Marquis Twins and the Birthday Black Cake: Recipe from 1918

NaBloPoMo Day 7 – continuing daily posts in November blogging some of my on-going work on a cookbook project, tentatively titled: 100 Years of Marquis’ Family Christmas Recipes and Traditions. As a new blogger, I appreciate your encouragement and comments in my journey and welcome your joining the conversation as the holidays approach, to share your traditions on the daily topics. (The header picture near my home in Charlotte North Carolina – the city of Trees)

TODAY IS MY FATHER’S BIRTHDAY and my thoughts have been of him all day – remembering his ready laugh, his enthusiasm for life and how much he loved the holidays with all the hoopla and family time.Dad at Piano

DAD SHARED a BIRTHDAY WITH HIS TWIN SISTER Fanella. They were born in New Kensington, PA, but grew up in Charleston, WVa and remained close during their lifetimes for nearly nine decades. (My mother also has a twin sister.)

BIRTHDAYS ARE A BIG DEAL IN OUR FAMILY. When I was growing up, we looked forward to a birthday as much as we did Christmas (well almost as much). The family member having a birthday anticipated not only birthday gifts, but their own special cake and favorite foods for the family dinner. (Such power to be the center of attention when you are a kid.) This tradition was passed down from past generations.

THE TWINS’ BIRTHDAY was always an extra special occasion to celebrate two birthdays. When they were young, Grandmother Marquis baked two cakes for her twins – so each one had a special cake. She baked the same two cakes for decades and they were known as the twins cakes. The Sunshine Cake was for Fanella and the Black Cake was for Harold.
Margaret Jackson Marquis (grandmother), Fanella Elizabeth Marquis (Jenkins), Harold Edwin Marquis II(Mark)

EVEN IN THEIR SENIOR YEARS, my Aunt Fanella would travel from Charleston, WVa to Madison, Indiana to celebrate her birthday with her twin brother. And yes, my mother made two cakes for them. She didn’t have grandmother’s recipe, but made her version of their cakes. I was thrilled when my Aunt passed on grandmother’s cookbook to me and I discovered recipes for the twins cakes in grandmother’s own handwriting. Grandmother Marquis left behind the recipes for the twins’ cakes, tucked into the pages of one of her well-used cookbooks: Lowney’s Cook Book by Maria Willett Howard, published in 1907 by the Walter M. Lowney Company, Boston. Price was $2.00.

I DON’T KNOW HOW OLD THIS RECIPE REALLY IS, but I can date it to at least 1918 – as the family reported she baked these two cakes for the twins every year they were growing up into early adulthood, beginning when they were toddlers. They celebrated their first birthday on November 7, 1918. I have written the recipe for Dad’s BLACK CAKE as she recorded it in her own hand. (I am currently experimenting with spices to get a taste that makes sense and testing oven temperatures.)


1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup butter
4 eggs (leaving out whites for frosting)
1 cup sour milk
1/2 cup grated chocolate dissolved
in 3 tablespoons of boiling coffee
1 teaspoon of all kinds of spices
1 teaspoon of soda sifted with flour
2 cups of flour
Mix well. Bake in layers.
Put layers together

1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 egg white
1 teaspoon flavoring
1 cup Lowney’s cocoa
1 tablespoon cream or milk
1 teaspoon butter

Beat egg white, sugar and cocoa for five minutes.
Add flavoring, milk and melted butter.
When cool, put layers together with frosting
and spread chocolate frosting on top and sides.

Grandma Marquis must have been a believer in Lowney’s Cocoa. We found in her personal papers that she won a contest put on by the company for a jingle she wrote to advertise their cocoa. I don’t know what she won, but I remember my mother telling me about it. So many things I wish I had asked when I could.


ARE THERE ANY SUGGESTIONS as to the “all kinds of spices” she might have used in 1918?

Sue Marquis Bishop 2013

6 thoughts on “Marquis Twins and the Birthday Black Cake: Recipe from 1918”

  1. Hey there! I’ve been reading your web site for a long time
    now and finally got the bravery to go ahead
    and give you a shout out from Lubbock Texas! Just wanted to say
    keep up the good work!

    1. So glad you checked in. Thanks for visiting my blog. Hope you are finding a place to stay cool in Texas in August. Sue

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s