chocolate spice cake

Comforting chocolate spice cake recipe from the 19th century

Old-fashioned recipes remind us to cherish sweet memories

By Cheyenne Hasty
Rosevine Cottage Girls

Food is something that brings people together and tells a story. The mere smell of a certain dish, like our family’s old-fashioned chocolate spice cake, can harken you back to another time and place and call to mind cherished memories. Food connects us through the generations, as recipes are passed down from one person to the next.

It’s not just ingredients, but memories – of mother’s teaching sons and daughters, and grandmothers teaching grandchildren. I’m blessed to come from a family who loves to cook and share the recipes with the next generation.

I fear this tradition, this passing down the torch so the speak, has broken down. I worry that people have forgotten to cherish what was passed down before them – like my grandmother’s sweet memories of walking home from school.

They were dirt poor growing up, but they could smell their mother’s bread baking in the oven down the block and would hurry home for a piece.

Or the memory of how her mother made homemade doughnuts to make ends meet and my grandmother and her sisters got to eat the doughnut holes before they went out to sell the doughnuts throughout the neighborhood.

Recipes stand the test of time, through the good times and the bad, to connect us to our past and those who have gone before us.

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Trio of blogging family members

“The precious Rosevine Cottage Girls blogging trio – mother and twin daughters – came into my life through a Christian social media group,” says Teresa Trumbly Lamsam, the founder of Americana Steeples. “I didn’t dare imagine that we would have one of their stories or vintage recipes for our website launch, but God answered that hope before it was even a prayer. Please check out their amazing website because you just need to see it to understand how truly special they are.

Originally from California, they now live in beautiful middle Tennessee. Here’s what they are about: “We want to teach people how to do things our grandparents knew how to do, but weren’t passed down from generation to generation in the race to the modern times we live in today, whether that be gardening, setting a table or cooking a good old fashion meal. But we also want to feed their souls and encourage them to be everything that God has called them to be.”

Sweet memories are a main ingredient in this 1880s chocolate spice cake

This recipe for a chocolate spice cake has been in my family since around 1880; it comes from my great, great grandmother Mary Ellen “Molly” Hastings and was handed down to my mother as a child. Grandma Molly was born in 1884. She’s a bit of an enigma in our family. As much as my mother has tried to chase her roots, she’s remained shrouded in mystery.

We believe she was born in Missouri, but much of her family history remains a mystery. We think Grandma Molly got the recipe from her mother Sarah Ellen Eads Hastings, but sadly from there the line disappears so we don’t know where she got the recipe.

Grandma Molly was married at 19 to John Lowery in Howard County, Missouri, on March 7, 1877. John was a share cropper, who was famous in the area for growing the best watermelon.

Tragically, Grandma Molly passed away in child birth when her youngest child was only 9. The story goes that she made her husband promise never to remarry after her death, and he never did.

Her daughter remembered Molly asking for water, but it was in the middle of winter so she took a cup and gathered a cup full of snow. She tried to give it to her mother, but someone took it away. That was the last time she saw her mother alive. Molly is buried beside a cornfield somewhere in Cooper County, Missouri. Her last wish was to be buried with her baby; the location is lost to time.

From there, this chocolate spice cake recipe was passed on to her daughter Ella who shared it with her children, who then shared it with theirs until finally it traveled to California and was entrusted to the care of my mom by one of Ella’s great grandchildren, who shared it with me.

“Recipes stand the test of time, through the good times and the bad, to connect us to our past and those who have gone before us.”

The past touches the present through family recipes

The recipe sits in a binder of all of our favorite recipes, some new and some old enough to rival this chocolate spice cake. Many of them hand scrawled in cursive on stained and yellowed recipe cards, the past touching the present. I always love seeing them as I flip through looking for something to make, because in some small way it’s like meeting these women, like stepping into their kitchen and learning from them.

We made this cake not too long ago, and it is no exaggeration that this cake is one of the best I’ve ever tasted. It’s got a lovely moist chocolate taste without being too sweet, coupled with an amazing spicy taste, a bit like gingerbread. It’s a truly delicious family recipe that is surprisingly easy to make.

1880 Chocolate Spice Cake

chocolate spice cake

From 1880 until now my family has been making this cake, and now we want to share it with you. I can only imagine how happy it would make grandma Molly to know that this yummy chocolate spice cake was still being made and loved.

You’ll need the following supplies:

  • Icing knife
  • Standup mixer
  • Small bowl
  • Medium-size bowl
  • Measuring spoons & cups
  • 6-inch round spring form cake pan
  • Hot pan holders
  • Parchment paper
  • Cookie sheet
  • Oil


For the cake

  • ½ cups shortening (we use organic)
  • 1 cup raw sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 ½ tablespoons cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup buttermilk


  • ½ cup coconut
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 5 tablespoons raw sugar


Preparing the spices

1Preheat oven to 350F. Cream together shortening, sugar and egg in a standup mixer. Sift together dry ingredients in a small bowl. Add dry ingredients and buttermilk alternately to the mixer, while mixing on low until combined. 2Mix together in equal amounts shortening and butter in a small bowl, trace the bottom of the cake pan on parchment paper, cut the paper slightly smaller than the pan. Grease the sides and bottom of the cake pan, and place the parchment paper at the bottom of the pan. Oil the paper and pour the batter over the top. Tap the pan on the counter to remove any air bubbles from the cake batter. 3

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Remove from oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes. Release the spring and remove from the cake, cool for 5 more minutes.


While the cake is cooling, mix coconut, butter, cream and sugar in a bowl. Using the icing knife ice, the top of the cake with the coconut mixture. Turn the oven on broil, once hot place the cake in the oven on a cookie sheet and bake for a few minutes or until the topping is bubbly and golden.

About the author

Photograph of blogger

Cheyenne Hasty

Cheyenne is one of the three Rosevine Cottage Girls, who are food enthusiasts and the authors of Bits & Crumbs cookbook, you can connect with them on their blog where they teach you how to make delicious homemade food, decorate your home, grow your own organic food and inspire you in your faith all with a vintage flare.

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  1. This looks like such an amazing recipe and who doesn’t love chocolate? I cannot wait to give this a try! I am a big fan of Rosevine Cottage Girls and Cheyenne is amazing so I know this recipe will be a huge hit!

  2. This looks so delicious! I can’t wait to try it. I love knowing the history behind it. It makes it so much more special.

  3. Such a wonderful way to keep
    the history alive!! I have a special Carrot Cake recipe that was handed down from my great grandmother, Lillian Farrow. I use EVERY-TIME I make something for a special occasion!!

  4. That sounds so good! Spice cake is one of my favorite desserts. I’ve never had a chocolate version like this before. Yummy!

  5. This cake looks delicious! I really like old recipes and have been baking some delicious treats based on my great-grandmother’s recipes.

  6. It’s amazing that a recipe from before the Victorian era is still being made and enjoyed today, I’ll have to give this a go

  7. Wow, this is a piece of awesome information. A family’s recipe could be a great intangible asset too.

  8. That looks like a delicious recipe to try. It looks really new to me and it looks delish.

  9. Okay, Margie made this today, and… this isn’t something I say lightly, but…

    This cake has totally replaced red velvet cake as my favorite cake. Easily.

    I just ate three pieces. I’m going to have to skip dinner now.

    1. That’s so wonderful to hear about this! Now I’m going to have to try it out too because red velvet has also been my favorite!

  10. Ooo this looks a right treat. I bet this tastes really good. will deffo try this out xx

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