feasting with friends

Michigan Monday: Vernors Spice Cake & Boston Cooler

vernors3If you’re a Michigander (or if you’ve spent time here) you probably know what “Vernors” is and probably sampled it a time or two. Maybe it’s your regular go to pop.

If you’re not from Michigan, you may be in the dark of this delicious concoction. Vernors is essentially ginger ale. But the flavor is oh so different! Vernors is a sweet, golden-hued ginger ale (color derived from caramel) and has a robust flavor (similar to that of ginger beer). Notes of ginger and vanilla are prominent. It is highly carbonated. And yes…by “pop”, I’m referring to soda.vernors1

Now owned by the Dr Pepper/Snapple Group, Vernors was first made in the late 1800s. According to Wikipedia: “When Vernor was called off to serve in the war, he stored the syrup base of 19 ingredients, including ginger, vanilla and other natural flavorings, in an oaken cask. Vernor joined the 4th Michigan Cavalry on August 14, 1862 as a hospital steward, was promoted to second lieutenant on September 20, 1864, and was discharged on July 1, 1865. After returning from battle four years later, he opened the keg and found the drink inside had been changed by the aging process in the wood. It was like nothing else he had ever tasted, and he purportedly declared it “Deliciously different,” which remains the drink’s motto to this day.”

Initially, Vernors was only available at the soda counter of the drugstore where James Vernor worked. Eventually, he did allow other soda fountains to offer it, but there were strict “guidelines” as to how it could be served.


I grew up believing that Vernors could cure an upset stomach or nausea. If a whimper of either was heard in the house, Vernors was offered. To really cure an ailment, Vernors must be served at room temperature…never cold!

Does it work? Well, it does contain ginger…known to help nausea. I’ll offer an unauthoritative “yes”… as will just about any other Michigan native!

I’ve used Vernors in the past to make a glaze for ham…delicious. (As does the Queen of Soul…Aretha Franklin!) I’ve also seen recipes for glazed salmon and onion rings incorporating Vernors.vernors4

Today I’m offering sweet options, Vernors Spice Cake and the famous Boston Cooler. And surprise… a Boston Cooler is NOT from Boston. It’s a Detroit original, though the “how” of where the name came from is not 100% known. Some claim it is named Boston Cooler as it was invented on Boston Boulevard in Detroit. However, Boston Boulevard had not been developed yet when the drink was named. Big mystery!vernors5In my decades (and decades!) of living, I have only had a Boston Cooler one way… scoops of vanilla ice cream (preferably Stroh’s) in a glass and Vernors poured until it begins to foam over. The 2 ingredients are never…I repeat, never blended! I have seen recipes online directing one to place the 2 ingredients is a blender and whip into a shake. Wrong, wrong, wrong… 😉

vernors7Ironically, I just read in the paper this week that there is a McDonald’s, in Detroit, that is now offering Boston Coolers. I wonder if they’re blending it… into a shake… if so, tsk tsk.

Today was actually our first 80 degree day of season. Full sun, blue skies, gentle breeze… the perfect backdrop for our first Boston Cooler of the season!

Vernors Spice Cake

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

1 cup unsalted butter, softened (2 sticks)
1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
1 cup Vernors
2 ½  teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
½  teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon allspice
3 cups flour

Note: If Vernors is not available, I highly recommend using ginger beer as opposed to a different brand of ginger ale.

Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly grease a (9×13 inch) pan or a (10 inch) tube or Bundt pan, or mini-bundt pans.

In a mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugars. Blend in vanilla and almond extracts. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each.

In a large bowl, whisk the dry ingredients together.

Add ½  of the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture; mix well. Add ½ of the Vernors; mix well. Repeat with the remaining dry ingredients and the Vernors.

Spoon into the prepared pan(s). Bake until the cake springs back when lightly pressed and “passes” the toothpick test.  (About 45 minutes for a sheet pan, 60 minutes for the tube or Bundt pan and 25 minutes for the mini-bundt pans).

Cool for 15 minutes before removing from pan. Cool thoroughly on a rack. (The sheet cake may be served from the pan.)

Cake may be dusted with powdered sugar, if desired. Sliced fresh berries pair nicely, as well.


  1. Liz

    Thank you for the education 🙂 Both recipes look fantastic. Not sure how I’ve lived my life not knowing about the cake. Must make! Appreciate you heading over to food for fun. Thanks for your visit.

    • I always feel good when I can feel a smidgen smarter at the end of the day… I’m happy to supply your “something new” today! Thanks for visiting!

  2. Guess what I have in my basement refrigerator? You guessed it! Anything that has been around for 150 years and is still loved my many has got to be good. Love the cake – need to try… Not blogging very much but had to say hi when I saw this Michigan tradition. I’m enjoying this beautiful weather gardening and lots of projects. Have a nice holiday weekend Nancy 🙂

    • You pass the “true Michigander” test, Judi! Gotta have Vernors on hand. 🙂 I greatly appreciate your visit during your blogging hiatus… Thank you! Happy to hear your busy gardening and such…we may not have had much of a Spring, but Summer has certainly arrived. I’ll look forward to your return to blogging.

  3. Being from Arizona, I don’t know about Vernor’s or Boston Coolers! I loved learning about them. The spice cake sounds so delicious! The spices in it (and the Vernor’s) must make it taste great. And I am always up for some ice cream – with Vernors poured over it sounds refreshing. Thank you so much for educating me in the ways of Vernors, Nancy! It’s always fun to try new things.

    • It’s my pleasure to share a little of Michigan’s history and a bit of our culinary treasures. I bet a Boston Cooler could bring a bit of relief from the heat to an Arizona girl. 😉 Thanks for visiting, Shari… I hope you have a wonderful week!

  4. deliciouslynell

    This sounds great! I’d love to try Vernors at some point. I love ginger beer, and those sorts of drinks. Vernors sounds far more delicious!

    • Ginger Beer is actually non-alcoholic and taste absolutely nothing like beer. So if you can’t find Vernors, have no fear with ginger beer. Ginger ale can certainly be substituted, though the flavors are more mild. Thanks for stopping by, Fae!

    • Vernors is definitely a regional thing, though it is available more far reaching than ever. Yes, the spices filled my home with a heavenly scent! Thanks so much, Ronit!

  5. I’ve never heard of Vernors Suzanne, but if it is anything like ginger ale, I’m bound to love it. I like all the lovely warm spices in your mini bundt cakes. I love the idea of the smaller versions of a bigger cake, that way you don’t feel as guilty 🙂 Thanks for a lovely recipe and your memories.

  6. The cake and Boston Cooler sound great! There is a grocery store down here in AR where I’ve seen Vernors on the shelves–I’ll have to check and see if they still sell it! I remember having Vernor’s ice cream a long time ago…wonder if they still make that?

  7. Hi-five for Michiganders and our beloved Vernors! YES, it is THE cure-all for just about anything. I got a virus for the first time in 16 years about two months ago and what do you think I subsisted on? Yep. Vernors and saltine crackers. And you know what? I got better SUPER quick lol

    Great post and recipe Nancy 😉

    • Thanks for seconding my Vernors facts, Jess! I remember detesting the taste as a young child. Now I love it. It certainly was, and is, a cure all! Happy to hear it chased your germs away!

  8. I have never had Vernors but have heard of it. It’s not available in NYC, love the spice cake and Boston Cooler, my mom gave me ginger ale when my stomach was upset. I have made ginger ale floats before. What a great post!!!

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