Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Candles for the Cake.

Today is …. Hallowe’en.  Today is also …. the seventh birthday of The Old Foodie.  I suspect that on the global scene the former event will eclipse the latter, but I am proud to share my day with any friendly witches, hobgoblins, ghosts and other spooky things of the night.

Fire in all its forms has been since ancient times a traditional method of both keeping scary or evil influences at bay, and of celebrating good and happy times. Everyone , and they certainly elevate any celebration to an entirely special level.

So, when and where did the tradition of candles on the birthday cake begin? The consensus seems to be that it began in Germany or Switzerland. The first known written reference to them that I know of is in the account of the birthday in May, 1747 of Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf und Pottendorf, bishop of the Moravian Church,

“ … the Count's birthday falling in May … there was a Cake as large as any Oven could be found to bake it, and Holes made in the Cake according to the Years of the Person’s Age, every one having a Candle stuck into it, and one in the Middle; the Outside of the Court was adorned with Festoons and foliage …”

It seems to have taken over a hundred years for candles on the cake to become standard birthday fare in the English-speaking world. Here is an article from a late nineteenth century Australian newspaper which suggests the concept was still somewhat of a novelty at the time.

A Birthday Suggestion.
There is a quaint custom in vogue for children's birthday parties which might with advantage be more generally known. The birthday cake – which is a very elaborate erection duly iced, and with the child's name and date engraved thereon in sugar – is placed in the centre of the table and surrounded with lighted candles, the number corresponding to the age of the child. Much merriment is caused by the efforts of the guests to count these candles: if they have reached the “teens” the number of twinkling light is quite dazzling, and the child feels great with the importance of an added candle at each recurrence of its birthday party. To be quite correct, the mother should withdraw the candle that represents the year just begun before it is extinguished, put it out herself, and keep it, to be burned out the next year.
The Warwick Argus, (St. Lucia, Qld) March 6, 1897

Note that in this particular example the cake is surrounded by candles, they are not on the cake itself, although this was certainly an option at the time. Note also the addition of an ‘extra’ candle representing the upcoming year, which is removed and kept until the following birthday. This is a lovely idea, I think, although no longer in vogue. Perhaps it is worthy of revival?

As the recipe for the day, I give you a party favourite suitable for celebrating Hallowe’en or The Old Foodie birthday.

Red Toffee Apples.
1 lb sugar
½ pint cold water
2 tblspn. Vinegar
12 small red eating apples
[red colouring]
Put sugar, water, and vinegar in saucepan. Heat slowly to boiling-point, making sure sugar is dissolved before it boils. Quickly wipe sides of saucepan free of any undissolved sugar. Boil to 310 degrees F, or hard-crack stage (If you haven’t a thermometer, the syrup should be golden-brown, and a little dropped in cold water will form a hard ball that cracks.) Remove from heat, stand saucepan in another of hot water to keep toffee from setting. Colour quickly. Dip in skewered apples, then place to dry on greased tin.
Sydney Morning Herald, October 25, 1951


Anonymous said...



Piet B said...

Happy Birthday, and many happy returns! Thank you for your informative and inspiring blog.

Liz + Louka said...

Happy 7th Birthday Old Foodie!

Bart said...

A very happy birthday and thanks for all the years of inspiring postst so far!

skiourophile said...

Happy 7th Birthday - I really enjoy your posts.

Les said...

Belated happy birthday!