Monday, October 7, 2013

Soul cakes

In 1963, the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary arranged a traditional song celebrating the practice (entitled "A Soulin") and included it on their album "Moving." The lyrics go as follows:
Soul, Soul, a soul cake!
I pray thee, good missus, a soul cake!
One for Peter, two for Paul,
three for Him what made us all!
Soul Cake, soul cake, please good missus, a soul cake.
An apple, a pear, a plum, or a cherry, anything good thing to make us all merry.
One for Peter, one for Paul, & three for Him who made us all.

I remember when people still handed out homemade cookies in waxed paper sandwich bags at Halloween, and it was something kids were  allowed to eat, somehow I can't see that happening now.  And that makes me feel sad.

It wasn't until a few years ago, when I was very absentmindedly watching the Food Network that I first heard an explanation of "soul cakes". the program also showed how they had been made in the  Middle Ages.  

"A soul, a soul, a soul cake.
Please god missus a soul cake.
An apple, a pear, a plum or a cherry,
Any good thing to make us merry.
Up with your kettles and down with your pans
Give us an answer and we'll be gone
Little Jack, Jack sat on his gate
Crying for butter to butter his cake
One for St Peter, two for St Paul,
Three for the man who made us all."
Soul Cakes were also part of All Saints' Eve superstitions. It was believed that the spirits of the departed would return to their homes on this night. As a result candles were lit to guide their way and food and drink (including soul cakes) were put out for them.  ~~Jennifer Seitzer

Being sure I could find more recipes and instructions on the Internet than I could possibly sort through, i didn't bother to write it down. 

It is easy to see that the those who could afford to make "soul cakes" were only trying to help family members and dear friends escape the fire of purgatory by paying the poor for their prayers. I wonder where in all of this is the idea that having others pray on your behalf fits in with Halloween, but still it is an honor to be prayed for and at that time it was All Souls Day, a day to honor the dead.   Which causes me to wonder, why this soul cakes exchanged for prayers should be  thought of as the forerunner of candy bars exchanged for the favours of neighbor hood youngsters in costumes so that they would not soap windows, matchstick door bells or some more destructive form of mischief.  Halloween as we know it is a relatively new holiday, but it has very deep roots, and a complex history  of blending with Christianity.


Soul Cakes for All Hallows' Eve

Photo courtesy of Historical FoodsFrom the kitchen of One Perfect Bite..."Witches, ghosts, and goblins. Stealing down the street, knock on every door way, trick or treat!" The treat nowadays is candy, but the practice of dressing in costumes and going door to door for sweets dates back to the Middle Ages when the poor went begging for soul cakes. The cakes, which are actually cookies, were made for All Souls' Day. The devout mixed a measure of superstition with a dose of religion and believed that each cookie represented a soul that would be freed from Purgatory when the cookie was eaten. The cookies, called souls, were etched with crosses that clearly identified them as Alms for the dead and there was an expectation that a prayer would be said each time a cookie was eaten. Over time, the practice of souling was moved to All Hollows' Eve and the Alms for the dead were replaced with candy and other sweets. The cookies are a curiosity and it is their history that makes them interesting. There are dozens of recipes for "souls", most of which make a spicy shortbread-type cookie. Actually, the cookies aren't bad when freshly baked, but they stale fast, so eat quickly and, for heaven's sake, don't forget to say your prayers. Here's the recipe.

Soul Cakes
...from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite

3/4 cup butter
3/4 cup superfine sugar
4 cups flour, sifted
3 egg yolks
1 teaspoon apple pie or pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon allspice
3 tablespoons currants or raisins
a little milk

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Generously coat a cookie sheet with nonstick cooking spray.
2) Cream butter and sugar together until fluffy and pale in color. Beat in egg yolks, one at a time.
3) Combine flour and spices. Fold into creamed butter.
4) Gently stir in currants or raisins. Add enough milk to make a soft dough.
5) Form into flat cakes and cut each top with a knife to make a cross.
6) Bake on prepared cookie sheet until golden, about 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Yield: 14 to 16 cakes

This Soul Cake recipe is from the Cheshire region, on the border with North Wales. A Soul Cake (or Souling Cake) is a small round cake, like a biscuit, which is traditionally made for All Souls’ Day (the 2nd November, the day after All Saint’s Day) to celebrate the dead. These plain cakes, often simply referred to as souls, were given out to the soulers, children and the poor, (beggars) who would go from door to door during this period saying prayers and singing psalms and songs for the dead.
Traditionally each cake eaten would represent a soul being freed from Purgatory. The practice of giving and eating soul cakes is often seen as the origin of modern day Trick or Treating, which now falls on Halloween (two days before All Souls’ Day). The tradition of ‘souling’ and giving out Soul Cakes on All Soul’s Day originated in Britain and Ireland hundreds of years ago, from giving out bread on All Souls’ Day during the devout Middle Ages  John Mirk .

