Academic/domestic crossover: edible numismatics edition

It has been a good few days for cakes of early medieval archaeological interest. Last week I was eating a cake which included a picture of a Thor’s hammer. This week I made a numismatic cake:

temple cake

Louis the Pious temple type denier, legend “Christiana religio” – English imitation, base sponge.

The cake was made to mark Jon Jarrett’s last day at the Fitzwilliam Museum:

Jon + cake

Jon preparing for the Divisio crustuli and the difficult question: who gets Lotharingia?

Experimentation reveals that a denier cake feeds around 12 modern people (equivalent to approximately 6 Carolingian nuns).

NB: I have not yet explored the possible options for a genuinely early medieval cake. For the early medieval jam tart, see here.


9 thoughts on “Academic/domestic crossover: edible numismatics edition

  1. I spend many idle moments when I should be reading MGH texts or difficult articles in German, (are there any easy ones?) making cakes or reading recipe books. I now feel inspired to enter a new realm of baking where I can combine scholarship with the queenly Victoria sponge. The numismatic theme is an excellent starting point and probably safe for a beginner before tackling the 817 divisio. Any chance of posting the recipe?


  2. So strange to see Jonathan without facial hair.

    I’ve been dreading the process of re-learning Latin – there’s so much stuff available online, especially the digital MGH that my old excuse of, “How much Latin am I gonna run into anyway?” is starting to ring hollow.

    Is baking the answer? I’m not much for cake but I used to bake and give away a lot of bread.

    BTW – loved the Carolingian Nun reference. Too funny.


  3. Thanks for the comments. What’s vaguely alarming is that I realise there is a whole cultural history of late C20/early C21domesticity lurking in the making of this cake that I now feel compelled to reveal. The cake itself is a standard Victoria sponge, but the recipe was handed down to me by my mother, and is in one of those traditional forms where you measure the weight of the eggs (3 in this case), and then use the same weight of butter, sugar and flour. I don’t know whether Mum got the recipe from her mother or not, but there’s a whole tradition there of how one learns domestic cooking, and I suspect another one about accurate weighing in the kitchen (which goes from the balance with solid metal weights that my mother still had 40 years ago, via mechanical scales to my digital scales).

    The icing is ready to roll stuff from the supermarket, plus silver colouring from a specialist cake shop. It’s pretty easy to work, especially if you’ve had several years’ recent experience with Play-Doh, and I deliberately chose a design that stuck with basic shapes, rather than trying to mould Charlemagne’s profile. Again, I didn’t have access to either ready-made icing or fancy colourings when I was first doing some cake decorating 30-35 years ago. I couldn’t even get glycerine in the shops easily, so if I wanted to make icing that could be moulded I had to make it by boiling up icing sugar and lemon juice. It is much simpler to get both cake icing equipment and ready made decorations than it was a generation ago, and even easier to get ready made party cakes (although the supermarkets are still low on numismatic designs). It is easier for me to make cakes than it was for my mother, and yet I make far fewer, because I have less time for such domestic arts. But also because cakes are no longer a staple of our family diet, as in my childhood, but something only for unusual occasions. In fact, my family mostly get leftover biscuits/cakes when I’ve been making them for a sale or the like.

    For those considering doing some baking themselves (Elizabeth and Curt), there’s also a whole economy of food as gift exchange that is both similar in outline to early medieval hospitality and very different in details. You can’t think about what it means to be a loaf-ward or to have someone eat at your table without considering how else people are obtaining their food. If someone making you a cake or bread or a roast is your only chance to taste such food or have quantities of it that’s one thing. If you can get something tastier and/or more aesthetically pleasing and/or cheaper at the supermarket, you have a different relationship to an offer of homemade food. My calculation was on that this occasion the sincerity and novelty of a homemade cake outweighed the convenience, artistic merit, and avoidance of gender stereotyping of a shop-bought one, but it’s a far more complex equation for me than it would have been for someone in the ninth century, or indeed for my mother.


  4. Name in Lights IVWhile I attempt to get Internet, domesticity and teaching schedules all arranged into a balanced and survivable fashion, can I placate you at least slightly with some links to new aspects of my work on the Internet? Firstly, just before I left the Fitz…


  5. I was most amused at the description of the appetite of 6 Carolingian Nuns. 🙂

    Good cake.

    Apropos a much earlier subject, reference the 100 objects; while the episodes are available to download via the BBC iplayer as listen again, as yet, there is no facility for downloading to hard disk.


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