USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘cake’
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Mexican Birthday Tradition

Informant:

Joseph is a sophomore social science major at USC.

Piece:

So our family tradition, and i think it’s  a pretty common Latin tradition is that well what our family does is that every time its someone’s birthday party when it comes time for the cake and after they blow out the candles and we take those candles off we always yell mordedura which means bite and the person has to bite the cake. But what they don’t know is that someone always has their hand behind their head and actually smashes their face into the cake. Its one of our favorite most enjoyable traditions ever.

 

Collector’s thoughts:

This tradition is interesting because in any other context the action is rude and mean, but in the context of one’s birthday it is a fun playful tradition that everyone enjoys even when they are the one getting their face smashed into the cake. In this way, this tradition reveals the bonds within families and the importance of birthday traditions.

 

Customs
Foodways
Holidays

Easter Lamb Cake

*Collector note: The Lamb cake in question is a cake in the shape of a lamb, not a cake made from lamb.

Informant: “In my family, we always had a lamb cake for Easter, I think this was a Central European tradition, mostly in Poland, Germany, and the Czech Republic. When I grew up in Chicago, there were a lot of German people in the neighborhood, and there were always German bakeries full of lamb cakes around Easter. The connection to Easter was that Easter was about Christ, you know, the Lamb of God. And so we would eat these lamb cakes for Easter. My mother would make it, so else sometimes we bought them in bakeries in Chicago. My aunt [M] said that her mother made lamb cakes as well. I always thought it was funny having lamb cake because we would tell people about it and people would say ‘oh, it’s like a meatloaf or something’ when really there was no lamb in it, is was just shaped like a lamb and didn’t have any meat at all. Though I know some people would sometimes hollow out the cake and put strawberry jam inside so when you cut it it looks like its bleeding [laughs]. I know other people would color their lamb cake with red food coloring to make the inside look like meat, but I always thought that would seem a bit to gory for me”

The informant is a 77 year old retired anthropologist living in Portland Oregon. Her grandparents immigrated to the United States from the Kingdom of Bohemia (in the modern day Czech Republic) in the 1890’s to escape the economic turmoil within the country in that time period. She was born and grew up in Chicago, Illinois, and studied anthropology at Stanford University, during which time she became interested in learning more about the traditions of her heritage. She has on several occasions traveled to the Czech republic to visit relatives there.

Collector’s analysis: This particular tradition is an interesting take on some very core Christian symbolism. In the Christian faith (or perhaps, more specifically in the Catholic faith), there is this idea that the religious figure Jesus Christ was sacrificed for mankind. Because of the old, pre-Christian tradition of sacrificing ‘pure’ animals for religious purposes including lamb, Jesus Christ is frequently referred to as “The Lamb of God”. Thus, there is a connection between the Easter holiday and lambs. As for why the tradition is eating a lamb shaped cake rather than an actual lamb, the most likely explanation comes from the Catholic tradition of not eating meat on religious holidays, to which Easter was no exception. It should also be noted for this reason that the Czech republic, as well as the other Countries that the informant believes this tradition originated from, were all primarily Catholic nations during the period of time in which this tradition originated. As a side note, in this collector’s opinion, these cakes are absolutely delicious!

Customs
Foodways
Holidays
Material

Fruitcake on Christmas

This informant is a student at USC.  His dad’s side of the family is Australian, originally colonists from England.  I asked him if his family did anything uniquely Australian.  At first he said his dad didn’t bring many Aussie traditions or practices over to the US other than his accent, but then he was able to tell me about a Christmas-time tradition that his grandparents had held for generations.

Every single Christmas my Aussie grandma makes fruitcake.  The shit is really gross and I don’t know why anyone eats it so after I tried it I had to ask why she makes it every year.  First she laughed and said she really does like it, but then she told me what she knew about its historical significance.  Apparently when England was colonizing Australia they used to send these fruit cakes over with people on the ships because they lasted longer than regular cakes. But those were plum cakes, which were boiled and the fruitcakes that my grandma makes are baked so it’s not really the same.  I’m not really sure how they got associated with Christmas but that’s how they got to Australia.  My grandma literally makes her fruitcake like a month before Christmas because the fruit has to marinate or something.  I have only been Christmas there twice, but I still can’t believe my dad and all the other Aussies there actually eat it.

So it looks like these cakes originated as travel treats for the colonists and maybe stuck around after that to remind the colonists of home and the long hardship they endured to make it to Australia.  In modern day fruitcake is probably just taken for granted and generally enjoyed by the masses during the holidays.

