Catholic Recipe: Winster Wake Cakes
"At Winster Wakes there's ale and cakes, At Elton Wakes there's wenches, At Bircher Wakes there's knives and forks, At Wensley Wakes there's trenches."
is an old folk rhyme with an allusion to the special cakes and the home-brewed wine or ale that the inhabitants of Winster, in Derbyshire, England, prepare for their annual festival.
Winster's Wake Feast, which comes on June 24, Midsummer, or Saint John the Baptist's Day, is celebrated on the Sunday following, when the twenty-fourth is a weekday. Visitors pour into the little Norman market town by bus and car, by bicycle and afoot. For on this day the white-clad Morris Men come out, handkerchiefs swinging, ribbon streamers fluttering, bells jingling with every step. And in their midst walk royalty-the traditional King and Queen-accompanied as for centuries past by a capering jester.
For hundreds of years the morris dance has been associated with village feast days in England. Originally the morris came from the continent, where it flourished in fifteenth-century France and Italy. The name morris, corrupted from morisco, or moresca, probably came from the Moors. Even today some English dance teams continue to blacken their faces like Moors.
Winster's wake, like the morris, has roots in the past. In early days a wake was an all-night vigil to commemorate the dedication of a village church. As time went on, booths set up in the churchyard provided refreshment for the crowds of hungry pilgrims. Still later, the wake-which began as a religious event became a fair where everyone ate and drank, and participated in sports and trading, singing and folk dancing.
Winster still carries out its traditional feast-day hospitality by offering wake cakes and home brew to all modern pilgrims who attend the annual celebration.
After watching the Morris Men in the streets as they leap and stamp and unfurl their large white handkerchiefs with perfect timing, visitors sometimes receive a precious recipe, along with their cakes and ale. For residents of Winster are proud of the formula they have treasured from wake feast to wake feast, for more than a century and a half.
Cream the butter and sugar. Sift together dry ingredients. Beat egg until thick and light. Add to the first mixture. Gradually stir in the dry ingredients, mixing the dough thoroughly.
Roll out the dough 1/4 inch thick. Press in currants. Cut into 3 1/4-inch rounds, sprinkle with coarse sugar, and bake in moderate oven (350? F.) until done.Recipe Source: Feast-Day Cakes from Many Lands by Dorothy Gladys Spicer, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1960