‘A little beer would suit me better, if it is all the same to you, my good sir,” said Balin with the white beard. “But I don’t mind some cake – seed-cake, if you have any.”-An Unexpected Party, The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien
“Lots!” Bilbo found himself answering, to his surprise; and he found himself scuttling off, too, to the cellar to fill a pint beer-mug, and then to a pantry to fetch two beautiful round seed-cakes which he had baked that afternoon for his after-supper morsel.
Read The Hobbit in the 21st century and you’ll come across a number of bygone traditions and recipes- of British teatime and beautifully round seed-cakes.
Whether for an Unexpected party, or to embrace a slower, more Hobbity lifestyle, this seed cake recipe will help you on your way.
Seed cake typically refers to a cake made with caraway seeds, a British teatime staple in the Victorian era. Having been born in 1892 (at the end of the Victorian era), J.R.R. Tolkien will have grown up with very British traditions. This sweet, round cake, can be found across several centuries in the UK, serving as a symbol for a number of traditions and customs.
Some history books indicate that the caraway seed cake was originally served during harvest and seeding to those working the fields. The seed cake also takes another form, that of the shortbread, when mentioned as a custom at funerals. And we also see it on the country tea table, during “that delightful hour in the country when we would gather beside a blazing log fire and retail to each other the news of the day.”*
The one common linkage in all these recipes and customs, is the caraway seed. With an anise flavour, similar to light flavoured liquorice or fennel, it’s also described as nutty, citrusy, and peppery.
The fact that some Victorian tea recipes call for caraway comfits leaves a clue as to why caraway was the more common ingredient for teatime. Caraway comfits had been served in UK households for centuries, historically eaten at the end of meals to prevent indigestion. Caraway comfits are coated and cooked in sugar to create a hard shell and would have been kept on hand.
A preference of Balin’s, the seed cake conjures up a simpler time. And with its straight forward steps of cream, sift, pour, bake, it’s an easy recipe to whip up ahead of time for a Hobbit party. Recipes vary, however, the denser seed cakes were known to keep for a good period of time, making it an easy cake to make in advance of your Hobbit party.Print
- *Good Things in England, Florence White, 1932
- English Housewifery Exemplified; In above Four Hundred and Fifty Receipts Giving Directions for most Parts of Cookery’, Elizabeth Moxon, 1764
- Food and Cooking in Victorian England, Andrea Broomfield, 2007