Saturday, February 9, 2013

Tea Room Recipe #6 - McDonald Tea Room (Gallatin, Mo.)

Friends, do I have a treat for you this week! Yes, yes, the yummy Strawberry Jam Cup Cakes are the edible treat, but if you like history and women and food and, well, let me just get right to it!

Clearly, this week's tea room cookbook, "How It Is Done!", is a bit older than most of those in my collection. There's no date, but it originally sold for $1.00 and reprints a number of articles from the late 1930s and early 1940s, so I'm guessing this book dates to the early forties.

The author is Virginia Rowell McDonald, and my-oh-my, what a fascinating story she tells! Virginia was "from one of the first families of old Texas," and she married a traveling salesman, Charles McDonald, who was a Missouri fellow and moved with him to Gallatin, Mo. Alas, the new bride got tuberculosis and dwindled down to 79 pounds! She spent 7-1/2 years in bed on her back in a little screened-in room built for her so she could get fresh air. Her husband spent every penny he made on trying to restore his wife's health, and indeed she got better. By the time the stock market crashed, Virginia felt she was getting better and told her husband she believed she could use some of those Texas cooking schools inherited from her mother to open a tea room. (Her mother's story is interesting as well. Virginia writes: "My mother was born in the South during slavery. She was the mother of three children when the slaves were freed. She did not know how to do anything except fine needlework, as all her life she had not known what it was to even fan a fly off herself. She made up her mind that she would teach her children to do everything, so that the lessons wouldn't come so hard as they had for her. … When I was ten years old, I could make a cake as good as I can now.")

Virginia's husband had been selling hot dogs across the counter of the hardware business he ran, and it was turned into the tea room shown here. When Virginia took over, no longer would there be food handed across the counter, and hot dogs were certainly out. She never even served plain old cornbread. "I was determined upon one policy, that everything here should be beautiful to the eye, everything served should be in the daintiest form I could shape it. My corn meal was made into dainty, attractive muffins, that would melt in your mouth. It was just such differences that have made my tea room distinct from all others." Her vision succeeded wildly, with as many as 350 routinely showing up for Sunday dinner, and her tea room would go on to be named one of the top 10 eating places in the entire country!

And here is a photo of the McDonald home built by Virginia's father-in-law. Please do yourself a favor and double-click to read the cutline printed on the page. Fun stuff!

And now, here's the recipe as printed in the book, followed by my own version. I must tell you these cup cakes — two words, Virginia-style — are quite different from the usual fluffy, yellow cake versions. When I saw that the ingredients included a cup of strawberry preserves, a teaspoon of cinnamon and also a teaspoon of nutmeg, I questioned the amount of the spices. I should have trusted Virginia! The result is a very grown-up, sophisticated tasting cup cake, perfect for any Valentine's baking you may have planned. I wondered whether it was appropriate to make a vintage recipe in my very contemporary, frou-frou baking cups, but then I read more advice from Virginia and felt sure of myself: "Don't try to do things like other people. Do them your way!" (Do you love this woman as much as I do?)

Strawberry Jam Cup Cakes

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup Crisco shortening
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, beaten
1 cup strawberry preserves
2 cups cake flour (I used Swans Down)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cream sugar and shortening. Add salt, cinnamon and nutmeg and combine, then add eggs. In separate bowl, mix baking soda with buttermilk. To the creamed mixture add the flour and buttermilk in three additions each, beginning with the flour. Fold in preserves, then spoon batter into baking cups about 2/3 full. Bake for 18-20 minutes or until tops spring back when touched. Yields about 20 cup cakes.

Note: I iced my cup cakes with a simple cream cheese frosting consisting of 3 ounces cream cheese, 1/4 cup butter, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 2 cups powdered sugar.


  1. Dear Angela,
    Love those wrappers and toppers.
    xo Ruthie

  2. Those sound, and look, delicious! What an interesting story to go along with them.

  3. Very enjoyable post; I would not have thought about the women of the south not having any kitchen skills when the slaves were freed.
    A yummy looking cupcake recipe, adding in preserves will make them nice and moist.

  4. Fun post, and yummy cupcakes! This is one tea room post that I definitely can't piggy-back onto! ;-)

  5. Love this post and this woman. The cupcakes look amazing and beautiful. What an interesting story.

  6. Hello Angela, what an interesting post today - I love everything about it...from the beautiful photographs and cupcakes to the inspiring quotes from Virginia, that is one tea room I would have enjoyed visiting!

    I enjoyed living in Missouri, there were so many neat cities and towns to visit, so many with a 'Frontier, Wild West' past. Never made it to Gallatin but I did get to attend a 'Cole Younger Family Reunion,' held one year in Hermann, Missouri. We ended up doing a video feature on it where one of our favorite quotes was, 'we never knew there was an Outlaw in the Family Tree!'

    I'm enjoying your Saturday series, so nice to see the success stories of the 1930's can provide inspiration for us today. Thanks so much, Joanie

  7. Your cupcakes are so pretty! Thank you for sharing this story!

  8. These cupcakes sound great. And what a great woman. I bet she was a hoot!

  9. Fun post! Love the vintage cookbook, the old recipe, your recreation of the recipe, the cupcake wrappers and toppers, the heart plate.... oh my.... fun post!

  10. Darling cupcakes and fun old cookbook! The best!

  11. I really enjoyed this post as it brought back so much of my youth as we visitedthe tea room for special occasions . Most definitely worth the 2 hr drive.

  12. I have an original cookbook from the Tea Room. It was Mr. Duncan Hines himself that said this was one of the top 10 places to eat in America. And, yes! Mr. Duncan Hines was a real person.

  13. I have this same cookbook and was told it was a family heirloom as our family roots go back to Gallatin and that area..such a delight to see this as a post on a blog!! cant' wait to share with my cousins and sister..thank you for digging into this story

  14. I have this same cookbook and was told it was a family heirloom as our family roots go back to Gallatin and that area..such a delight to see this as a post on a blog!! cant' wait to share with my cousins and sister..thank you for digging into this story


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