palms, Pumpkin Chili Feast by bakethiscake

Olvera Street Margaritas, LA Palms, Pumpkin Chili Feast

You may also enjoy reading:

Heirloom Custard Frosting (bakethiscake.com)

Country Roasted Pumpkin Bread (bakethisbread.com)

Quick and Magical Chocolate Whacky Cake (bakethiscake)

Slow and Easy Pumpkin Cider Butter (bakethiscake.com)


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