...and Still Have Enough Time to Make Mrs. W.C. Wiechmann’s Butterscotch Pineapple Cake
For several generations, Wiechmann’s was a holiday destination. A department store with a wide variety of merchandise, it anchored the 100 block of South Jefferson. A continuous band of display windows formed the street-level façade of the department store. Their holiday decorations hinted at the merchandise and displays that awaited shoppers. The ground floor was an elegant two-story space encompassed by a mezzanine. Additional floors and the basement were reached by an elevator – of course, staffed with an attendant.
Wiechmann’s was a Saginaw company and over time was operated by generations of the family. Although it is tempting to explore the many stories of business, the Wiechmann family’s contribution to Saginaw, the history of the firm’s buildings and the family home in the Grove, we are focusing on Mrs. W. C. Wiechmann – Emma Koeber Wiechmann who founded the store with her husband in 1900. As we were researching her life, we found a biography published in The Saginaw News at the time of death:
Death Takes Benefactor, Store Founder, Mrs. W. C. Wiechmann Was Business Leader Here Many Years.
Public Benefactor, devoted mother, prominent business woman- those attributes are all on the life scroll of Mrs. William C. Wiechmann, 70, who died Friday night in her Edem Arms Apartment after an illness of several months.
With her husband, who died in 1939 Mrs. Wiechmann started in 1900 a small retail store at 506 East Genesee. This was the business forebear of the present William C. Wiechmann Co. department store which has grown and prospered to a place among the finest of its kind in Michigan.
A woman of abundant energy and keen business sense, tempered by a distaste for sharp-trading practices, Mrs. Wiechmann was an able partner for her husband. She ran the original store while Mr. Wiechmann continued to work as an accountant for a coal supply firm here.
When it was apparent their modest venture would success in the competitive mercantile trade that was Saginaw’s at the turn of the century[,] Mr. Weichmann left his other job and the two started on their own.
Limited Capital Stretched
The first Wiechmann store carried hardware – pails, shovel, tools and such items- along with a varied stock of household articles and piece goods. Members of the family recalled Mrs. Wiechmann often chuckled when recalling early experiences in business here.
There were times, she later told her children, when many of the boxes on the store counters were empty. That was not only because merchandise periodically was hard to get, she said, but because It was hard to stretch their limited capital to keep up stocks.
But such circumstances did not prevail, for the first Wiechmann store enjoyed success almost from the beginning. Mr. Wiechmann was the first to admit his wife was an unusual business woman with a judgement in market fluctuations and in the art of merchandising possessed by few men. The two were an excellent business team and compatible and inseparable when the day’s work was done.
Enjoyed Her Work.
A tribute to her business ability is the fact that Mrs. Wiechmann was the first woman named director in the Retail Merchant’s Division of the Saginaw Board of Commerce.
She continued active in management of the Wiechmann store after her husband’s death, Failing health prompted her withdrawal last summer from a working role in the store’s activity.
Mrs. Wiechmann enjoyed working in the store, especially in later years when she could be leisurely about making her rounds among the clerks. By nature a sympathetic woman, she often heard family trouble – sickness, death and want. She was quick to help the deserving and offer advice.
Clerks recall many occasions when Mrs. Wiechmann and her husband quietly took shabbily-clad children to inconspicuous nooks in the store. The children left wearing new clothes.
Gave to Hospitals.
Mrs. Wiechmann contributed heavily to equipment for hospital use here. She was a charter member of the Children’s Free Ward Association and served as its vice president. She gave iron lungs to St. Luke’s and St. Mary’s hospital, as well as oxygen tens for both institutions.
She gave special equipment to St. Mary’s for isolation of infants and presented St. Luke’s several years ago with an expensive magnet for removal of metal particles imbedded in the eye.
Christmas time found her with ready checkbook for various charity organizations here. She augmented those gifts toys and clothing for children in some of the institutions.
Mrs. Wiechmann cared less for social activities than the warmth and pleasant experiences to be had from close association with her family. Before selling several years ago the 20-room mansion which had been her home for many years, she spent much time in the garden on the spacious grounds.
She enjoyed travel, always looking forward with keen anticipation to New York buying trips. She made several trips to Europe and South America.
Mrs. Wiechmann had wintered in Florida for the past 15 years. During the past several years she had spent most of her summers at her point lookout cottage. This was a great source of enjoyment,
In addition to affairs at the department store, Mrs. Wiechmann actively managed business affairs of the estate, which included the Wiechmann office building at Jefferson and Genesee and Edem Arms apartments, of which she was co-owner.
