Cornish Christmas Saffron Cakes

Cornish Christmas Saffron Cakes

“Consistent with Cornish Custom every one had to exchange a piece of saffron cake as each piece meant another happy year of life.” –From High on the Bluff

Every culture has its holiday traditions. Cornish households, wrote Cassell’s Family Magazine in 1890, “make a point of having Saffron Cakes at Christmas.”

The article, A Gossip About Cornish Cookery includes a crowd-sized list of ingredients: “six pounds of flour, three pounds of currants, half a pound of candied peel, two pounds of either dripping or lard, one pound of butter, one pound of moist sugar, two nutmegs grated, three eggs, a quarter of an ounce of saffron, and a pint of barm, this barm being a species of yeast.”

To prepare the saffron: “a quarter of an ounce is placed for about five or ten minutes in the oven to get dry. It is then crushed with a rolling-pin and broken up into a powder. This powder is placed in a basin, and about a pint of boiling water poured on it. Afterwards more water, and sometimes milk, is added, in sufficient quantity to enable all the ingredients to be mixed together.”

No further instruction is given, except that “the cake is then baked in tins in the ordinary way.”

“At Christmastime, throughout the greater part of Western Cornwall, the bakers’ shops are filled with these bright yellow cakes,” the article concludes.

In the O’Shaughnessy Chronicles novels, descendants of Wisconsin’s nineteenth century Cornish immigrants weather early twentieth century change. These award-winning books are available through Amazon, the publisher Little Creek Press, and many local bookstores. You can also download a sample chapters from this website today.

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