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Sue Makes Sun Drops

Welcome to Lesson 30 of When Sue Began to Cook. We’re working our way through a year’s worth of cooking lessons from the children’s cook book by Louise Bennett Weaver. If this is your first time tuning in, click the book title link to visit Lesson 1. This week Sue makes Sun Drops with her friend Ruth Ann.

Never heard of Sun Drops? Not a surprise. I’ve been reading Twenties recipes for years and this is the first time I’ve heard of them as well. Basically, Sun Drops are cupcakes made with a sponge cake batter. A cake sponge is made from eggs that are separated, with the stiffly beaten egg whites folded in last to give them volume. Many cake recipes from the 1910s through the 1930s were sponge recipes, simply because they required few ingredients, no expensive fats (like butter), and they looked and tasted great when they appeared at the table.

In today’s lesson, Sue learns how to create a cake flour substitute at home instead of buying a box of Swan’s Down. Ingredient storage space was at a premium in Twenties households. So anything that could be whipped up easily as a substitute was welcome, compared to yet another open box. As usual, Sue (or rather, her mother Bettina) has some opinions about the day’s activities:

Sue’s Sun Drops Diary

The Sun Drops looked so good we could hardly wait to try them.

A good sponge cake recipe is a useful thing for a housekeeper to have, Mother says. And she also says that she likes this particular one so much better than any other that this is the only one she uses any more. It doesn’t have to be baked in muffin pans. Very often she makes it in a square cake pan lined with waxed paper. When it’s baked that way, it takes about twenty-five minutes in a moderate oven instead of twenty. [Note: A moderate oven is 350 – 375ºF.]

Sometimes we have sponge cake like this, cut in squares and served with whipped cream, for dessert. Father loves it that way.

Mother says some pleasant day Ruth Ann and I may have a porch party and serve Sun Drops and lemonade for refreshments. They’re fine for an afternoon party or tea, Mother says.

Ruth Ann and I are feeling like grownup cooks today. We’ve learned to make sponge cake!


Sun Drops

Sponge cake cupcakes from When Sue Began to Cook, by Louise Bennett Weaver
Course: Dessert, Tea time
Cuisine: American
Keyword: Bettina, cake, Ruth Ann, sponge, Sue


  • 4 eggs
  • 3 Tbsp cold water
  • 1 tsp lemon extract
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 7/8 cup all purpose flour (a full cup minus two tablespoons)
  • 2 Tbsp cornstarch
  • tsp baking powder
  • tsp salt


  • We took four eggs and separate them. We put the yolks into one bowl and the whites in another. Then we beat the egg yolks until they are light and lemon colored. We measured the cold water and lemon extract into the egg yolks, and then added sugar little by little, stirring all the time until it was all added.
  • Then we measured out one cup of flour. We took two tablespoons of the flour from the cup. This left exactly 7/8 of a cup. Mother had us add the cornstarch and put it in the cup with the flour. This makes a level cup again. [Note: What you are doing here is making cake flour from regular all purpose flour. This is a great process to memorize, because Twenties recipes used a lot of cake flour!]
  • Then we measured out the baking powder and the salt and carefully piled them on top of the flour and cornstarch. We sifted the flour, cornstarch, salt, and baking soda right into the egg yolk mixture. Then we stirred it up very gently but thoroughly.
  • Next we beat up the egg whites until they were very stiff. After they were stiff we let them stand in the bowl for one minute. We emptied the egg whites into the other things and folded them in with a knife. They ought not to be beaten in, but they have to be mixed, so folding them over and over gently with the flat side of a knife is the best way.
  • We greased a muffin pan and then added a little flour to each compartment and shook it around so the pans would be both greased and floured. Then we dropped cake batter in the little compartments with a spoon, filling them about two-thirds full. We had already lighted the oven and it was warm. We baked the little sun drops in a moderate oven (350℉) for about twenty minutes. When they were dont they were a lovely golden brown color.
  • Mother told us not to take them out of the pans right away, but to let them stand for five minutes to cool. Then we helped them out very gently.
Parties and Visits · Vintage Entertainment

Your Afternoon Tea Shelf

top half of a tea cart, set with two cups and saucers, a creamer, a covered sugar dish, a large metal coffee server, and a bowl of fruit. From 1923.

What can you throw together when a friend stops by for a chat? If your pantry’s afternoon tea shelf is stocked, worry no more. Pull out a few tasty nibbles and treats you can combine quickly, assemble them on a tray, and pour the tea.

This idea comes from 1923, and like many ideas it needs resurrection from its current space, buried within the pages of a woman’s periodical. The general emergency shelf concept wasn’t new. It took its place among the solid advice offered to new homemakers: Always have a small shelf of ready to use foods for unexpected guests or that long day away.

Your Own Afternoon Tea Shelf

The afternoon tea shelf, however, gives a new twist to the idea. Especially if you like the idea of holding tea parties to entertain close friends, you might see the advantage in the suggestion. You clear off a shelf in your pantry or a small shelf in a corner cupboard that you don’t often use. Designate it the Tea Shelf. But what do you put on it?

