Friday, March 27, 2015

Peace Cake Day?

It is some time since I wrote an “on this day” story  about an old English tradition involving food. I am not quite going to do that today either. I am going to look ahead a couple of days to Sunday, which happens to be Palm Sunday in the calendar of the Christian Church. Palm Sunday is the Sunday before Easter, and therefore the beginning of Holy Week.

I found my food story in Old English Customs Extant at the Present Time: an account of local observances, published 1896 by G. Redway:

The old custom of the “Pax Cake” is still kept up in the united parishes of Sellack and King's Capel, Herefordshire. On Palm Sunday plain cakes are distributed in church, the intention being that those who have quarrelled should break the cake together, and say “Peace and good will” thus making up their differences in preparation for the Easter Communion. At some period glasses of beer were introduced, and the present vicar remembers seeing the beer handed round in the church; but this part of the ceremony has long been discontinued, and was not originally part of the custom. The cost of the cakes is defrayed by a rent-charge on a farm in the parish.

Descriptions and interpretations of this ritual vary a little, depending on the source. It seems to have been practiced since at least the sixteenth century, and may have begun with a bequest from a Lady Scudamore. The pax cakes themselves are variously described as plain cakes, pancakes (sometimes with wording ‘stamped’ upon them) or buns. I have not found a definitive recipe, and doubt there ever was one, as the major purpose of the cake was symbolic.

I did however find the following recipe in of all things, an Australian newspaper of 1919. The recipe won an Honorable Mention in a competition, and the name presumably references the end of World War I, as with the sentiment behind Peace Christmas Pudding.

Peace Cake.
Take 3 eggs, 1 cupful sugar, 1 cup of self-rising flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and a little spice. Bake in moderate oven for an hour. – Miss Eileen Flaherty, Glen Forrest.
Sunday Times (Perth, WA) 3Aug 1919

Stripped of its religious and cultural connotations, this idea of a cake to share with neighbours in a spirit of Peace and Goodwill seems to me to be an excellent tradition worth instating on a global as well as a local scale. Miss Flaherty’s recipe sounds like a good starting point - it is simple, yet sweet and light enough and adaptable enough to appeal to pretty well everyone, everywhere, does it not? What do you think?  Shall we choose a date and declare an International Peace Cake Day? 

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