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Minnehaha Cake

Updated: Aug 7, 2020

This week's recipe comes from one of the handwritten recipe books found at the historic Shearer house in Marysville. Determining the author's connection to the Shearer family, if any, and the date of the recipes in these old cookbooks is difficult since some may have been acquired at estate sales, a favorite hobby of previous Shearer descendants who owned the stately house on West Fifth Street.

What we do know is that Minnehaha Cake recipes were common around the turn of the century, and the cake's name comes from a fictional Native American woman in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem The Song of Hiawatha.

Although the nineteenth century saw an increase in interest in Native American culture, or at least fictionalized and romanticized versions of the culture that were prominent in art and literature, there were bitter and oftentimes violent struggles between settlers and Native Americans throughout the earlier part of the century. Native American trails once ran through what is now Union County. Even though 1811 marked the official defeat of the tribes in Ohio, tensions remained high. When the Americans surrendered Fort Detroit to the British in 1812, Ohio Governor Jonathan Meigs, Jr. ordered the building of blockhouses by local militias to guard the Ohio frontier from possible Indian attacks. Men from Union and Madison counties built a log blockhouse near an old Indian trail by Mill Creek. They only occupied the blockhouse for about two weeks before abandoning the pursuit, and no attacks actually occurred. The War of 1812 Blockhouse historical marker stands in front of the Marysville Upground Reservoir on Raymond Road. This can help give you an idea of how these old trails line up geographically with modern Union County developments.

Union County has a rich Native American history. Arrowheads and other artifacts have been found on farms throughout the county, and, yes, we even have our own Native American mounds in Marysville - Ellis Mounds - located in a farm field by Hillview Road/Wolford-Maskill Road/State Route 4. The mounds are some of the northernmost examples of Ohio Hopewellian structures; the more imposing mound systems down south, like the Newark Earthworks, have been studied in much more detail.

Minnehaha Cake is traditionally a layered yellow cake with hickory nut (or pecan) filling, almonds, raisins and an old-fashioned boiled frosting. Cakes should be baked in greased and parchment-lined pans at 350 degrees for 25-35 minutes.The easiest way to make boiled frosting is to combine 2/3 cup water and 1 1/2 cups sugar in a pot and bring to a boil until reaching soft ball stage (235-245 degrees.) Whip two or three egg whites to stiff peaks with an electric mixer. Slowly pour the syrup over the egg whites, continuing to run the mixer. Beat until cool and fluffy. You will use the same frosting as filling, folding in your raisins and chopped pecans.

5" Minnehaha Cakes will be for sale at our farm market shed the weekend of August 8. All proceeds benefit the Union County Historical Society.


Photos of Native American artifacts were taken at the Union County Historical Society Museum, 246 West Sixth St. in Marysville. The museum is currently open by appointment only.

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