The History of Cake
Posted by RossMonday August 13, 2012
Cake is old. Very old. Perhaps you knew that the ancient Greeks and Romans used to enjoy cake back in the day? It’s true. Cake is so old, in fact, that if you go back far enough, the line between bread and cake becomes blurred. Proper separation of the categories “cake” and “bread” perhaps didn’t come until the Middle Ages. Perhaps it’s just me, but a world where cake is not immediately and easily identifiable is truly an alien one.
The poet Ovid, though, makes mention of enjoying cake during a party for he and his brother’s birthday in Tristia. Indeed, some claim that it was in ancient Greece where birthday cake became a thing. Others say birthday cake didn’t come around until Germany during the Middle Ages, and was mostly enjoyed during kinderfests, or birthday celebrations of small children. From there, England adds small figurines or candles to their birthday cakes, leading to the current tradition of a song, a strong exhalation, and a wish. And then the cutting of the cake, of course.
Another famous old guy, Chaucer, mentioned large cakes used as commemoration of special occasions. It’s apparent, then, that cake has been the go-to celebratory dessert of the English-speaking world for some time now. But the cakes made in the 1400s would probably be barely recognizable as such to our modern eyes. The form and ingredients that went into medieval cakes, as well as the baking process, have changed drastically. Perhaps the greatest shift in cake came about during the Industrial Revolution.
The Industrial Revolution (or the IndyRev as I, and no one else, calls it) helped along the mass manufacture of things like cake pans, refined sugar, and eventually, cake mixes. Baking powder and soda was also invented during this time. As the 20th century marched on, the cake evolved and evolved up to the present day.
Today, the proliferation of cake shapes, forms, and ingredients used means that we get to enjoy whatever kind of cake tickles our fancy. As I pointed out with weddings and birthdays, tradition need no longer shackle us to a specific type of cake. The 21st century has provided for us all Cake Freedom, and the dessert continues to evolve in fun and exciting new ways.