It is the joyous cake mixing ceremony that heralds the Christmas season in Kerala. The history of this amazing tradition that takes place weeks before the Christmas goes back to centuries ago. The elaborate ingredients that are required to bake the perfect plum cake are put together and mixed well in large quantities. Bottles of high-quality liquor, wine, and honey are poured over dried fruits, nuts, powdered grains, fresh fruits and spices and are mixed well using hands to give the cakes their amazing taste and mesmerizing aroma.
More than 15 varieties of fresh and dried fruits including dates, grapes, figs, cherries, papaya and nuts like cashews, almonds and pistachios are added to make the Christmas cakes rich and delicious. Besides, spices like dried ginger, nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon too are added to give the cake its quintessential aroma. The basic batter is prepared by mixing the all purpose flour, sugar, eggs, butter and ghee in the right proportions. The fruits and nuts are soaked in rum, wine, and fruit juices and stored in airtight wooden barrels for 7-8 weeks. These fermented fruits and nuts are then added into the batter and baked to perfection in traditional wood fire ovens.
The traditional ceremony where the ingredients of the cake is readied is called the 'Mix it up ceremony.' This tradition began in Britain in the 17th century and is usually celebrated on the first Sunday of November. Now, the cake mixes are frozen until the ingredients develop the flavour and aroma, and are ready to be baked into soft cakes.
The story of cake
Food historians say that cakes were popular in many cuisines as a delicious sweet dish or dessert, centuries ago, though there aren't any reliable historical documents available about the origin of cake. Popular belief is that a local snack made of wheat, in Europe, transformed into a cake over time.
Cakes in the olden times were different in shape and taste from what we have today. In those days, honey, nuts and dried fruits were added in a special ingredient that looked like bread slices. It is, however, believed that the first cake was baked in Egypt. It was in the 17th century, in Europe, that the first round cake with icing was baked. In the past, cakes were made by toasting and roasting high quality wheat.
The origin of the Christmas cake is closely connected to English traditions. A popular dessert called plum porridge got transformed into a Christmas cake. This plum porridge had a soft texture and contained oats and raisins. The porridge was eaten on Christmas Eve to condition the stomach and intestine after observing the long advent fast.
Years later, butter, wheat, and eggs were added instead of oats to make first plum cake. Gradually, a lot of other ingredients like the dried fruits and spices were added to preserve the cake for longer period of time. The spices are added in memory of the three magi who brought valuable gifts for Jesus who was born in Bethlehem. Liquors like rum, brandy and whiskey were later added to give the cake a special kick of flavour. It is believed that the Christmas cake that we see today was originated in France, in the 12th century.
One has to go back to the 17th century to learn more about the history and tradition of cake mixing. This tradition began in the Europe and was later spread all over the globe. During those days, it wasn't an elaborate ceremony observed in high-end hotels. It was a private occasion which brought families and friends together, before the festive season of Christmas and New Year began.
The ceremony also marked the arrival of the harvest season. The fruits and nuts that were harvested would be dried and used in the traditional plum cake. These fruits, nuts and other specials ingredients were mixed and soaked in liquor, wine and fruit juices to preserve them. The cake mixing ceremony honoured the hard work and efforts of each family member and celebrated unity and love as well
Some would distribute these cake mixes among their relatives and friends, with an intension to flaunt their special family recipes. The agricultural produce that each household had harvested that year would be part of the cake mix. However, one had to wait until the Christmas, to bake and taste the cake, to know how good those ingredients are.
Cake mixing in Kerala
It was only after 1930 that the cake mixing ceremony began in hotels and bakeries in Kerala. Though the British had given us the delicious recipe of the cake, the cake mixing ceremony was exclusively reserved for the whites and the aristocrats. It has only been a few years since some swanky hotels began the cake mixing ceremony to celebrate the warmth and love of the festive season.