Just downloaded the new CD by Sting, If On A Winter’s Night. It is a very pleasing collection of winter and Christmas songs, some familiar such as Lo How a Rose ‘Ere Blooming and The Cherry Tree Carol, other songs not so well known. It’s not a merry Christmas album, rather a nice mellow CD to listen to while sipping hot cocoa by the fire. I love it.
One of the songs, “Soul Cake” got me thinking – just what is a “soul cake?” I did some research and found that the tradition of giving Soul Cakes originated in Britain during the Middle Ages, although similar practices for the souls of the dead were found as far south as Italy. The cakes were usually filled with allspice, nutmeg, cinammon, or other sweet spices, raisins or currants, and later were topped with the mark of a cross. They were traditionally set out with glasses of wine on All Hallows Eve, and on All Saints Day children would go “souling” by calling out: “Soul, Soul, for a Soul Cake: pray you good mistress, a soul cake”. This practice is often seen as the origin of Halloween.
I’m not sure how it came to be associated with Christmas, but I think it’s because Peter, Paul and Mary included it on their album, A Holiday Celebration With The New York Choral Society (1987), and the video which played for many years on PBS during the Christmas season.
On a British web site called The Green Chronicle, I found a recipe for soul cakes:
How to make soul cake:
3/4 cup butter
3/4 cup caster/superfine sugar
4 cups plain flour, sifted
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon mixed spice
1 teaspoon allspice
3 tablespoons currants
a little milk
– Cream the butter and sugar together until pale in colour and fluffy in texture.
– Beat in the egg yolks.
– Fold in the sifted flour and spices.
– Stir in the currants.
– Add enough milk to make a soft dough.
– Form into flat cakes and mark each top with a cross.
– Bake on a well-greased baking tray in a hot oven until golden.
I am anxious to try this. Currants can be a little hard to find – I buy them at an Amish bulk store, but I believe Whole Foods carries them also. If you can’t find them, you can rough chop raisins and use them instead.
Meanwhile, I will sitting by the fire, sipping my tea, and enjoying the mellow sounds of Sting.