A WHAT cake?
I’ve moved so many times in my life that even though I’ve been “settled” in Montreal for over four years now, my bookcase is a pared-down version of what it used to be. Now it contains only those favourites that hold a special place in my heart, my pregnancy and birth reference books, several French grammar books, and a handful of novels I haven’t yet read.
Today I caught a glimpse of The Birth House by Ami McKay on the shelf. It’s about a young midwife in an isolated village in early 20th century Nova Scotia. Have you read it? I did when I was pregnant with my son, and loved it.
The tradition of groaning cake
The book mentions something called groaning cake—traditionally (in the book and in real-life history) baked by pregnant women as a form of distraction during early labour. It then serves as a nourishing postpartum treat for the ravenous new mother, her birth attendants, and visitors.
You could also, of course, eat it during labour—if you finish it in time and still feel like eating. In fact, if you have any appetite at all during labour (though you may not, especially during the later stages), now’s an excellent time to snack on anything your hard-working body might be craving. (You can ask your doula to get it for you!)
According to the author, Ami McKay, “The tradition of the groaning cake, or kimbly at (or following) a birth is an ancient one. Wives’ tales say that the scent of a groaning cake being baked in the birth house helps 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. Many cultures share similar traditions…a special dish, bread, or drink, spiced with cinnamon, all spice, and/or ginger. At one time there was even a ‘groaning ale’ made to go with it…”
I had planned to start preparing this cake at home as soon as I started having contractions. But as luck would have it, my son decided he wanted to show up five weeks early, and I spent early labour in the hospital in bed in hopes that he would slow down and wait a couple more weeks. (He didn’t, but everything was fine.)
So I never made the cake. And then pretty much forgot about it, until today. And now I can’t stop thinking about it, because even though I’m most definitely not pregnant, I LOVE cake. I may make it for my brunch guests this weekend, but what I’m really hoping is to hear a real-life birth story that includes groaning cake or another food used for the same purpose.
Does your family or culture have a food or drink traditionally prepared or consumed around childbirth?
You can find Ami McKay’s recipe for groaning cake (or cupcakes) here. I might add shredded coconut, yum… Be sure to also check out my favourite recipe for raw truffles as another excellent postpartum snack.