A Feast of Folklore

By Ben Gazur

From witch cake to wassailing, strange stories of Britain's food.

Tuesday, 21 December 2021

Merry Christmas Cakes!

Merry Christmas!

Hope everyone is ready for Christmas and has stocked up on food. You might, or might not, like to try this bit of foody folklore to get your party started.

It used to be a tradition to hide a dried bean and a dried pea to the fruit cake to be eaten on Twelfth Night. Whoever got the slice with the bean in was crowned the king of the feast, and the pea decided who was the queen. I wonder how many of these merry monarchs ended up with broken teeth from biting down on the bean?

In Elizabethan times this same ritual was used to anoint the Lord of Misrule. The lord of misrule was in charge of all the festivities around Christmas. They got to arrange the food (lots of it), the drinking (even more), and the games that everyone played. In Scotland the person with the bean was called the Abbot of Unreason. Either seems like a title worth having.

Samuel Pepys in his diaries records a party where this tradition was played out. “...to my cousin Stradwick, where, after a good supper, there being there my father, mothers, brothers, and sister, my cousin Scott and his wife, Mr. Drawwater and his wife, and her brother, Mr. Stradwick, we had a brave cake brought us, and in the choosing, Pall was Queen and Mr. Stradwick was King. After that my wife and I bid adieu and came home, it being still a great frost.”

Still count yourself lucky if you only find a bean in your cake. In New Orleans the traditional King Cake comes with a charm hidden in it that means good luck to whoever finds it. This charming charm is shaped like the little baby Jesus. Some are fine porcelain but some are terrifying plastic ones like the one shown below.

(Image via Wikimedia)


Merry Christmas, and try not to have too many nightmares about what might be lurking in your cake.

Thanks so much for all your support for this book. Here’s to getting it funded next year!


Back to project page
Share on social

Top rewards