Celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday with a Tennessee Cake

Whether you’re celebrating Abe’s birthday Wednesday, Feb. 12, the day his mama bore him, or lumping him in with George on President’s Day, have I got a cake for you.

If you’re looking for a fascinating source of culinary history and recipes that approximates what Abe Lincoln himself enjoyed, you should check out the recently published “Abraham Lincoln in the Kitchen: A Culinary View of Lincoln’s Life and Times” by Rae Katherine Eighmey (Smithsonian Books).

In this culinary biography, you’ll find recipes from Mary Todd’s kitchen, food served at inaugural banquets, Springfield favorites and more. Walk your family’s taste buds through history! This would be a great baking project to do with kids, and it can come with an easy-to-swallow history lesson.

Here’s the recipe for Tennessee Cake, a sweet cornmeal-based cake, to be served with Vinegar Sauce, a thin lemony sauce made from ingredients available in pioneer days. Both recipes are courtesy of Smithsonian Books.

Tennessee Cake
Makes 14 servings

  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) salted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup coarse cornmeal, preferably stoneground
  • 1/2 cup regular cornmeal


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 7-by-11-inch baking pan.

2. In a large, grease-free mixing bowl, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks; set aside.

3. In a medium mixing bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar. Add egg yolks and mix well. In separate bowl, combine flour and cornmeals, then add to butter-sugar mixture. Gently fold one-quarter of the beaten egg whites into the batter to lighten, then fold in the remaining beaten egg whites.

4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool. Cut into squares and serve with vinegar sauce.

Vinegar Sauce
Makes about 1 3/4 cup

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons flour
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon butter at room temperature
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg


1. In small saucepan, whisk together the sugar and flour. Slowly add the water, whisking constantly.

2. Bring to a boil and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring from time to time. Remove from the heat and stir in the vinegar, butter and nutmeg. Let cool. Store in the refrigerator for up to three days.