Monday, October 27, 2014

Halloween - Cake Night, Soul Cake, Seed Cake

The history of Halloween involves many traditions.  Giving out cakes on All Hallows Eve (the night before All Saints Day, Nov 1) or on All Souls Day (Nov 2) was an old tradition by 1511.  On 'All halowen daye,' brade was given to all crysten [Christian] soules. [Brand, 1813]  The sketch shows a group a-souling for Soul or Soule cakes or other name variations: Soul mass cake, Somas-cake, Soul-mas-cake, Soul-masse-Cakes (1656) or Seed Cakes.   

Previous posts about Halloween traditions were on Snap-apple night – trying to bite an apple revolving on a string with candles Snap apple and Colecannon with a hidden golden ring in Ireland Colcannon.

Wheat seeds
Cake Night was known in Yorkshire when a cake was made for every family member on Halloween and in Warwickshire seed cake given on Halloween marked the “end of wheat seedtime.” [Brand, 1813]

In his poem, Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry, 1573, Thomas Tusser said to make “The Seed-Cake, the Pasties, and Furmentie pot” … for the “end of wheat-sowing…”

Farm workers
Farmers gave their workers seed cakes on All hallow Eve.

On All Saints’ Day the poor went door to door “begging and puling [singing 1721] for Soul Cakes…”  [Walsh 1897]  “The offerings of the first fruits of the year's harvest were called "Soul-cakes," which the rich gave to the poor at the Halloween season, in return for which the recipients prayed for the souls of the givers and their friends.

And this custom became so favored in popular esteem that, for a long time, it was a regular observance in the country towns of England for small companies to go about from parish to parish at Halloween, begging soulcakes by singing under the windows some such verse as this:
"Soul, soul, for a soul-cake;
 Pray you, good mistress, a soul-cake!"
[St. Nicholas, 1882]

Description of cakes
John Aubrey in his Miscellanies, 1714 recounted that “…set upon the board at All Hallows Eve a high heap of Soul-cakes, about the bigness of twopenny cakes, lying one upon another, like the picture of the showbread in the old Bibles.  Every visitor was expected to take one.” [Walsh, 1897]

“Somas-cake, that is, Soul-mas-cake, a sweet cake made on the second of November, All-Souls Day, and always in a triangular form The making of these cakes is now almost the sole relic of ancient customs…”  [Hunter, 1829]

"Soul-masse-Cakes, are certain oaten cakes, which some of the wealthier sort of persons in Lancashire use still to give the poor on All-Souls day."
[Blount, 1656]

Little Seed Cakes.
“ONE pound of flower well dried, one pound of sugar sifted ; wash one pound of butter to a cream with rose-water ; put the flower in by degrees ; add ten yolks and four whites of eggs, ,one ounce of carraway-seeds ; keep beating till the oven is ready; butter the pans well; grate over fine sugar; beat the cakes till just as they are set into the oven.”  [Mason, 1777]

Aubrey, John. Miscellanies, London: 1721
Blount, Thomas.  Glossographia, 1656
Brand, John.  Observations on Popular Antiquities… London: 1813
Hunter, Joseph.  The Hallamshire glossary.  London: 1829
Mason, Charlotte.  The lady's assistant for regulating and supplying her table. London: 1777
Mirk, John. The Festyvall, 1511
St. Nicholas, illustrated magazine for young folks.  Dec 1882
Walsh, William S.  Curiosities of Popular Customs.  Phila and London: 1897 [mainly from Brand, 1813]

©2014 Patricia Bixler Reber
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