Posted by: Merlin PJ19 SEP 2008
A year ago, one of the contributors to this page discussed the preponderance of “awareness days” that seem to be foisted upon us, often with exhortations to look out for sufferers of a particular condition during the awareness day or week. However, not all such days are concerned with medical topics. Merlin recently discovered that, in 2004, Salford City Council and BBC Radio Manchester nominated 29 October as National Eccles Cake Day.
Eccles cakes were first recorded as being sold in 1793 at James Birch’s shop on the corner of Vicarage Road and Church Street in the Lancashire town of Eccles, now a district of Salford. It is thought that the original Eccles cake recipe came from Mrs Elizabeth Raffald’s influential cookery book, ‘The experienced English housekeeper’, published in 1769.
The book included a recipe for “sweet patties”, for which the ingredients were “meat of a boiled calf’s foot (gelatin), plus apples, oranges, nutmeg, egg yolk, currants and French brandy, enveloped in a good puff pastry which could be either fried or baked”.
However, Eccles cakes were regarded as having been made for centuries, each family having its own recipe. By 1818, they were said to be on sale “at all the markets and fairs around and are even exported to America and the West Indies”.
The word Eccles is believed to derive from the Greek ecclesia, meaning assembly. In medieval times, the church at Eccles held an annual service known as the Eccles Wakes, after which a fair was held and food and drink, including Eccles cakes, were consumed.
When the Puritans came to power in 1650, the wakes and cakes were banned, the cakes because of their “juicy and exotic richness”. Thankfully, with the restoration of the monarchy, the cakes were restored, as well as the king.
Sadly, it seems that the National Eccles Cake Day is not to be repeated this year. However, Eccles cakes have recently hit the headlines again, with proposals being put to the European Commission to prevent bakers from describing a cake as an Eccles cake unless it has been made in Eccles. All true devotees of this sticky comestible will be pleased if this bid is successful.