Soul cakes were traditionally baked as a gift for the spirits of the dead. In many European countries, the idea of "Souling" became an acceptable alternative for Christians

Most commonly linked to the Celtic festival of Samhain, which occurs on the last day of fall, the celebration was originally meant to put summer to sleep and prepare for the bleak months ahead. But beyond the practical, it was also a day when the physical and spiritual worlds collided. The souls of the deceased were thought to return to the physical world on Samhain eve. To ward off the spirits, giant bonfires were built, and human sacrifices were made (allegedly) to procure safety against the marauding dead souls.
As things evolved over time, Samhain became All Souls' Eve and All Souls' Day, and soul cakes came into existence — but when and where aren't exactly clear. Some suggest that treats were made for the bonfires and were a form of ill-fated lottery; he who selects the burnt cake becomes the human sacrifice ensuring bountiful crops the following year. Others say that the cakes were scattered around to mollify evil spirits condemned to exist in the form of animals.
What is known is that by the 8th century, soul cakes were given to beggars (soulers) who would say prayers for the dead on All Souls' Eve. And the price? One soul saved per cake. In other places they were given to wandering mummers, the costumed predecessors of buskers, as they entertained on Halloween. Today's trick-or-treaters are thought to be their descendants, and soul cakes are thought to be the first treats for tricks.  ~~John Mirk


Though Samhain, the Celtic new year, was still celebrated, the Christian tradition of "souling" sometimes 'soul caking' was practiced on All Saint's Day, and all souls Day, November  first and second.   Singers went from door to door to beg for cakes as the repetitively droned on singing. At that time Allhallow's Eve was a time of pranks and partys, where people played games and practiced divination's of a sort acceptable to the church, sand song, told stories and bobbing for apples was also a popular activity.  Though Samhain was a rather sober holiday, the Christians had a more light hearted celebration.

Churches often distributed the rich fruitcake like  soulcakes to the poor and the cakes that were given out at home were often accompanied with requests for prays for the departed, sometime in the form of  "soul papers" which were simply written requests for prayers on behalf of the deceased.

While  gathering this information, there are occasions words and phrases that could be associated with other holidays, especially Christmas.  My curiosity will lead me to read more, and may-be write more. In part that is why I included the video,  OK that and a bit of nostalgia.

The following recipes are from, I particularly like the Buttery Soul cakes, but then I would wouldn't I?
Irish cakes
You'll need:
  • 4 C flour
  • 1 pkt active dry yeast
  • 1 C milk
  • 2 Tbs butter
  • 1/2 tsp each cinnamon & salt
  • 3/4 C sugar
  • 1/2 C lemon zest
  • 1 1/4 C golden raisins
Cream yeast with 1 tsp sugar & 1 tsp milk, let it get frothy. Blend flour, spices, & salt together, then cut in butter. Add the rest of the sugar to the flour mix and blend. Add milk & beaten egg onto the yeast mixture; combine with flour mixture. Beat until stiff.
Fold in raisins and zest, cover with a damp cloth and let rise. Divide in two, place each half in greased 7" round pan. Cover, let rise again for 30 minutes. Bake 1 hour at 400 degrees

    1. Quickie Shortbread Soul Cakes

    2. You'll need:
    3. 1 stick of butter, softened

    • 4 Tbs sugar
    • 1 1/2 C flour
    1. Cream together the butter and sugar. Use a flour sifter to add the flour to the bowl, and mix until it's smooth. Divide the dough into two parts, and shape each half into a flat circle about half an inch thick. Put them on an ungreased baking sheet (baking stones are really nice for this) and poke lines with the tines of a fork, making eight separate wedges in each cake. Bake for 25 minutes or until light brown at 350 degrees.
    1. Buttery Soul Cakes

    2. You'll need:
    3. Two sticks butter, softened

    • 3 1/2 C flour, sifted
    • 1 C sugar
    • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg & saffron
    • 1 tsp each cinnamon & allspice
    • 2 eggs
    • 2 tsp malt vinegar
    • Powdered sugar
    1. Cut the butter into the flour with a large fork. Mix in the sugar, nutmeg, saffron, cinnamon and allspice. Lightly beat eggs, and add to flour mixture. Add malt vinegar. Mix until you have a stiff dough. Knead for a while, then roll out until 1/4" thick. Use a floured glass to cut out 3" circles. Place on greased baking sheet and bake 25 minutes at 350 degrees. Sprinkle with powdered sugar while the cakes are still warm

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