A long time ago, I read a wonderful book given to me by a friend and in this book was a recipe from the 1900’s for a “groaning cake” to be prepared by a future mother when her first labor pangs appeared and completed and baked by the accompanying women; I hope my modern-day reinterpretation of this spicy, fruity, spongey and moist cake lives up to this book.
"The Birth House", Ami McKay’s first novel, is the story of Dora Rare, the first daughter in five generations of Rares, who becomes an apprentice to an Acadian midwife and assists the women of an isolated Nova Scotian village through infertility, difficult labors, breech births, unwanted pregnancies, and even unfulfilling lives. Dora soon finds herself fighting to protect the rights of women as well as the wisdom that has been put into her care.
The book is magical in its portrayal of the era, of Nova Scotia, as well as making life choices.
“The tradition of a groaning cake or kimbly, at birth, is an ancient one. Wives’ tales say that the scent of the groaning cake being baked in the birth house helped to ease the mother’s pain. Some say if a mother breaks the eggs while she’s aching, her labour won’t last as long. Others say that if a family wants prosperity and fertility, the father must pass pieces of the cake to friends and family the first time the mother and baby are “churched” (or the first time they go to a public gathering) after a birth.”
I first made this cake as the traditional recipe dictates but also continued making it by readapting it to the contemporary availability of additional ingredients. I’ve shared my modified recipe with many friends over the past decade, and I thought it was time to publish it here too.
It is spicy, fruity and spongy cake, perfect for autumn and winter, made with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, ginger, cloves, molasses, dried fruits and nuts as well as apple and oranges and the maple frosting, a modern-day addition, gives it a more festive touch.
It can be made as 2 small loaves or 16 cupcake formats, but either way, it’s a pleasure and a comfort.
If you don’t have time to make these cakes, try to take the time to read this book over the holidays; it’ll open your heart and give you peace … :)