Soul Cakes: An Ancient Halloween Tradition

SoulcakesOn Halloween in parts of Britain, soul cakes were distributed to the poor. The soul cake’s origins date at least back to Medieval times  in England. One author refers to ‘olden times’ in a 14th century manuscript states “… wherefore in olden time good men and women would this day buy bread and deal (give) it for the souls that they loved, hoping with each loaf to get a soul out of purgatory.”

A song survives that the poor (‘soulers’) sang about the need to help souls out of Purgatory by prayer and alms-giving as they went door to door collecting their cakes.

“Soul soul for a souling cake
I pray you, missis, for a souling cake
Apple or pear, plum or cherry
Anything to make us merry …”

“Cake” is used in the sense of British biscuits which are cookies to Americans. The song above talks about fruit filling but the recipe below is plain. The simplicity of the ingredients supports the claim that the recipe is very old. Here’s an old recipe for Soul Cakes that I converted from English measures. The cross indicates the religious significance of releasing a soul from Purgatory.

2 2/3 C plain flour (sifted)
1 C sugar
1 1/2 sticks of butter (softened & diced)
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground mixed spice
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 egg (beaten)
2 tsp of white wine vinegar

Directions: Preheat the oven to 425° and grease two flat baking trays. Thoroughly mix all the dry ingredients into a mixing bowl – sifted flour, spices, and sugar. Rub in the diced butter until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add in the beaten egg and white wine vinegar and mix with a wooden spoon until dough is firm. (I ended up using my hands.) Cover it and put it in the fridge for 20 minutes. Flour a working surface and roll out the dough to a bit over ¼” thick and using a large round pastry cutter (I used a large glass and a smaller glass for two sizes) cut into rounds.  Make a cross on each cookie. Place the cookies on the greased baking tray and bake in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes at 425° until slightly coloured. Serve warm or cold. Yield – about three dozen 3″ cookies.  (Check out the pic of my soul cakes.)

Sunday, All About Hellhounds



Filed under Goosebumps

2 responses to “Soul Cakes: An Ancient Halloween Tradition

  1. Great Blog Rita, Love your stories…

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