It is the season for black cake, Christmas cake, fruit cake, dark cake. No matter the nomenclature you may assign, all will agree that Christmas is not quite the same in many parts of the Caribbean and its diaspora without this British import.
We are reminded of how important this delicacy is to the Caribbean culture and heritage in an upcoming novel by former journalist, Jamerican Charmaine Wilkerson. Charmaine’s debut book, “Black Cake” is due to launch worldwide on February 1, 2022, but can be pre-ordered at www.randomhousebooks.com/books/677183/.
Like black cake, the book promises to take one on an intoxicatingly fascinating journey. However, unlike the black cake, the journey is not all delicious but instead laced with intrigue and drama that starts in the Caribbean and spans 2 continents. So captivating is the read that Oprah Winfrey and producer, Marissa Jo Cerar, won the bidding war for the screen option. It will be distributed on Hulu.
Caribbean Heritage will be launching a black cake contest with winners to be announced on February 1, 2022. Follow us on our social media platforms and/or subscribe to our newsletter at www.caribbeanheritagemag.com/contact for more information. In the meantime, please enjoy this brief history of the black cake.
From the Caribbean Heritage family to yours, a very Happy and Healthy Holiday season, filled with love, laughter and blessings.
The Story of Black Cake
By Nateshia Crawford
Many people of British Caribbean heritage and those of other cultures are in love with this delicacy that carries a rich flavor and a story deeply rooted in the colonial history of the British Caribbean.
Black cake, an essential part of the cuisine in English-speaking Caribbean countries like Jamaica, Trinidad, and Guyana, is very similar to the popular British Christmas plum pudding brought to the Caribbean during British colonialism.
Black Cake in the Caribbean
The British challenged Spanish rule and successfully took control of Caribbean territories, including Barbados in 1625 and Jamaica in 1655. They then cultivated sugarcane using enslaved African labour up until emancipation in 1834. During those years of British colonial rule, the British colonists added to the Caribbean culture’s sweet tooth by introducing the Christmas Plum Pudding. The new Caribbean people added their twist to the Christmas pudding to make black cake what it is today.
British Christmas Plum Pudding
In the early 1700s, King George I officially established Christmas pudding as part of the British Christmas meal. British Christmas pudding was seen as a symbol of British Imperialism as all its ingredients were sourced from across the British Empire. For example, spice came from India, currants came from Australia and rum and sugar came from the British West Indies.
Making Black Cake in the British Caribbean
People in the Caribbean have been making black cake for years before modern ways of cooking existed. They would use clay or iron coal pots, box ovens, brick ovens, or the kerosene pan. The cast-iron stove was fundamental to many before the invention of the gas stove. However, people in rural areas still make their cakes using earlier methods like coal pots.
I grew up always seeing my relatives make black cake, mainly around Christmas time and for weddings. Some Caribbean folks, however, also bake it at Easter time. Something I found intriguing with black cake is that everyone does it differently. Firstly, some people call it different names such as fruitcake, Christmas, or wedding cake. Then there is the preparation style; for example, my aunt buys fruits the same baking day while my mom’s friend goes heavy on 6-month-old rum-soaked fruits. It also differs across territories where Trinidadians and Guyanese will use Cherry Brandy, while in Jamaica, we stick to red wine or white rum.
I love to bake and when it comes to black cake, I enjoy an easy black cake recipe that was taught to me growing up. Today, I find it works well with my hectic schedule and the taste is just perfect.
Easy Black Cake Recipe
Add browning to darken to your liking.
How to prepare fruits
Wash the raisins and currants and then put them in a saucepan. Pour on wine and let it steam for approximately 1 minute. Allow it to cool and then you will need to blend it into a puree. You can do this the day before.
- Measure all ingredients
- Cream margarine and sugar
- Sift flour and dry spices together
- Beat eggs into creamed mixture one at a time
- Fold in half the flour and half the fruits
- Add the baking powder to the remaining flour mixture. Fold into mixture. Add the remainder of the fruit. Add vanilla and browning to desired darkness.
- Add more liquids if needed so that the mixture will fall off the spoon with a gentle shake.
- Pour in a greased and lined 8” or 9” baking tin
- Bake 350℃ degrees or 185℃ degrees for 1 to 2 hours.
- Allow it to cool in the tin. Sprinkle with additional wine.
NB: The oven should be preheated 15 minutes before needed.
The finished product
Final thoughts: Black cake has spread worldwide and is delighting taste buds and hearts. With every bite of black cake is a taste of the rich history of the British Isles.