The History Dish: Birthday Cakes

It’s my birthday today!  So naturally, I got curious about the history of birthday cakes.  This is the earliest b-day recipe on the books, from Jennie June’s American Cookery Book, published 1870:

The “cakes” are actually cookies; but the most interesting part of this recipe is the directions to “sprinkle colored caraway seeds on top.”  Colored could perhaps mean “toasted.”  It could mean dyed with natural dyes. It could mean candied.

But does it mean that “colored caraway seeds” are proto-sprinkles?  Jimmies?  Hundreds and Thousands?


At any rate, I decided not to make these cakes for my birthday: I anticipate them to be floury, dry, and full of currants.  Very 19th century and not my favorite style of cookie.  Instead, I’m baking an apple up-side-down cake and a plum cake, and my friend Jeffrey is arriving with a vegan delight.  The more cakes, the better, I say.

10 thoughts on “The History Dish: Birthday Cakes

  1. I know that caraways were popular ‘confits’ and were often brightly colored sugar breathmints… Elizabeth I always had a dish of lavender confits at her table. I just made an old old cake (late 18th c) with those ubiquitous currents for 12th night and it was delicious.. but not a cookie-style cake…lots of eggs and butter and the original wedding cake (I have made cookie cakes too… they were dry!).

    Happy birthday, Miss Sarah. You continue to inspire with your adventures in old food! You were the one that convinced me to just do it and write about my passion for old recipes… I have had endless fun doing it and am most grateful!

  2. Happy Birthday! I love your blog! I was the odd girl who used to check out books from my high school library with titles like Cooking during the Medieval Period and such and I love to cook. Have a great day!

  3. Happy Birthday Sarah!

    Wishing you health and happiness every day!
    Today……for 1st time saw you on food curated (nyc)……and had go to your site.
    Hope to be a regular visitor and will also tell friends!
    Mary NYC

  4. I’m literally drooling here !!!! The cake looks absolutely delicious !! This is the first time I’ve visited ur blog .., and I’m a fan already :) !! I’m gonna try making this soon ! Thanks for the recipe :) c u around !!!

  5. I’ve just taken a big chunk out of my laptop trying to eat the picture of this cake! I think everything you make is the “best ever” but this one looks and sounds phenomenal!!! I’m going to ask someone to make this for me VERY soon.

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