The Great British Bake Off has become an integral part of British culture and a part of the UK’s global identity. With its pastel colors, the gentle ribaldrie and the delicious things to eat Bake out is the perfect calming show for our troubled lives. For an hour a week, we can pretend we’re in a tent where all we have to worry about is a damp floor.
Although bakers often dig up obscure recipes to try, there are some traditional baked goods that we probably won’t try. Here are ten cakes that are too weird to watch on TV.
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10 Witch cake
For centuries, witches were one of the most feared creatures one could encounter. Everything from a missing cow to a failed harvest to bread that did not rise could be blamed on a witch and her shameful powers. To prevent a witch’s curses from crossing the threshold of home amulets of various kinds, they could be hung behind the door. Sometimes these were natural objects like a hagstein (a stone with a hole in it), but sometimes they had to be made by the homeowner.
One way to keep a witch and her evils away was to bake a special witch cake. Every year in Yorkshire between April 1st and April 6th, a small prickly cake with a hole in it was baked. Whether it was the hole in a hagstone or the spikes that kept the witch away is not recorded. An example of a witch cake can be seen at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. The researcher who collected it said:
“Witch cakes can be found in almost every hut. These are circular, with a hole in the middle and spikes protruding on all sides. If you hang one in your house and burn it and replace it with another once a year, you will be very lucky. “And no witches.
9 Urine witch cake
Sometimes it’s too late for a witch cake to ward off enchantments. If you’re feeling spellbound, though there is another cake you can make to help – but these witch cakes contain urine. In a case from Yorkshire where there appeared to be an excessive number of witches, in 1683 a doctor with a cursed patient prescribed a cake of the patient’s hair and urine mixed with wheat and horseshoe stumps. Fortunately, the patient didn’t have to eat it. The cake was thrown into the fire.
While urine-containing witch cakes were well known in the UK, the most famous use in the witch panic came from Salem. When young girls were thought to be bewitched, townspeople turned to Witch Cakes to help identify the witch. Their technique was to make a cake out of the cursed person’s urine and feed it to a dog. It was believed that the dog would reveal who was casting the spell.
Unfortunately, Tituba, a slave in the family who made the cake, was later accused of being a witch – and her knowledge of the spells used in making a witch cake was one of the pieces of evidence used against her.
8th Swirling cakes
Cakes aren’t always useful in keeping evil away – sometimes they attract it. The town of Ely made cakes called Whirlin ‘Cakes on the fifth Sunday after Lent. What exactly these cakes were has been lost to history, but there is a story about how they got their name.
An old lady from the area was throwing a party and had gone out of her way to make the most delicious cakes. One guest, a stranger, was so delighted with the cakes that he couldn’t get enough of them. Unfortunately for the old lady, her unknown guest was the devil in disguise. He turned into a whirlwind and whipped away all the cakes – hence the name Whirlin ‘Cakes.
Cyclone-shaped cake stealing is an award slightly more impressive than the Hollywood handshake.
Parkin is a fairly well-known traditional cake in the UK. A ginger and sweet cake popular in northern England. Still, it’s supposedly even more popular with dragons.
At Filey Brigg there is an almost kilometer long section of stone that juts out into the sea. There are different stories about how it came about, but many involve a dragon and his love for that sticky cake. In the first case, locals get annoyed that a voracious dragon is around. So they got around to it by offering huge amounts of parkin. When the dragon devoured it, it found its jaws glued to the cake. With their mouths closed, the villagers fell on the kite, killing it, and its body turned to stone to form Filey Brigg. Perhaps it is best not to give parkin to people with false teeth.
In the other version of the story, it was the work of a single woman that led to the dragon’s death. As the wife of a certain Richard Parkin, she invented the cake the dragon loved so much. When she fed the dragon huge amounts of it, the dragon became so sleepy that it slipped into the sea and drowned.
6 Moaning cake
“Two young men I knew about thirty years ago were out for a walk in West Cornwall. As they crossed a bridge, they encountered a procession carrying a baby to the parish church where the child was to be baptized. They were unaware of this strange custom and were very surprised to have picked up a piece of cake. “ Little did these two men know they were eating a groaning cake.