Customs
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Holidays
Homeopathic
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Founder’s Day Cake

Founder’s Day Cake

Tradition/Festival/Holiday

My informant described what her school does to celebrate its birthday every year:

“This cake is baked for Founders’ day every year, which is in January, to celebrate the day the school was founded. It is a big deal because on that day the headmaster speaks at chapel. There is a big speech and it’s a big deal and a ton of parents come. The Seniors are presented with the Founder’s day cake, which has baked into it 4 objects. There is a ring, a cross, a dime, and thimble. The girl who gets the ring will be married first, the girl who gets the cross will be most religious, the girl who gets the dime will make the most money, and the girl that gets the thimble is the most hardworking. In recent years, the cross has found the most ironic individual because the girl was the least spiritual. “

 

My informant says “ I feel like it is supposed to, in some ways, represent the founding core values. The school is 128 years old, so when it was founded there were different expectations of importance in people’s life, like now religion isn’t so important even though the school has a religious affiliation (it isn’t a strong part of the our school). It isn’t as if marriage isn’t a big deal, but it isn’t as favorable as it was over a hundred years ago. Marriage isn’t a sign of success anymore. But even if these are dated, for me it is important that the tradition continues. Though these things aren’t important to me, I like that nothing has been changed even though the times have. Even if it wont predict my future, it is still a “Senior ritual”. The year above me, it was done improperly because 4 cakes were baked instead of one, and it really upset the Seniors because it wasn’t the tradition. It just feels good to do the tradition.

 

All of the objects, and even baking the cake in general, symbolize traditional feminine roles. Connecting the students to the core values of the school, this tradition reminds the students of the characteristics that the school has valued for many years, involving the students in the schools history. This reinforces their identity as students in the school. At the same time, the objects in the cake are instances of homeopathic magic, which entertain the girls and represent luck in the future in certain areas of life.

Foodways
Material

Folk Recipe/Foodways – Chocolate Cake

Folk Recipe/Foodways – Little Nonnie’s Chocolate Cake – American

“For every birthday in our family, I make the same cake. It’s a recipe from my great-grandmother… she was born in Chicago, but her parents were from Ireland… and she married a German man. I don’t know if she made it up or not, but it’s been the same cake at every birthday since she was alive. It is a dry cake, and it’s supposed to be, but the icing is amazing. The cake is made like regular cake: flour, eggs, butter, and cocoa powder. But there is one secret ingredient that gives it the unique touch, and that’s sour cream. Then the icing is made with powdered sugar, butter, chocolate, and coffee… so the cake ends up being sort of a mocha chocolate cake. And it only works if you do it an exact way… if you try to double the recipe, it won’t turn out right. But this cake is a family tradition because every family member always gets one on their birthday… and everybody loves it… it’s their favorite. And it’s always the grandmother that makes it. We call it ‘Little Nonnie’s Chocolate Cake,’ that was my great-grandmother.”
The informant believes that this cake is important because it is a family tradition and gives the family something to look forward to, and something they all have in common: they all love this cake.
I agree with the informant in that this cake provides a commonality between family members, and gives them a characteristic that identifies them as members of this family. Furthermore, this cake ties them to their ancestors and their family history. Although this cake isn’t necessarily German or Irish, it makes the family think of these people and where they came from, and their heritage. Additionally, the idea of a “secret ingredient” makes it that much stronger of an identifying characteristic. Only the family is aware of this “secret,” so it binds them together, and makes them feel as though they are unique as a family unit. The fact that the grandmother always bakes the cake allows her to be tied to the younger generations, to teach them, and nurture them. An intergenerational link within a family is extremely important, as it allows for family heritage to be passed down. Additionally, this cake alone serves as an excuse for the family to gather, which gives it a social aspect.

Customs
general
Initiations

Tradition – American

During a wedding, the bride and the groom typically cut the wedding cake and feed each other the first bites.  Sherri explained that in many American weddings, the bride and groom smear the cake on each other’s faces in the process of feeding one other.

Sherri explained to me that this tradition has been going on for many years, as she and her husband, too, partook in this activity.  She said she first saw it take place at a wedding in the early 1970s she attended.  While at first she thought the couple who did it was in for a long, eventful marriage if they were already having food fights, she came to realize the real reason they did this.

Sherri says that newly married couples do this in order to show that they don’t take anything too seriously, even their own weddings.  It is a way to take everything with “a grain of salt” so to speak.  It also shows that the couple is carefree and always up for a good laugh.  In addition, Sherri explained to me that it is expected at most American weddings nowadays, as those in attendance look forward to the bride with all her make up getting cake rubbed in her face.

After conducted the interview, I found that this tradition occurs at modern, Christian influenced weddings.  I have also discovered that it does not happen at all weddings as some more traditional peoples find this tradition vulgar and offensive to them and to the bride.  At nearly every wedding I have been to, I have noticed that this does in fact occur, and the crowd usually erupts with laughter.  I believe it is a good tradition for people to partake in, as it does in fact show that you have the ability to laugh certain things off and not take anything too seriously.

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