Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

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Stories relating to labor illustrate the shifting valuation of sweets and sweets making in factual and fictional contexts. In domestic fiction, the making of cakes measures girls’ skill and maturity: in Anne of Green Gables (1908), Anne’s liniment-flavored cake cures her of “carelessness in cooking”; in Emily of New Moon (1925), Emily’s successful production of a cake causes her aunt to concede Emily’s identity as a competent family member. In recent years, however, comic culinary ineptitude is celebrated: “Puffy popcorn chocolate soufflé or carbonated exploding swamp?” Saffron asks of a burned cake she and her friend Sarah bake in Hilary McKay’s Permanent Rose (2005). The hilariously disastrous cake is a sign that like Saffron’s mother, a successful artist and kitchen incompetent par excellence, the girls are interesting, creative people. After two failed attempts, they resort to a prepared cake mix, and the resulting confection is received with as much enthusiasm and respect as one “made from scratch.”