Of course, you would include a box of crackers. Pour them into a bowl, set them out side by side covered with 1/4 slice of your favorite cheese, or spread with a bit of cream cheese and sprinkle with a flavoring spice like garlic, Italian seasoning, or your favorite mixture. (Better yet, combine the flavor with the cream cheese before spreading.) You may even want to include two boxes of crackers. Simple rice crackers always taste light and airy, while a heavier entertainment cracker like Ritz or an allergy-safe alternative creates a great base for simple spreads.

Another good idea is a box of favorite cookies that have a long shelf life. Oreos, chocolate chip, or Vienna wafers give you some ideas, but the cookie aisle is filled with options. Choose a favorite.

Easy Shelf Stocking Ideas

Here are some other ideas:

  • Make some cookies and store them on your shelf. It will ensure that you visit the shelf often as you eat them before they become stale.
  • Marshmallows, either mini or regular.
  • Chocolate in small bar or individually-wrapped form. You will want to unwrap the chocolate before you present it, however. Guests seem to have an aversion to opening sealed items.
  • Nuts, either one kind or mixed. Small containers don’t take up much space. This is not the time to buy a huge container of Costco peanuts.
  • A jar of marmalade or preserves.
  • Small jar of honey. Again, a small container works here. Store the 2 pound glass jar that you use for everyday cooking on another shelf.
  • Sugar, turbinado sugar, or brown sugar that you can use to sweeten the tea.
  • A small jar of mayonnaise if you don’t always have some in the fridge, for savory sandwiches.
  • Peanut butter
  • Dried fruit, with or without extra sugar: cherries, pineapple, crystallized ginger.

Once you have all these things, plus the refrigerated items you always keep on hand (like cream cheese), you can combine them into all sorts of novel treats.

Easy Combinations from Your Stash

Use the cookies as the base for a sweet sandwich. Take a couple tablespoons of cream cheese and stir in 1/2 teaspoon sugar and some melted chocolate or 1/4 tsp cocoa powder. Spread this on molasses cookies, vanilla wafers, or sugar cookies. Press two of them together to make a sandwich.

Stir a few chopped nuts into a spoon or two of honey and use that to glue two cookies together in a sweet sandwich.

To add spice to those plain table crackers, stir together some peanut butter, a teaspoon or two of half-and-half or full cream (if you have it on hand, milk or milk substitute if you don’t), and some confectioner’s sugar. Use it as a cracker sandwich filling. You can also mix peanut butter with honey for an excellent filling, or peanut butter and some leftover frosting from that cake you made a day or two ago (This is why I never throw away that 1/2 cup of leftover frosting. It may need to make its way to a cookie or cracker.)

Take a marshmallow, place it onto a cracker or round cookie, and stick it in the oven at 350° F for a few minutes until it puffs and begins to brown. Bring it out of the oven, and if you like, decorate the top with a nut or piece of dried fruit like a cherry or pineapple.

Bread slices, cut into 3/4-inch wide pieces, after de-crusting, can be toasted. Then while warm spread with butter and sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon. This is a grownup take on the ever-favorite childhood breakfast of cinnamon toast.

Adding Cake or Muffins

If you have time to whip up a cake (this is where boxed mixes can shine), bake it in one or two loaf pans. When it’s cool, cut it into thin bread-slice type pieces. Then mix together 1 cup powdered sugar with a Tablespoon or two of milk. Add whatever flavoring you like and stir in some chopped nuts for texture and added nutrition. Then use the frosting as a filling between two pieces of cake. Cut each sandwich into thin finger strips if you like.

Mini muffins can be made from the simplest recipe if you cut off the top, scrape out a bit, and fill the hole with a bit of marmalade or preserves before popping the top back on.

Savory Options for Your Table

Create a savory topping by mixing 2 hard boiled eggs, some diced or ground deli ham, a tablespoon or two of grated cheese, and either dijon mustard, mayonnaise, or a mixture of both to hold it all together. Spread on crackers, or take two to three slices of bread, remove the crust, cut into quarters, toast, and top with the mixture. Voila! Eight to twelve open faced sandwiches.

Top cheese crackers with mayonnaise mixed with nuts. Or spread them with mayonnaise mixed with minced celery. This, of course, will require a larger cheese wafer than your ordinary small 1-inch square cracker. If you have the small kind on hand, toss them into a bowl for free snacking.

Entertain with Impunity

Keep enough small, prepackaged things on hand that you can throw together a tea party at a moment’s notice, and with little to no anxiety. Life is too short to stress over cups of tea and finger sandwiches. Using only three of the ideas from this list will give you an inviting, tasty tea table. And because most of the ingredients came from your afternoon tea shelf, you have the time and energy to enjoy your friends.

If you want more complicated (and impressive) recipes for your afternoon tea party, check out this post on a collection of Recipes for Your Porch Party.