This was the song which children sang, as they went knocking on their neighbours’ doors in the hope of winning a Soul Cake. It was most likely an early trick or treat custom from medieval times onwards and the tradition exists today in some corners of Yorkshire. As a thank you for the Soul Cakes, the children made a promise to pray for the souls of deceased relatives on All Souls Day, which falls on the day after All Saints Day (1 November) and Halloween (31 October).
So, what are these ‘Soul Cakes?’ I was given one to try when I went to do a talk to a group in Sheffield during November last year. The ‘cakes’ are really like biscuits, baked with currants and spices and decorated with the mark of a cross to show they were alms. Here’s the recipe :
What you need to make 12 to 15 Soul Cakes
175g/7oz caster sugar
3 egg yolks
450g/1lb self-raising flour
2 tsps mixed spice
1 tsp nutmeg
How to bake
Preheat the oven to 190C/Mark 5. Cream the butter and sugar until the mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks one by one. Mix the flour and spices in a separate bowl and add the creamed mixture and currants, keeping enough back for decoration. Mix together and add the milk until it becomes a fairly stiff dough. Roll out the dough on a floured surface to about 1 cm (just less than ½ inch) and cut into rounds with a biscuit cutter. Make a cross on the top of each one and decorate the lines with a row of currants. Place the biscuits on a greased or lined baking tray and bake for 10-12 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a rack.
Meryl says : You can recite or sing the Soul Cakes song before you taste these scrumptious biscuits. It goes like this :
A soul, a soul, a soul cake,
Please, good missus, a soul cake,
An apple, a pear, a plum or a cherry,
Any good thing to make us a merry
One for Peter, two for Paul,
Three for Him that made us all.
I’ve got a little pocket, I can put a penny in.
If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do,
If you haven’t got a ha’penny, then God bless you.
I love finding these old traditions. In today's challenging times, Soul Cakes fit the bill perfectly for ‘any good thing to make us all merry.’ Enjoy!