Cake—Cakes and bread were probably first associated with Halloween because of the holiday’s proximity to HARVEST. The 1580 edition of Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandry notes the importance of baking cakes at the end of harvest:

Wife, some time this weeke, if the wether hold cleere,
An end of wheat-sowing we make for this yeare.
Remember you, therefore, though I do it not,
The seed-cake, the Pasties, and Furmentie-pot.

Not only was a Halloween cake once the centerpiece of Halloween PARTIES, but cakes were also used as a form of FORTUNE-TELLING. The most common cake custom involved baking small trinkets into a “FORTUNE CAKE” (each trinket was wrapped in oiled paper); one’s future was foretold depending on whatever was found in one’s slice of cake. For example, a ring indicated a happy marriage; a wheel foretold travel; a dime, wealth; a key, good luck in romance; a rag, poverty; a wishbone, a wish to come true; and a thimble indicated spinsterhood (or the ability of a woman to earn her own living).

Less popular were the use of a chip of wood (for a COFFIN), indicating who would die first; and a sloe, foretelling who would live the longest (because the FAIRIES blight the sloes in the hedges come Halloween, so a sloe in the cake will be the last of the year). A small china doll would indicate who would have children; and a NUT would indicate marriage to a widow or widower (unless the kernel was shriveled, in which case the finder was destined for spinsterhood). Tokens are still baked into commercially available BARM BRACK cakes in Ireland (whereas in America ice cream —with tokens inserted—has replaced cake at some parties).

One of the most curious methods of cake divination was the “DUMB CAKE,” which typically involved a number of unmarried young women (sometimes the number is specified as seven) who mixed a “dumb cake” together in silence (if any spoke, she would be last to wed). When the stiff, plain dough was placed in a pan, each girl took a new pin and pricked the initials of her sweetheart in the dough. Silence continued while the dough baked for 10 minutes, then those whose letters were still plain would supposedly marry before the year ended.

SALT cakes were also popular in divination. In an American custom, a girl would eat a salt cake and go to bed BACKWARDS without speaking. If she dreamt of her future husband bringing her a cup of WATER in a silver or gold goblet, it indicated wealth, while a tin goblet foretold poverty. Should she be foolish enough to help herself to a drink, she would never be married; and if the vessel out of which she drank was a gourd, she would be a pauper.

Cake has also been invested with the power to save souls on Halloween. SOUL CAKES were given to beggars in exchange for their prayers for the dead, and in Belgium, one custom involves eating cakes on All Souls’ Eve in the belief that another soul is saved from suffering in PURGATORY for each cake eaten. The residents of Hirt (St. Kilda) celebrated the Festival of All Saints with a CAVALCADE and large cake in the form of a triangle that must be completely eaten in that one night. In Chichester, shops on All Saints were full of small iced cakes, the white frosting of which was thought to represent the white robes of the saints in heaven.

Cake Night—Another name for Halloween in parts of Britain (specifically Ripon, Yorkshire) where it was a popular custom to bake a CAKE for each member of the family on this night.


The Halloween Encyclopedia Second Edition written by Lisa Morton © 2011 Lisa Morton. All rights reserved