Happy Birthday, America!

July 4th

July 4th is right around the corner. In 2014, we have picnics and parades on July 4th. Why? On July 4th in the year 1776, the United States of America decided to be a free country! July 4th is kind of like America’s birthday! At Living History Farms, we show guests how people lived a long time ago. In Walnut Hill town, the year is 1875. That is a long time ago, too. Do you think people had a party on July 4th then?

Yes! In 1875, people loved to have picnics and parades on July 4th! We know people had parties because they wrote about them. In Red Oak, Iowa, the newspaper wrote about the town’s July 4th party. There was a parade, a picnic lunch, speeches, bands and singers, a hot air balloon and even fireworks! The parade had more than 12 wagons pulled by horses. People in the parade wore costumes to pretend they lived in 1776. Their parade might have looked a little bit like this one at Living History Farms!


July 4th is America’s birthday. In 1875, our country was almost 100 years old! Turning 100 years old is a pretty special birthday! A special birthday needs a special birthday cake. Our museum guides found a recipe in a 1870s cookbook for that cake.


This colorful cake is called a National Cake. It has three parts or layers. Each part is made of colored sugar—a red part, a white part, and a blue part!

A woman in 1875 had to mix her cake from flour, eggs and butter. She did not have boxed cake mixes.

CakeInstead, she had to follow a recipe and measure out each ingredient. She could buy fancy things for her cake, like food colors and flavorings, at a General Store or a Drug Store. Old recipes can be tricky. To bake a National Cake, our guide found all the ingredients and brought them to the table. See the red and blue sugars!


The recipe says to mix each colored part in a different bowl. The red and blue parts use the colored sugar. The white part has lemon flavor in it, but no colors. No electric mixers here! A cook mixed the batter with a wooden spoon.

colored cake batter Each batter is cooked in a separate pan in the wood-burning stove. After the parts are baked and cooled, the cook can put the layers together. Our museum guide, Lucy even made a sweet frosting to go on top! A great cake for a July 4th picnic!cake

Caregivers: Living History Farms is open from 9 am to 4 pm on July 4th for great family fun. Games such as watermelon seed spitting, pie eating, and gunny sack races begin at 11 am. The parade begins at 2 pm followed by a historic baseball game. Families can bring their own picnic lunch or buy a boxed lunch at the museum. See the day’s full schedule of events on our website here: www.LivingHistoryFarms.org/Fourth

If you would like to make a red, white, and blue cake for your July 4th picnic, you can use our historic recipe below. But you can also mix a modern box cake batter, then divide it equally into three bowls. Place a few drops of red and blue food coloring in two of the bowls. Bake each layer in a separate pan, cool, and stack. OR you can layer the batters 1 or 2 tablespoons at a time into cupcake pans for individual National Cakes!

The original recipe for National Cake is this:

White Part: Cream 1 cup white sugar and 1/2 cup butter, then add 1/2 cup sweet milk, then beaten whites of 4 eggs, 1/2 cup corn starch, 1 cup of flour into which has been mixed 1 teaspoonful of cream of tartar and 1/2 teaspoonful of soda. Flavor with 1 teaspoon lemon extract.

Blue Part: Cream 1 cup blue sugar and 1/2 cup butter then add 1/2 cup sweet milk, then beaten whites of 4 eggs and 2 cups flour into which mix 1 teaspoonful of cream of tartar and 1/2 teaspoonful of soda. No flavor added.

Red Part: Cream together 1 cup red sugar and 1/2 cup butter, then add 1/2 cup sweet milk, then beaten whites of 4 eggs and 2 cups of flour into which mix 1/2 teaspoonful of cream of tartar and 1/2 teaspoonful of soda. No flavor added.

Place each color in a separate bake pan. First red, then white, and last blue. Bake in a moderate oven (350 degrees) until done. (Ours in the woodstove took 30 minutes, when done in 3 pans).

If you do not like lemon flavoring, you can use vanilla extract instead.


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