She was a member of the Saginaw Branch of the Woman’s National Farm and Garden Association and the Germania Society.
Emma Laura Koeber was born April 15, 1876, in Port Huron, and came to Saginaw with her parents when a child. She was married here in 1897 to William C. Wiechmann. He died Dec. 26, 1939.
She leaves a daughter, Mrs. Wiliam T. Kessel; a son, William H. Wiechmann; three sisters, Mrs. Ralph Schrock and Mrs. Edna Kober of La Jolla, Calif., and Miss Florence Kober of Wilcox, Ariz.; and four grandchildren, William W. and Suzanne Kessel and Carol Lee and Willam Wiechmann, 5th. (The Saginaw News, January 25, 1947.)
The downtown store continued to thrive and in 1972 a store opened in Fashion Square Mall. Branches opened in other communities. In 1979 the South Jefferson store Closed and in 1992 the chain closed.
With that, you really should check and see how your interpretation of Mrs. Wiechmann’s Butterscotch Pineapple Cake is progressing. Although we have plenty of additional material to share, we will save those for future posts and note:
“Fifteen Minutes or a Half Hour at Wiechmann’s, in this brief time you can choose gifts for all your family and suitable ones too – that is if you come to this great store, where varieties and stock are unequalled.” (The Saginaw Evening News. December 21, 1916.)
The Recipe: Mrs. W. C. Wiechmann’s Butterscotch Pineapple Cake
One-half cup butter, 3 eggs, 3 teaspoons baking powder, 1-3 cup milk, pineapple; 1 cup sugar, 2 cups flour, ½ teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon vanilla, maraschino cherries. Cream shortening and sugar, add well-beaten eggs, and sifted dry ingredients alternating with milk. Add vanilla and mix well. Grease a round pudding pan, line with brown sugar about ½ inch deep, dot with 3 tablespoons butter; place in pan the slices of pineapple with a maraschino cherry in center of each. Pour cake batter over the mixture in the pan; bake 50 minutes in moderate oven. This serves eight.
-Mrs. William C. Wiechmann, from the 1926 edition of The Saginaw Cookbook
Castle Test Kitchen Interpretation:
½ cup butter; + 3 tablespoons
3 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 Can pineapple rings; drained
Medium Dark Brown Sugar – enough to line pan ½ inch deep (the CTK Staff forgot to measure)
Note: We used a 7 ¼” springform pan which was just under 4 inches deep.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Grease interior of pan and line with parchment paper. Grease parchment paper. Pack ½ inch brown sugar into pan and dot with the 3 tablespoons of butter. Arrange layer of pineapple rings over bed of brown sugar and place maraschino cherry in center of each ring.
Sift flour, salt, and baking powder. Cream Butter and sugar. In a separate bowl beat eggs. Beat eggs into creamed butter and sugar mixture. When fully combined, alternating between milk and dry ingredients, beat milk and sifted ingredients into mixture. When combined, add vanilla, and beat mixture until fully combined. Pour batter over pineapple - brown sugar base and bake for about 50 – 65+ minutes – this time will vary greatly depending on what size and type of pan you use. When a knife is inserted into cake comes out clean, remove from oven. Let rest about five minutes. Run a knife around perimeter of pan. Place heat-proof serving plate over pan and invert. Remove parchment and serve warm. Note: we were able to transfer the cake to a serving plate after it cooled slightly.
We served it with whipped cream.
This recipe is closely related to contemporary recipes for a pineapple upside-down cake. This version simply uses a base of brown sugar – most recipes call for heating or adding additional liquid to the brown sugar prior to adding the cake batter. Also, Mrs. Wiechmann’s recipe calls for using a pudding pan.* Which we interpret as implying it should be a thicker cake – one that takes longer to bake. As a result, the pineapple and brown sugar caramelize to form an almost- butterscotch-like crust. Although the size of the pan the CTK used and the cooking time need further exploration, what we produced was very appealing. (That said, we would hesitate to offer a sample of our cake to Mary Berry of the Great British Baking Show.)
*The mention of a pudding pan brought back memories of last year’s challenge of unmolding a Wolfarth Christmas pudding. However, the CTK staff persevered and decided to use a springform pan – this was not the wisest decision. It leaked. However, the CTK staff predicted this issue and placed the pan on a cookie sheet – thankfully.