cakes have a very long and interesting history and may very well have
been the precursors to our modern day trick-or-treating at Halloween.
This is because the baking, as well as the collecting of soul cakes and
singing songs (called 'souling'), took place around the end of October
or early November, corresponding roughly to our traditional Halloween
celebration of the last day of October.
cakes may come in many different forms. They can be a type of bun
adorned with currants and arranged in the shape of a cross. Some are
flat and oval and others are plump. Some resemble a small fruit cake and
others are just sweetened with spices. No really authentic recipe
remains. (We have included a few easy recipes at the end of this
a dark tea cake with berries, dried fruits, and nuts, was also popular
along with soul cakes. At one time, tokens such as rings, beans, and
peas were baked inside the cake and a slice was given to each family
member. A penny found meant riches while a pea meant a healthy future. A
ring would mean an approaching marriage while a thimble would be for
one who would never marry. A small piece of cloth meant the recipient would be poor.
THEORIES OF THE ORIGIN OF SOUL CAKES and SOULING
Many theories abound about the origin of soul cakes and souling. Below are some of the more interesting ones:
THE DRUID FESTIVAL OF SAMHAIN OR SUMMER'S END
One claim is that soul cakes were made during Samhain, the ancient Druid festival of the dying sun god. This
festival featured bonfires to ward off evil spirits. It was also known
as Summer's End, a celebration of the harvesting of nuts and berries.
rather morbid theory is that the cakes were used as part of a lottery.
If you drew the one burnt cake in the pile, you got to be the human
sacrifice for the coming year!
variant of the above involved everyone throwing a stone into a bonfire
which would burn all night. If a stone came up missing in the morning,
it was believed the owner would die before the next year.
Another not so dire theory is that soul cakes were used as offerings to placate wandering angry ghosts.
This pagan ceremony was replaced in the 4th century with All Hallows, the mass for Christian saints.
BRITAIN'S ALL SAINTS' DAY and ALL SOULS' DAY
in Britain would make their way from house to house on November 2nd.
Their payment for the soul cake was a performance of some sort.
theories suggest soul cakes were handed out to 'mummers,' costumed
entertainers who would make their way around on the holiday.
SOUL CAKES ADOPTED BY THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH
the 8th century, soul cakes had been adopted by the Christian church.
Consecrated and blessed, they were given to poor travelers who might
approach a local monastery.
BEGGARS ON ALL SOULS' EVE
theory was soul cakes were used to pay beggars who came around on all
Soul's Eve and offered to say prayers for the family's departed souls. A
cake given was a soul saved!
say in Ireland, peasants would beg door-to-door on All Hallows' Eve
for food. If the family had soul cakes to give them the household would
be free from a prank and the cake recipients would then offer prayers
for them to help them get into heaven.
SOUL PAPERS GIVEN WITH SOUL CAKES
'soul papers,' solicitations of prayers for the deceased, were given
to the parish poor along with the cakes. They were often given as
charity in behalf of a departed.
SOUL CAKES IN CATHOLIC CUISINE TODAY
Today, soul cakes are still a part of the Catholic cuisine and baked in celebration of All Hallows' Eve.
SOUL CAKES NOT THE ONLY GOODY PASSED OUT IN OLDEN TIMES!
To read on and check out some recipes, please continue here.