487 Meeting St.
Today: Unoccupied building
Yesterday: Beckroge's Bakery (1890-1973)
On the menu: Vanilla cakes
“Gone are the old Charleston bakeries, which once were household words: Gerard’s, Fuseler’s, Marjenhoff’s, Puckhaber’s and Wolff’s,” The News and Courier lamented in a 1939 profile of an 85-year-old baker who drove a bread delivery route. “The only bakery shop which was here when Mr. Sisson came here and is still in operation is the Beckroge bakery.”
More than three decades after the paper eulogized Charleston’s German bakeries, Beckroge was still in business at Line and Meeting streets. “The pound cakes, vanillas, ladyfingers, macaroons and bread have always been very popular,” owner Henry J. Beckroge told The Evening Post. “Some of our friends won’t eat any other kind.”
The building that once housed Beckroge is once again commanding the city’s attention, this time in conjunction with an ambitious development project that promises to transform the Meeting Street corridor just south of Interstate 26. The Board of Architectural Review hasn’t yet ruled on the structure, which has appeared on the Preservation Society of Charleston's "Seven to Save" list, but Lifestyle Communities has proposed renovating it.
Yet the developer is unlikely to bring back the “vanillas” cited by Beckroge and hailed as one of the bakery’s greatest contributions to the city.
Henry Beckroge’s grandfather, John Henry Beckroge, purchased his first bakery in 1890. His daughter-in-law was running the store in 1925 when a Bakers Review correspondent dropped by. “It is really one of Charleston’s spotless bakeries, and a look when entering the strikingly clean store will convince the visitor cleanliness and wholesomeness must also prevail,” the journal noted.
Although Bakers Review praised Beckroge’s displays, the bakery in 1949 modernized by installing new cases, fronting the store with plate glass and replacing its wood-fired oven with a new gas model. Still, the Beckroges stuck to what they described as the traditional method of making bread, which involved mixing dough in the afternoon. Family members maintained that baking early in the morning rushed the yeast unnecessarily, resulting in loaves with no texture and little taste.
While Beckroge’s Bakery was celebrated for its half-rye bread and coffeecake topped with crushed pecans, its vanilla cakes — referred to as “VC’s” by in-the-know Charlestonians — inspired the most intense devotion. The jelly-filled sponge cake was about as big around as a biscuit, and finished with vanilla icing. The Post and Courier described it as “a dessert fit for a king” when Beckroge’s closed, but it also made frequent appearances at children’s birthday parties: In a 1984 “Loved and Lost” column, a reader recalled being served “sugar plums.”
That same column included a recipe for the base cake (minus instructions for the filling and icing), which is all that remains of Beckroge’s, at least for now. Note, the recipe from the column did not include directions for baking time.
4 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar, scant
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Beat egg yolks until lemon colored. Add sugar slowly; beat well. Stir in vanilla. Fold in stiffly beaten egg whites, then flour and baking powder.
Put a dessert spoon of batter into greased small muffin pans.
Cool on rack.
When cold, split and spread with jelly and ice with colored icing.