Tag Archives: cake

Mardi Gras Cake

CONTEXT: 

E is a junior at Bates University where she skies for their cross country team. She grew up with me in Sun Valley, Idaho.

TEXT: 

Me: “How does your family celebrate Mardi Gras?”

E: “Well there is this figurine, a little, small plastic, baby. 

They bake it into a cake

And when the figurine—or—when you’re cutting the cake, 

whoever gets the baby is supposed to pay for the cake next year.”

Me: “Did you ever get the baby and pay for the cake?” 

E: “No. They would just always tell me that I had to buy the cake next year—I was about 10 years old when I got the baby, 

but it was a very exciting moment to get the baby and I would keep it forever and ever.”

Me: “What does the tradition mean?”

E: “It’s from a biblical story. 

The three kings who brings gifts to Baby Jesus 

The baby represents Jesus

the cake was always the colors of Mardi Gras—

Purple, Yellow and green.”

ANALYSIS:

Receiving the baby (who represents Jesus) in your slice of cake, symbolizes luck and prosperity. In E’s family, the person who gets the baby has to pay for next year’s cake, however, traditionally receiving the baby means that the finder become the ‘king’ or ‘queen’ of the evening.

To read more about these cakes, and a different variation on the story you can click this link:

https://www.southernliving.com/holidays-occasions/mardi-gras/king-cake-meaning

Coin in the Cake

Background: The informant is a 75 year old female. She grew up in Illinois, attending both high school and college in the state. Her parents were immigrants from Greece and she grew up in a predominantly Greek neighborhood. Her religion was Greek Orthodox which is where she picked up many different traditions.

Context: Upon calling for Easter, the informant was in the middle of dying eggs, but she gave multiple examples of what is good luck for Greek.

Text:

MC: A tradition I used to do in the Greek Orthodox Church when I was younger was that a yeast cake would be made. Sometimes people would put eggs around the cake, to symbolize Easter, but that wasn’t always the case. However, there was a very important step when baking the cake. In the dough was placed a single coin. Then after the midnight mass, we would be cutting up the cake, and whoever gets the gold coin would be given good luck for the rest of the year. We had many traditions giving luck.

Analysis:

Informant: She is very proud of her culture and traditions, and is especially happy that the Greeks have many traditions for good luck.

Mine: The ending statement stands out and brings up the question as to why there would be so many traditions surrounding good luck, especially for the Greeks. It could be that since civilization has been around for so long, they have undoubtedly faced many hardships, and by focusing on good luck rituals, it allows for a more optimistic view on the world, rather than focusing on the past. Additionally, the two most notable good luck Greek traditions surround Easter, the red egg and the coin in the egg. The hope coming along with Jesus’s resurrection may help contribute to an overall feeling of good luck.

To see another variation, Stanonis, A. J. & Wallace, R. (2018). Tasting New Orleans: How the Mardi Gras King Cake Came to Represent the Crescent City. 6–23.

Layer Cakes

The following conversation is transcribed from a conversation between me (HS) and my friend/informant (AB).

HS: So you have a certain tradition regarding birthday cakes in Denmark, is that right?

AB: Yes that’s correct. We have something called layer cakes. The layers are split with jam and sometimes a sort of pudding in the middle as well. It is reserved mostly for birthdays.

Background:

My informant is one of my friends from high school. He immigrated to the United States from Denmark when he was 15 and still carries on many aspects of his Danish culture. He is fluent in Danish and English.

Context:

I was at my informant’s house with him, his sister, and his parents. They were happy to elaborate on some of their Danish traditions.

Thoughts:

My first thought that came to mind regarding the tradition of layered cakes in Danish culture was whether or not they put birthday candles on them. My curiosity regarding the dichotomy between Danish and American culture came into the limelight, and I found that they do. This led me to another question, though. Why do western cultures celebrate their birthdays with cake? Looking at this Danish tradition through the lens of this question made me realize that the celebration of birthdays with cake is the larger societal trend and that the Danish and American means of celebration are just derivatives of a larger cultural tradition.

