This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
In the making of Cakes, which are capital food for growing children, but should be plainer for the sick, good sweet butter, and fresh eggs are absolutely necessary; what is known as "cooking butter," which is a little rancid, should never be used, as is often done, this being a matter of false, and bad economy. Again, a dainty worker is needed to mix the ingredients for Cakes, and care should be taken that the baking-tin is never oiled with grease at all rancid: a very little sweet butter, or best olive oil should be employed. The dark-coloured fruit Cakes should be rather prohibited for invalids, and by persons of weak digestive powers, because of the dried fruits used in making such Cakes, also because they are often compact, close-grained, doughy, and not light. No less a saintly man than Columba learnt his alphabet by the process of eating Cakes which had the different letters stamped on them. At Biddenden, in Kent, some curious Cakes impressed with the print of two women joined together, are distributed, together with bread and cheese, to the poor on Easter Sunday. The story goes that two ladies were actually born there in 1100 joined together at the thighs, and shoulders, and who lived this double life for thirty years.
It was told disparagingly of Marie Antoinette that on hearing the poor people in Paris could not afford to buy bread, she heartlessly replied, "Then let them buy Cake." But Hall Caine has lately shown that what she really said was, "Let them buy bonaches,"which were really small round Cakes made of the cheapest, and coarsest meal, not wheaten at all; so that Marie Antoinette knew what she was talking about, and was positively suggesting a more attainable, because cheaper, article of sustenance. The most renowned of Cakes in France is the Gateau des Rois, or "Cake of the Three Kings," in which a bean is concealed. On the Day of Epiphany friends and families assemble to "draw the Kings,"that is to say, to draw a piece of a Cake first divided into as many parts as the number of persons present; and he, or she, who gets the concealed bean is deemed to be in luck throughout the ensuing year. In some places the Cake is cut into pieces numerous enough to leave one in excess of the number of drawers; this piece is called the "part du bon Dieu," and is given to the first poor mendicant, or wayfarer.
Honey Cake, "Lecher kuchen" (licker=tasty, toothsome), is probably the oldest known Cake in the world, being described in the works of the ancient Roman rustic writers. "It should be preserved," says Dr. Thudicum, "in its purity of perfection, and eaten annually by all who love the historical evolution of human culture." This is a Cake made of flour and honey, somewhat fermented, and flavoured with various ingredients. It is of admirable use against chronic constipation. Strange to relate, in some cookery books, both of England, and of Germany, neither honey, nor honey Cake, is as much as mentioned. A Brioche is a French national rich Cake of superlative quality, to be eaten with hot coffee at breakfast. Another excellent Cake for coffee, or tea, goes in Germany by the name of "Bavarian Wasps' Nests." Take a pound and a half of flour, sift it into a large pan, or bowl; add six eggs, half a pound of melted butter (which must not be hot), one pint of cream, or rich milk, one ounce and a half of yeast dissolved in the latter, and a saltspponful of salt; work all this together until it has become a pretty firm, blistering dough, and let it rise; then remove it to a floured baking board, and roll out the dough into a thin sheet; brush it over with melted butter, and sprinkle it thickly with well-picked and washed currants, almonds blanched and minced, powdered cinnamon, and sugar; then cut the dough into strips of three fingers width, roll up these strips from one end to the other, and place the rolls on end in a buttered, high-rimmed form; cover it up with a warm cloth, and let it rise again; bake in a moderately hot oven for three-quarters of an hour.
It takes a large form to bake the present quantity. This is a Cake of so rich a quality that the lines of good George Herbert, the Divine (1630), in The Church will not be out of place as associated therewith: -
To be in both worlds full Is more than God was, who was hungry here. Would'st thou his laws of fasting disannul?
Enact good cheer? Lay out thy joy, yet hope to save it ? Would'st thou both cat thy cake, and have it?
In Jane Austen's Emma (1816), old Mr. Woodhouse, the Malade Imaginaire, was sadly put out because of the rich wedding Cake, encrusted with sugar, and surmounted with luscious almond paste, finding high favour at, and after, the wedding of Miss Taylor to Mr. Weston. "He earnestly tried to dissuade them from having any wedding Cake at all; and when that proved vain, he as earnestly tried to prevent anyone's eating it. He had been at the pains of consulting Mr. Perry, the Apothecary, on the subject; who, when applied to, could not but acknowledge (though it seemed rather against the bias of his inclination) that wedding Cake might certainly disagree with many, perhaps with most people, unless taken moderately".
There was, nevertheless, a strange rumour in Highbury that all the little Perrys had been seen with a slice of Mrs. Weston's wedding Cake in their hands, but Mr. Woodhouse would never believe it.
Calverley, when at the school of a Doctor Crabb, with his playmate Tommy, had the following experience (Gemini et Virgo): -
"We did much as we chose to do;
We'd never heard of Mrs. Grundy. AD the theology we knew,
Was that we might'nt play on Sunday; And all the general truths, - 'that cakes,
Were to be bought at four a penny, And that excruciating aches,
Resulted if we ate too many".
Concerning the Poet Crabbe (1818), a lady told Hallam that "Mr. Crabbe was very good Cake, only there was such a thick layer of sugar to be cut through before you could get at it".
His manner to women was of the kind called "philandering," and there is nothing a woman hates more.
In the days of our grandmothers the dough of a home-made Cake was sent sometimes to the bakehouse (instead of heating the domestic oven), being wrapped in a blanket, and pricked on the soft dough with the letters of the owner's name; and hence originated the familiar nursery rhyme: -
"Pat a cake, pat a cake, baker's man! So I do, master, as fast as I can. Pat it and prick it, and mark it with C, Then it will serve for Charley and me".
"Pistoris puer, o dulcem mihi tunde farinam, Imo etiam rapida res erit acta manu. Punge decenter acu, tituloque inscribe magistri. Sic mihi, sic Carolo serviet ilia meo".
For producing light, sweet, and wholesome Cakes a capital baking-powder is to be made from grape cream of tartar, as manufactured in America, and which is said to surpass all others.