When a woman went to work it was traditional for the women of the family to collect and bake a cake for her. Some thought it was the smell of the baking cake that helped the new mom with her work, although Cambridgeshire knew they added large amounts of gin, which might have been even more effective.
After the birth, slices of this moaning cake were distributed to strangers, as shown above, but also to any single women who were present at the birth. With these pieces of cake the ladies could throw them over their right shoulder and go back to bed. If they fell asleep before midnight, they would have a dream about their future spouse.
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5 Silly cake
However, you didn’t have to wait for a birth if you wanted to dream about your future love. The silent cake tradition could be performed on several evenings of the year. One of the most popular times to bake a silent cake was St. Agnes’ Eve on January 20th. Since St. Agnes is the patron saint of virgins, her connection with finding a lover is a little difficult to explain.
To make a stupid cake, groups of young ladies would gather and bake in complete silence – hence the name of the cake. The recipe isn’t particularly tempting. A description of the ritual explains how “every woman is obliged to help mix the ingredients (flour, eggs and eggshells, soot, etc.), knead the dough, and bake the cake on the glowing embers; and when it is sufficiently baked, they divide it up, eat it, and retire back to their beds without saying a word. “
If the ritual worked, their dreams would show their future husbands.
4th Pope ladies
Hertfordshire had a long tradition of serving some terrible looking buns called pope ladies or popladies. Roughly shaped like humans and sometimes decorated with dried fruit for the eyes, the cakes can be a little scary to eat. One visitor in 1819 described it as “long and narrow, similar to the human figure with two dried raisins or currants to represent the eyes and another for the mouth, with the lower part shaped more like the outer case of an Egyptian mummy.”
The origin of the cakes is ancient and possibly mythical. In one version, a group traveling towards St. Albans was lost as night fell. They would have spent a long and cold night outside if it had not been for a light shining from the clock tower in the city. For safety reasons, the women in the group left money so that the cakes could be given to the poor.
Since the cakes were given out by monks, they appear to have been viewed as the Pope’s ladies.
3 Beltane cake
Beltane is a Gaelic holiday widely celebrated on May 1st in Scotland and Ireland. It was the beginning of summer and a time of celebration when bonfires were lit. For those who want to try a bit of Beltane, they can make a Beltane cake.
According to tradition, a cake called Bonnach Bea-Tine was baked and distributed to everyone around the campfire. One of the pieces of cake was marked in some way, and the one that received it was called “Cailleach Beal-Tine” for the rest of the year – not a name you wanted. The unfortunate person was carried to the fire as if to be burned or pushed to the ground and pelted with eggshells.
Oatcakes, shaped like people, were sometimes used instead of a sweet cake. One was made for each person present, but one was rubbed into the ashes of the fire. It was the person who pulled that unfortunate cake out of a hat, who faced a ritual and luckily just pretended to make sacrifices.
2 Bull cakes
“Fill your cups, all my happy men,
Because here is the best ox in the stable
Oh, he’s the best ox, there’s no mistake
And so we crown it with the 12th cake. “
This Herefordshire rhyme reflects a tradition of giving bulls cakes in hopes of a good harvest. The bull did not eat the cake, but was dressed in it. A cake with a hole in the middle was placed on the bull’s horn and how it reacted would predict what the coming harvest would be. If the bull tossed the cake forward it was a good omen, but if the cake fell backward there would be lean food in the winter – and probably no cakes that could be wasted on bulls.
If the bull didn’t throw the cake on its own, it could be poked until it did. If it still refused, a bucket of cider would be thrown in the cop’s face.
1 Biddenden Maids
As you walk into the village of Biddenden, England, you will be greeted by a sign that says two ladies on the waist and shoulder. These are the Biddenden Maids. Reportedly born in the village of Elisha and Mary Chulkhurst in 1100 AD, they were twins who left a legacy that was beyond a sign. Every year cakes in the shape of the two ladies were distributed to the visitors to remind them of their lives.
The Biddenden Maids are believed to have given land to the local church when they died at the age of 34. The income generated by this gift was to be used to buy groceries for the poor – and to bake the cakes that showed the ladies were coming together.
Although the cakes are still served every year, they are not particularly tasty. Mostly made from flour and water, they are hard and are kept as souvenirs rather than eaten. However, be careful about biting any Biddenden cakes you may come across – some are made of plaster of paris and are intended for tourists.
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