BUCHE DE NOEL

MAIN PIECE:

Informant: Well at Christmas we’ll always have Buche de Noel… Which is a French dessert. It’s like, “Christmas log…” And it’s like a cake, and it’s like a roll, you know? Where you roll it up? And you decorate it to like resemble a log, and a lot of times it’ll have like marzipan… Like little marzipan mushrooooms, or little like eeeeelves, or something, and there’ll be like powdered sugar to be like snoooooow. And they’re just like super pretty. And we always do that. 

INFORMANTS RELATIONSHIP TO THE PIECE:

Informant: We’re not French, but we always do it. My mom did a year abroad in France, so she’s big on France. We go there a lot. All I know is it’s just like a traditional French dessert to have at Christmas. 

Interviewer: Do you make it or buy it?

Informant: We always buy it. We always do catering for Christmas. Cooking or baking is too much pressure. We wanna be like enjoying ourselves. Like for me, I really love baking, but if there’s a lot of people around, I like hate baking. I’ll be like, “Get out of my space. Like stop it. Like leave.”

REFLECTION:

Buche de Noel began as a tradition because it represented the burning of the Yule log, which is rooted in Pagan rituals. The tradition then evolved from the burning of a log to making and consuming a cake, which has then become cross-culturally adopted, with a German-American family making this French dessert part of their family tradition. This demonstrates how traditions can change over time and become adopted by new people and groups. The informant is attracted to this Christmas cake even without fully understanding its ritual context and history. Instead, she appreciates it for its aesthetic appearance and sweet taste. This is perhaps why, as Elliott Oring writes in Folk Groups and Folklore Genres: an Introduction, “food traditions are likely to be tenacious and survive when other aspects of culture are transformed or disappear” (35). One does not always have to know a food’s ritual context to appreciate its taste or appearance. Thus, food can be adopted by “outsiders.” Buche de Noel is now a part of the informant’s family tradition, and has taken on its own meaning within the Christmas traditions and rituals of her family––a meaning that is separate from the context and meaning it might have to a French family.

ANNOTATION:

Source cited above: Oring, Elliott. Folk Groups and Folklore Genres: an Introduction. Utah State University Press, 1986.

Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake Recipe – From Africa to NY

Context:

Informant KC was a current undergraduate student at the time of this collection. In speaking with them about their childhood and upbringing in the east end of Long Island, NY, they disclosed a family recipe for a gluten-free chocolate cake that has become a staple when the family gathers at their home and eats together.

This recipe was introduced to KC’s family by their sister who did research in Africa. According to KC, their sister was “gluten-free before it was cool.” While researching in Africa, KC’s sister “adopted a local flourless chocolate cake recipe for when she wanted to eat dessert.”


Text:

The recipe:

  • 1 cup of chocolate
  • 1 cup of butter
  • 1 cup of sugar
  • 3 large eggs

Upon introducing this recipe to her family when KC’s sister retired to NY from Africa, KC’s family quickly adopted it as well. KC says the cake “brings back memories of a fond time in her [KC’s sister] past from other places.” Unfortunately, I did not collect information from KC regarding baking instructions (such as temperature and bake time).


Analysis:

After learning about this family recipe from KC, I am left to speculate its significance and meaning. I am lead to think that the simplicity of this recipe not only makes it easy to prepare and share with others but also directs the bakers’ focus to what perhaps might be more important – the people eating and sharing the cake. This recipe is flourless meaning that those with gluten sensitivity can still eat and enjoy it with others. While flourless baking might be commonplace in the African community from which this recipe was originally picked up by KC’s sister, its elimination of flour might inherently suggest that greater consideration be placed on those eating the cake rather than the cake itself. If this is true, then the act of baking this cake could serve as a physical manifestation of family values such as care and inclusion.