Celebration Cakes Come to America

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

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The English great cake came to America with the earliest English colonists, but many of its original occasions did not. In place of the loathed religious red-letter days of the Anglican Church, as well as the ancient calendar days like May Day, which the Puritans deprecated as pagan, the New England Puritans promulgated various secular holidays, the earliest of which was Connecticut’s Election Day, whose boisterous celebration of drink and great cake at the colonial court in Hartford was already renowned throughout English North America by 1700. Amelia Simmons, America’s first cookbook author, installed Election Cake into enduring memory when she printed a recipe for a great Election Cake weighing close to 100 pounds. Several other American secular holidays also came to be celebrated with great cakes: university commencement days (originally celebrated in connection with Harvard and Yale), Thanksgiving Day, and, to a lesser extent, Independence Day. And early American weddings—and funerals, too—often featured great cakes. Samuel Sewall, one of the judges who condemned the witches of Salem, made several references in his diary to enjoying wedding and funeral great cakes, sometimes with cheese and sometimes with the hot sherry-spiked custard drink called posset, a favorite English cake accompaniment.