The Origin of Birthday Cake


Yesterday was my birthday! This of course means a celebration that will last for several weeks, as well as a related post. It’s all very exciting.

In other amazing news, I won’t be posting for a couple of weeks because I’m going on a cruise to the South Pacific. I’ll be sure to come back with some great topics to write about, as well as a tan. Everybody wins! Anyway, without further ado, let’s learn about birthday cake!

As you may remember from my wedding cake post, the words for ‘cake’ and ‘bread’ were virtually interchangeable in early Europe. Unsurprisingly, the only difference between the two was that cakes were sweet.  In the 15th century, bakeries in Germany conceived the idea of marketing cakes for customers’ birthdays, as well as for their weddings. They were mostly used for the birthdays of young children and thus these celebrations were referred to as Kinderfest. It was during this time period that cakes began to be layered and laden with new ingredients in order to render them sweeter and less bread-like. These kinds of cakes were called Geburtstagorten by the Germans.

Mmm, cake.

During the 17th century, the birthday cake took on a more contemporary form. These elaborate cakes, which possess the same attributes of modern cakes (multiple layers, icing, and decorations), were only available to the very wealthy. However, as a result of the Industrial Revolution, birthday cakes eventually became proletarianized as materials and tools became more advanced and more easily acquired.

The tradition of placing candles on cakes can be attributed to the Ancient Greeks, who baked cakes to honour Artemis, the goddess of the moon. The theory behind the practice was that the light from the candles made the cake itself glow like the  moon. It is also believed that the smoke from the candles carried their prayers to the Gods. This tradition has survived to a certain extent today. We may not say a prayer when we blow out birthday candles, but most of us do still make a wish.

The earliest reference to the tradition of blowing out birthday candles was documented Switzerland in 1881. Researchers for the Folk-Lore Journal recorded various “superstitions” amongst the Swiss middle class. The following statement was recorded, ““A birthday-cake must have lighted candles arranged around it, one candle for each year of life. Before the cake is eaten the person whose birthday it is should blow out the candles one after another.”

I hope you have enjoyed our rather short and sweet foray into the history of birthday cakes. I  also hope that it will tide you over until I’m back in the country and have constant access to my precious internet. See you all in a fortnight!

 

Marshmallows – An Australian Bush Fire Special


For all of my international readers that aren’t aware, New South Wales has been issued with a Catastrophic fire danger level for tomorrow. Temperatures are set to be around 41 degrees celsius (roughly 106 degrees farenheit) and this kind of weather almost always ends in disastrous bush fires. As a distraction, I thought that I could use our impending doom as inspiration for a fire-centric post on marshmallows. Whipping out a bag during a bush fire wouldn’t be my highest priority, however, under SAFE circumstances there’s nothng wrong with cooking those babies under a nice NON-CATASTROPHIC flame. Mmm, survivalicious.

The Marshmallow Plant

Now, I hope you’re sitting down and have your smelling salts handy, because I’m about to drop a knowledge bomb on you all. Marshmallow is actually derived from a plant. That’s right, it’s organic and not a purely factory produced diabetes inhibitor. The Marshmallow Plant, or, Althaea Officinalis, is native to the wet marshy regions of Europe and West Africa. Hence the name. Greek physician Dioscorides advised that marshmallow extracts be used in treating wounds and inflammations. During the Renaissance, extracts from the plant’s roots and leaves were used for medicinal purposes, namely as an anti-inflamatory and soothing agent for sore throats.

The modern marshmallow confection is a mid-19th century French Invention and was a cross between a medicinal lozenge and a bonbon. Originally, the plant’s root juices were combined with eggs and sugar and then beaten into a foamy paste. The plant extracts were later replaced by gelatin, which still gave the candy its signature pillowy texture and, given its ready availabilty, allowed for quicker, less labour intensive production.

Original Campfire Marshmallow tins

It’s unknown when people first began roasting marshmallows over a fire. However, the product Campfire Marshmallows have been popular in the USA since 1917, when the Imperial Candy Company introduced the delicious treats with packaging that recommended roasting the product over fires.

But what about S’mores? Although this treat isn’t particularly popular in Australia, it would be doing the history of marshmallows an injustice to exclude them.

For those who are unaware, S’mores consist of a roasted marshmallow and a layer of chocolate sandwiched between two Graham Crackers. The name is a contraction of the phrase “Some More.” While the origin of the dessert is unclear, the first recorded version of the recipe can be found in the 1927 publication “Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts.” The recipe is credited to Loretta Scott Crew, who reportedly made them by the campfire for the Scouts. It is unknown whether the Girl Scouts were the first to make S’mores, but there appears to be no earlier claim to their origin or invention. Although it is unknown when the name was shortened, recipes for “Some Mores” are in various Girl Scout publications until at least 1973.

So there you have it folks, just a few little historical snippets about marshmallows. I hope that all of you who are currently in Winter run straight to a fire to roast one. In the meantime, us Australians will continue running from any sign of fire.