Just about everyone knows the story of King Alfred burning the cakes… well, maybe that isn’t so true these days with the way history has to be taught, but many people do know the story of Alfred in the Somerset marshes, in hiding from the invading danes near Athelney sought refuge in a peasant’s hut. The peasant’s wife, not knowing who her guest was, supposedly set him to watch the cakes (or bread) cooking on a bakestone near the fire, to make sure they didn’t burn. Alfred was so deep in thought, no doubt reflecting on his defeat near Chippenham, and planning his next military moves, didn’t keep a proper eye on the cakes and they definitely didn’t have soggy bottoms, in fact they burned! He would not fare well on the Great British Bake-Off!
Moving away from this legend, first mentioned three hundred years later, I heard a fascinating and very believable idea about this famous story. While discussing various aspects of Alfredian history, legends, myths and plain fantasies, a friend mentioned that in fact the burning cakes had a religious significance, that such rituals of burning specially made ‘cakes’ was extremely ancient, pre-Christian, and common to many cultures. History has it that England at this time was a Christian country, I feel sure that it was but a veneer on much older beliefs and traditions.
I haven’t been able to find out any more about Alfred and the cakes, whether they were ordinary Saxon cakes, or special ritual cakes, they would probably have been made from barley flour or a mixture of rye and wheat flour. This was later called ‘maslin’, becoming ‘mancorn’ or ‘monkcorn’ – although this might be several centuries later… However, but I shall keep looking for more information about this!
Here is a link to the traditionally told story:
Here is a link to another very interesting site: