Monday, May 25, 2015

An Excuse for Pound Cake.

Today is, according to the Christian calendar, Whit Monday. Whit Sunday, (or Pentecost), is the seventh Sunday after Easter, and is commemorated by Christians as the day in which the Holy Ghost is said to have entered the twelve Apostles. The day used to begin three days of religious observances known as Whitsuntide, but as with so many early Christian celebrations, over the centuries elements of the pagan festivals occurring at around the same time became incorporated. 

Today, of course, the day after Whit Sunday, is Whit Monday. Now, I do particularly love any celebration with any spiritual connections whatsoever that includes cake. And I have found one for you today.

From Old English Customs Extant at the Present Time: an account of local observances (London, 1896) by Peter Hampson Ditchfield:

Whitsuntide is the great season for old club feasts. From an economic point of view, no one who has the welfare of the people at heart will regret the decline of the old village benefit clubs. They were nearly all rotten; they were conducted on the most unsound systems of financial organisation; they usually failed to benefit the members when aid was most needed; and their place is well supplied by the admirably conducted benefit societies, the Oddfellows, Foresters, and other sound benefit clubs.
But the student of the manners and customs of our race regrets the disappearance of many of our village clubs, because it has entailed the destruction of many old customs associated with the annual club feast, which were not without their special interest and importance. Those that have survived the lapse of time are here recorded.

At Bampton, Oxon, in order to celebrate the club feast, which is held on Whit-Monday, a procession goes round the town; it is made up as follows : —

1. A drum-and-piper, or, as he is more commonly called, “whittle-and-dub” man (the term pipe-and-tabour was in use within living memory); the music is now, however, played by a fiddler.

2. Eight morris-dancers, dressed in finely-pleated white shirts, white moleskin trousers, and top-hats decorated with red, white, and blue ribbons. Only six dance at a time, two standing out to relieve the others. They dance to certain well-known tunes (a list of which is given), and sing while they dance.

3. A clown called the "Squire," who carries a staff with a calf s tail at one end and a bladder at the other, with which he belabours the bystanders. He also carries a money-box, known as the “the treasury,” which in this case is a wood box with a slit in the lid.

4. A “sword-bearer,” who carries a cake in a round tin impaled on a sword. The cake is a rich pound-cake, and is provided by some lady in the town. The tin has its rim cut into zig-zags, and has a slit in the bottom to admit the sword-blade. Both cake and sword are decorated with ribbons.
When the dancing begins, anyone who wishes can taste the cake by applying to the “sword-bearer.” When all is over at night, what is left of the cake is divided amongst the eleven men, who generally give it to their friends.

I have given you recipes for Pound Cake before, of course:

Here is an even earlier recipe, from Hannah Glasse herself, as it appeared in her famous book The Art of Cookery, published in 1747.

To Make a Pound Cake.
Take a Pound of Butter, beat it in an earthen Pan with your Hand one Way, till it is like fine thick Cream; then have ready twelve Eggs, but half the Whites; beat them well, and beat them up with the Butter, a Pound of Flour beat in, a Pound of Sugar, and a few Carraways: beat it all well together for an Hour with your Hand, or a great wooden Spoon. Butter a Pan, and put it in, and bake it an Hour in a quick Oven.

For Change, you may put in a Pound of Currants clean wash’d and pick’d.

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