Groaning Cake: An Ancient English Tradition

August 31, 2019

 

 

It was raining and cold this morning. The leaves haven't quite turned yet, but it feels like it could be right around the corner. It's the perfect day to use the borrowed heat of the oven to warm up our space and perfume the air with a fragrant, sweet and spicy cake.

 

The following is an excerpt from "The Birth House" by Ami McKay, a book recently recommended to me by @mackenziemacht on Instagram:

 

"The tradition of the groaning cake, or kimbly at (or following) a birth is an ancient one. Wives’ tales say that the scent of a groaning cake being baked in the birth house helps to ease the mother’s pain. Some say if a mother breaks the eggs while she’s aching, her labour won’t last as long. Others say that if a family wants prosperity and fertility, the father must pass pieces of the cake to friends and family the first time the mother and baby are “churched” (or the first time they go to a public gathering) after a birth. Many cultures share similar traditions…a special dish, bread, or drink, spiced with cinnamon, all spice, and/or ginger. At one time there was even a “groaning ale” made to go with it…"

 

I love the idea of tradition around rites of passage. Not the kind that feels claustrophobic and obligatory, but the kind that are a joy to carry forward from previous experiences or maybe even previous generations. While reading Robbie Davis Floyd's "Birth as an American Rite of Passage" I realized that I had unconsciously tried to piece together and ritualize favorite parts of my second birth when I was in labor with my twins by going for a walk and a special restaurant for lunch.

 

As with most traditional recipes, you'll find many different variations as different families added and substituted for what they had on hand. I adapted this one from PBS based on what I had and because, from an Ayurvedic lens, I noted the use of:

  • ground ginger (a warming digestion aid for a new mom) VK-P+

  • fennel seeds (a digestion aid) VKP=

  • fenugreek (promoting lactation) VK-P+

  • cloves (another warming digestion aid) VK-P+

These spices could have travelled to England in the old days via the spice routes. And then there is the molasses that would be a good source of iron for rebuilding blood.

 

For the Cake:

3 cups stone ground spelt flour
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
Spice mix: 1 tbsp cinnamon, 1 tsp ginger, 1 tsp nutmeg, 1/2 tsp cloves, 1 tsp ground fennel seeds, 1 tsp ground fenugreek)
3/4 cup ghee
3/4 cup honey
2 tbsp molasses
4 eggs
2 tbsp coconut rum
1/3 cup whole milk yogurt
1/3 cup whole milk
1 small grated apple
1 medium carrot
1/2 cup grated zucchini
1/2 cup grated coconut

 

For the Icing:
8 oz cream cheese
3 tbsp. maple syrup

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F

  2. Mix dry ingredients in large bowl

  3. In separate mixing bowl beat eggs until frothy and then add other wet ingredients including the grated fruit and vegetables

  4. Pour into a well greased 9 x 13 dish and bake until top is golden and a toothpick comes out clean (about 35 minutes)

  5. Blend cream cheese and maple syrup and keep in separate container, adding to cooled cake just before serving.

The wrapped cake will keep for a few days in the refrigerator.

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