I have a vintage cookbook, from Charlotte, North Carolina and about 1958, that has a recipe for “Different Applesauce Cake”. It says to “Cook in stem pan approximately 1 hour, 10 minutes”.
Searches for “stem pan” brings up pan definition lists that don’t include “stem pan”; searches for “stem pan baking” brings up a lot of pages on how to teach STEM using baking. There is one patent that appears at first to be about stem pans, but on reading seems to be about stems on pans. Though it could be that stem pan is another word for skillet.
In all cases, search engines like to replace “stem” with “steam”. There does appear to be something called a “steam pan”, but it appears to be the kind of pan used by buffet restaurants to keep food warm, not something for baking.
Searches on “stem pan” with “apple cake” do bring up some variations on some odd sites; but they don’t explain what it is. Some recipes use a variation of “use a loaf pan or a stem pan” and others a variation of “use a bundt pan or a stem pan”. Some suggest using it ungreased, some greasing and flouring the pan, others lining the bottom with greased paper, which seems a bit difficult if it’s just another word for bundt pan, or even if it’s another term for “tube pan” which is what I most suspect.
On the idea that this might be a dialect around Mississippi and North Carolina, I tried a search for “stem pan” and “southern” and found two contradictory recipe pages with images of the pan in question. A recipe for corn bread that has a photo of the corn bread in a skillet; this may be a stock photo, however. And a recipe for tomato soup cake that has a photo of it being poured into what looks like a bundt pan. So it may be that this is a term that applies to multiple items.
I did image searches for various forms of “cake pan advertisement”, such as “mirro bakeware advertisement” and “old bakeware advertisement”. I found several for tube pans and bundt pans and none advertising stem pans.
I did a search specifically for the phrase “stem pan” limited to the site archive.org; the term appears to be exclusively found in older organizational cookbooks (five church organizations, one library association, one high school club, and one college club). They range from 1911 to 1982 except for two: one from 1991, but it’s the submitter’s grandmother’s recipe, and one from 2006, but it’s a reprint from the organization’s 1981 cookbook. (Of course, also, since it’s archive.org it’s likely to be weighted toward older books.)
There are no photos, as is normal for such cookbooks. There are no definitions, either, although there is one parenthetical: “Bake in greased and floured stem pan (I use cast iron bundt pan)” which could of course be read either as an example or an alternative. One intriguing set of directions ends, for Texas Pecan Cake, with “Bake in stem pan 10x4 inches”. I suspect that this means a 10-inch diameter, 4-inch deep pan, especially given the quantity of ingredients; it’s an odd direction, though, because by that point the batter has already been poured into “a well-greased tube pan”. However, it matches something I saw in The Joy of Cooking while trying to look up the term, that a 9-½ by 4-¼-inch plain tube (angel cake pan) is “Conventionally described as 10x4-inch plain tube” (p. 701 in my 2006 copy).
- Recipes of Yesterday and Today (1991)
- Our Favorite Recipes (1965)
- The Arizona Cook Book (1911)
- Centenarian Cooking (1971)
- Feeding the Flock (2006)
- National High School Rodeo Association (1979)
- Entertainment Cook Book (1919)
- Heavenly Delights (1982)
What is a stem pan? A skillet? A bundt pan? A tube pan? A loaf pan? A variation? Or something else? Or more than one item? I am at this point almost certain that it is either a tube pan (most likely), or a variation on a tube pan, but the lack of any definition or photo keeps me from knowing for sure what variation, if any, the term might mean.