More about the Land o’ Cakes

I moved to Manchester many, many years ago and discovered not only many marvellous pubs, but many marvellous pub names – and some not so marvellous but unusual – or maybe not unusual but unknown to me from the south of England. The names of old pubs are often regional and relate to local industry, practices, families etc. In Cambridge near where I lived was the New Spring and the Old Spring, The Pike and Eel and the Jolly Waterman, in the village where I live now there are the Ship and the Dolphin, and not far away Hobb’s Boat.

One of the pubs I noticed in Manchester was The Land o’ Cakes; no-one I asked could tell me what it’s origins were, and this was before the days of Google, and over time I just accepted that was it’s wonderful name. The pub closed, it reopened as something else, maybe a Brazilian restaurant…

Looking through Philip Harben’s little cookery book Traditional Dishes of Britain’ I came across shortbread and thought to myself, ooh, I haven’t made that for a long time, maybe I should… and then red the introductory sentence:

A certain Scottish poet, name of R. Burns, once referred to his native country as ‘The Land o’ Cakes’…

And there it was! The simple answer to the origin of the name of the pub – it meant Scotland! Burns didn’t invent this description in the opening line of his poem ‘On the Late Captain Grose’s Peregrinations Thro’ Scotland , it was another poet, Robert Fergusson who  used it in his poem ‘The King’s Birthday in Edinburgh’:. The particular cake is either an oatcake or shortbread.

Here is more from Mr Harben:

  • The origin of this cake (shortbread), if indeed it can be so called, goes back a great deal further than the times of Robert Burns or indeed recorded Scottish history; the cake, or rather the reason for its particular nature (being very crumbly and brittle) goes back to early Roman marriage rites. It was the custom, so it is said, to break a wheaten cake over the head of the bride as part of a nuptial ceremony. Since it was not the intention actually to stun the girl, which might have caused irritating delay, it was reasonable enough of the ancients to devise some type of cake which could be calculated to shatter at a touch. This was the genesis of ‘shortbread’, a very fragile confection.

Philip Harben goes on to explain that ‘i culinary parlance’ short means the amount of fat or shortening contained. In his recipe he has

  • ½lb butter
  • ¾ lb flour
  • 5 oz caster sugar

The butter and sugar are simply creamed together until light in colour and texture and fluffy, and then the flour worked in. shape it or put into a tin, prick it all over with a fork and cook it – he is a little vague on this, a moderate oven for about 30 mins… gas mark 4, 350°,  177° but as with all recipes, you no doubt will work out your own best temperature and timing!

Here are some intersting sites about shortbread and Land o’ Cakes and pub names:

http://www.robertburns.org/encyclopedia/LandoCakesThe.504.shtml

https://burnsmuseum.wordpress.com/2014/03/04/land-o-cakes/

https://constantlyplotting.com/the-geography-of-uk-pub-names/

http://pubs-of-manchester.blogspot.com/2010/01/land-o-cakes-great-ancoats-street.html

 

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