Having your cake and eating it too

Sweet birthday treat

Our first granddaughter turned one-year-old this past week. There was much fanfare with the occasion—balloons galore and decorations with a bee theme. Her name is Brynnlee and so “Miss B” has become one of her nicknames, and of course it was her “b(ee)-day”. But if you ask me, the item most worth mentioning was the cake.

There is something very special about a birthday cake. It seems to sum up the idea that a celebration is occurring. Julia Child even said, “A party without cake is just a meeting.” Cakes have been around a long time, and birthdays have been celebrated for millennia. This party was a worthy representation of the evolution of the tradition.

The ancient Greeks put candles on round cakes that paid homage to Artemis, the goddess of the moon. The candles were supposed to emulate moonlight, and when they were blown out the smoke was supposed to carry your wish up to the gods.

Birthday cakes were first used by the ancient Romans, but rarely (only for famous men when they got older). Obviously, a more inclusive celebration was in order.

Other countries have developed other traditions like Russia with a birthday pie and China with longevity noodles to celebrate a life thus far, but in North America we have taken on the German tradition that began with Kinderfeste.

In the Middle Ages, German children would have their birthdays feted with a cake that had as many candles as they had years, plus one to hope for another fulfilling year. The catch was, the candles burned all day long; they were lit in the morning and the honouree was not to blow them out until after dinner.

It occurs to me that this ages-old tradition may see a revival, as the layer of wax from the candles would mask the cake for when the candles were blown out. In a pandemic world, this might be the only way we can manage to keep making old-fashioned birthday wishes.

When I was a kid, birthday cake was a necessity at a birthday celebration. Birthday parties had a handful of kids entertained by such fun as a pinning game (I do recall one year pinning a bee on a flower, as we had one painted on the basement wall. That made it easier then trying to find a store-bought donkey and tail game. The bee wasn’t a theme, just a part of the game.

The cake was one made by my mom (in the flavour that I chose, which in my recollection was always chocolate). It had swirls of homemade icing, and candles, and plastic-wrapped nickels and dimes (and maybe one quarter for a lucky person) inside - one for each piece to be cut. Often it was served at the party with vanilla ice cream.

My granddaughter Brynnlee’s cake was professionally made. It weighed about 20 pounds, and was ordered for a garden party with 40 people in attendance through the afternoon. It had real roses, and bee decorations and a band of fondant formed like honeycomb around the middle. It was truly spectacular.

Inside the cake was a work of art, too. Layers of lemon sponge cake were nestled between blueberry buttercream and blueberry compote. Needless to say it cost more than the few dollars my mom had to spend on ingredients, and the pastry chef who constructed it didn’t volunteer like my mom and other moms did.

Everyone "oohed" and "aahed" at this masterpiece. Brynnlee was overwhelmed by the paparazzi who took pictures of her with this work of art. She got to try a small piece of one layer, which seemed a serious undertaking; it was as if she were judging a competition, the way she slowly chewed each little bite.

I sent screenshots to my mom of Brynnlee with the cake. The reply came back: “Was that all the cake she had?” I said yes, she was only a year old and sugar was not something on the menu yet. “I seem to recall you had your whole face in your chocolate cake on your first birthday”, she said, and I could hear the nostalgic smile in her voice.

“Well, there were no nickels inside of it either,” I answered. Times have changed.

I certainly don’t begrudge my stepdaughter or my granddaughter an extravagant cake. Perhaps if professional cakes had been the norm when I was little, I would have had them too. This is merely a commentary on how things have changed over the generations.

There was a box at Brynnlee’s party for people to write note of advice or predictions for her, as they were going to be sealed in a time capsule, to be opened on her 18th birthday. I wonder what celebrations will look like then.

I just hope we don’t give up on cake. I’ve been to plenty of meetings in my life. More parties is definitely what we need.

More Happy Gourmand articles

About the Author

Kristin Peturson-Laprise is a customer experience specialist by trade, which means she is someone passionate about people having a good time. 

Her company, Wow Service Mentor, helps businesses enhance their customer experience through hands-on training, service programs, and special event coordination.

Kristin enjoys her own experiences too, and that is what she writes about in this column. She and her husband Martin Laprise (also known as Chef Martin, of The Chef Instead) love to share their passion for food and entertaining.  

Kristin says:

"Wikipedia lists a gourmand as a person who takes great pleasure in food. I have taken the concept of gourmandise, or enjoying something to the fullest, in all parts of my life. I love to grow and cook food, and I loved wine enough to become a Sommelier. I call a meal a success when I can convey that 'sense of place' from where the food has come . . . the French call that terroir, but I just call it the full experience. It might mean tasting the flavours of my own garden, or transporting everyone at the table to a faraway place, reminiscent of travels or dreams we have had."


E-mail Kristin at:  [email protected]

Check out her website here:  www.wowservicementor.com


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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