Thursday, February 27, 2014

Gems / Baked in a Cast Iron Gem Pan. A part of American Culinary History

Gems / Baked in a Cast Iron Gem Pan. A part of American Culinary History:

I have a vast collection of cast iron cookware. I love cooking with cast iron. We cook outdoors with cast iron and I set up my fireplace to cook in it with cast iron too. I found a piece of cast iron bakeware at our local flea market and I had never seen it before. I bought it and started researching it. It turned out to be a Gem Pan. I was curious and continued my research and here's what I discovered.

Gem pans are heavy, muffin pan-like trays that are traditionally made from cast iron. Minimuffins, simple gem breads, and other small desserts can be baked in a gem pan. Most of these types of pans are designed to yield 12 to 24 muffins, though some specialized sizes may produce less.
cast iron gem pan is considered the ideal tool to use when baking gems; it is also dubbed the proper pan for this use. Cast iron is the preferred medium for these types of pans. Modern gempans, however, can be made from other materials, such as heavy-gauge steel and metals treated with nonstick coating. Cups can range from deep to shallow, depending on the cook's needs.
The size of the cast iron gem pan makes it ideal to create bite-sized treats and mini breads. The most commonly used cup sizes measures 1.5 inch (3.8 cm) in diameter. The pans themselves typically measure 13.125 inches (33 cm) by 7.75 inches (19.5 cm). Small pastry puffs, cheesy popovers, chocolate brownies, savory mini quiches, and mini cornbread can all be made with the pan.
One of the most common uses for this baking pan is its namesake, the gem. A very simple form of bread, gems consist of very few ingredients. They can be used as meal accompaniments, desserts, or snacks, depending on the recipe preferred. Gems may also be referred to as gemcakes.

The term Gem comes from small cakes that resemble gems. There was a kitchen housewares company named Gem that sold a pan that was generically referred to as a Gem Pan.
A Gem can be referred to as a muffin but a muffin is not necessarily a Gem. They were first popularized in the 19th century and were always made with Whole Wheat Graham Flour and baked in heavy cast iron gem pans.

Nathaniel Waterman of Boston, Massachusetts is believed to be the first person to patent the design of the Gem Pan in 1859. It was also referred to as an Egg Pan. The cast iron pan featured cups, or wells, that were connected together to promote the conduction of heat through the iron.

The gems were made with Graham Flour. A type of whole wheat flour named after the American Presbyterian minister Reverend Sylvester Graham (1794 - 1851).
Graham despised the discarding of nutrients, bleaching flour and believed that using all of the grain, without adding chemicals in the milling of flour.

Here are some examples of Gem  Recipes:

19th Century Graham Puffs:
1 C milk
1 TBS molasses
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
Graham Flour to make a stiff dough.

Bake in the wells of a well buttered cast iron gem pan.
Heat the pan in a 375 degree oven.
Add butter to the wells.
Pour batter in each well and bake until light browned.

I love old recipes that don't give a baking time. They just knew when they were done based on experience. It's the way my mother in law baked. She never owned a measuring cup or measuring spoons.

Potato Flour Gems:

2 eggs, separated
1/2 tsp salt
1 TBS sugar
1/2 C potato flour
3 tsp baking powder
3 TBS ice water

In a small bowl, beat egg whites.
In a separate bowl, beat egg yolks
Add salt and sugar to the beaten yolks.
Fold in the egg whites.

In a small bowl, sift together flour and baking powder.
Beat the flour mixture into the egg mixture.
Add ice water.

Grease the wells of a cast iron gem pan with butter or crisco and fill the wells with batter.
Bake at 375 degrees for 15 - 20 minutes.

1950's Graham Gems Recipe:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

1 1/2 C whole wheat flour
1 1/2 C graham flour
1/4 C sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and whisk well.

1 1/2 C buttermilk
1/4  vegetable oil
1 egg
Add to dry ingredients and mix just until combined.

Grease the wells of a cast iron gem pan with melted Crisco or Butter.
Spoon batter into wells and bake for 15 minutes. The tops will be firm to the touch.

This recipe makes 18 gems.
Serve warm with butter.

As soon as I try some of the recipes I'll post photographs.

I was fortunate to find a vintage Gem Pan in excellent condition.
Graham Flour

This is a vintage recipe card for Graham Gems.
In my research I discovered that when they referred to a "hot" oven
it would be the equivalent of 400 degrees today.
I also found that the milk was usually butter milk or what they referred to
as "sour" milk.

Peace in the Kitchen!


  1. This is excellent, thanks. Now we can use our collection of Gem pans.

  2. You are welcome. Enjoy a variety of Gems.