Cultural Cuisine: Soul Cakes for the Living and the Dead

Updated: May 6

A cross between a cookie and a scone, Soul Cakes are small round spice biscuits that date all the way back to pre-Christian times. Traditionally, they are made with spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice and marked with a cross of raisins or currants. The exact origin of these cakes is foggy, some say they may have been baked by Druids and used during rituals. Others suggest that Celts may have simply used them as a treat for roaming spirits during Samhain (sow-in). One thing is for sure, though, by the Middle-Ages, Christians were all about them. Eager to knock out lingering Pagan traditions, these cakes were adopted by the Church as a means to "pay" beggars and children in exchange for prayers for the dead. This was known as "souling" and very quickly became a Halloween tradition that lasted Allhallowtide. (Oct. 31-Nov. 2) The idea was that each soul cake given would free a lingering soul in purgatory.

With one soul saved per cake, children would go door to door dressed in full costume singing for soul cakes and treats in return for a prayer for a loved one:

Soul, Soul, a soul cake!

I pray thee, good missus, a soul cake!

One for Peter, two for Paul,

three for Him what made us all!

Soul Cake, soul cake, please good missus, a soul cake.

An apple, a pear, a plum, or a cherry, any good thing to make us all merry.

One for Peter, two for Paul, & three for Him who made us all.

Down into the cellar,

And see what you can find,

If your barrels are not empty,

We hope you will prove kind.

(We hope you will prove kind,

With your apples and strong beer,

And we'll come no more a-souling

Till this time next year.

A soul...