St Catherine’s Day, Lace Makers and Cattern Cakes

St Catherine’s Day, 

Lace Makers 

and 

Cattern Cakes

Today, the 25th November is St Catherine’s Day ~ in the UK it is a special day for lace makers whilst in France it is special day for young unmarried women. In France on St Catherine’s Day, young unmarried women are encouraged to pray for a husband ~ these young women are called “Catherinettes” (what a truly wonderful name) and as well as the special name, family and friends make them outlandish and rakish hats in vivid colours such as yellow (for faith) and green (for wisdom), these hats are then worn all day as a “crown” of their spinsterhood. The Millinery trade in France has also chosen this day to show off their latest hat designs, with more than a passing nod to the nation’s unmarried hat-wearing young ladies!

Whilst the French ladies are busily praying for a husband, in the UK our Lace Makers are celebrating their Saint’s Day and “Cattern Cakes” are the speciality of the day; “Cattern cakes” are spiced with cinnamon, lightly fruited and flavoured with caraway seeds; they were traditionally made by the English Nottingham lace makers for the festivities on their special feast day. The recipe goes back to Tudor times and has changed little over the centuries, although they are sometimes made with yeasted dough. Also known as Catherine Cakes, after Catherine of Aragon, whom whilst imprisoned locally at Ampthill, heard of the lacemaker’s financial plight and destroyed all of her lace only to commission some more and give work to the local industry.

Cattern Cakes are still specially prepared for St. Catherine’s Day in the UK by Lace makers for their special day, and are traditionally washed down with Hot Pot – a hot mixture of rum, beer and eggs. However, I find that I prefer mine with a cup of tea! These delicious little cakes are more like a soft and slightly chewy biscuit or cookie and I find the addition of caraway very refreshing, but then I love seed cake. 

Bobbin Lace made from 100% linen thread

The following recipe was taken from my favourite book of all times, Cattern Cakes and Lace ~ a wonderful book celebrating the passing feasts and festivals throughout the British year. St Catherine, by the way, is the patron Saint of spinners, lace-makers, rope-makers and spinsters ~ hence the festivities I have written about being associated with her name.

See you later and if you are unmarried, don’t forget your hat!

Karen

Cattern Cakes

(Makes 12 cakes/biscuits)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 9 ounces self raising flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 ounces currants
  • 2 ounces ground almonds
  • 2 teaspoons caraway seeds
  • 6 ounces caster sugar
  • 4 ounces melted butter
  • 1 medium eggs, beaten
  • extra sugar, for sprinkling
  • extra cinnamon, for sprinkling
    METHOD:
    Mix all the dry ingredients together in a mixing bowl: flour, cinnamon, currants, ground almonds, caraway seeds and sugar.
    Add the melted butter and the beaten egg and mix well to give a soft dough.
    Roll the dough out on a floured board, into a rectangle about 12″ x 10″ – 30cm x 25cm.
    Brush the dough with water and sprinkle with the extra sugar and cinnamon to taste.
    Gently roll the dough up like a Swiss roll, not too tightly, and then cut the rolled up dough into 3/4″ – 2cm slices.
    Place these slices on to a well greased and lined baking tray or biscuit/cookie sheet, making sure that they are spaced well apart.
    Bake in a pre-heated oven 200C/400F/Gas 6 for about 10 minutes, or until golden and crispy to the top.
    Allow the cattern cakes to cool on a wire rack. Sprinkle with extra caraway seeds, sugar and cinnamon if you like.
    Store in an airtight tin for up to 7 days.

    Lace BobbinsHistorical notes:

    The Rev. W. D. PARISH, Vicar of Selmeston, Sussex in 1875 records this tradition as … ” CATTERNING. To go catterning is to go round begging for apples and beer for a festival on St. Catherine’s Day, and singing,

    “Cattern’ and Clemen’ be here, here, here,
    Give us your apples and give us your beer,
    One for Peter, Two for Paul,
    Three for him who made us all ;
    Clemen’ was a good man,
    Cattern’ was his mother;
    Give us your best, And not your worst,
    And God will give your soul good rest.”

    Taken from Historical Foods 

    St. Catherine: although a noted Christian saint and martyr she was probably a mythological invention; un-documented sources put her as a scholar in the early 4th century. Martyrdom: as a Christian she was condemned to death on the breaking wheel, an instrument of torture. Yet according to legend the wheel itself broke when she touched it, so she was beheaded. In the late middle ages St. Catherine was one of the most influential saints and her feast day on November 25th was a popular one.

    Catherine of Aragon: born 16th December 1485, died 7th January 1536 – was also known as Katherine or Katharine, and she was the first wife of King Henry VIII, (and also the first wife to Henry’s older brother who died, Arthur, Prince of Wales). She lived in Bedfordshire as the Queen of England at Ampthill 1531 to 1533, until Henry VIII divorced her.

    Original Recipe From ‘Country Dishes’ Published 1962

    The recipes from this book were collected in 1962 from various earlier sources and from farmer’s wives local to the area who remembered the local recipes and traditions handed down from their family from the 1800s.

    CATHERINE CAKES (or Kattern Cakes or Catterning Cakes)

    Called after Catherine of Aragon, the Queen, who used to live at Ampthill Castle. Specially made on the the 25th November, St. Catherine’s Day.

    2 lbs. dough; 2 oz. butter; 2 oz sugar; 1 egg; a few caraway seeds.

    Make dough with yeast as for bread. Knead well with butter, caraway seeds, sugar and egg. Leave to rise in a warm place for 2 hours. Place on floured baking tin and bake in a moderate oven for 2 to 3 hours.

Taken from Historical Foods

Comments

  1. A Trifle Rushed says

    Karen, what a fascinating post. The recipe looks delicious, and the book sounds so interesting.

    Your photos are superb, the cakes look so perfect nestled in the lace.

    Jude x

  2. Helene Dsouza says

    happy St.Katherines day! I was reading through the first sentences when I thought of Katherine of Aragon. lol
    She was truely a great queen and very much loved even though she was foreign.

    I enjoyed the history to your Cattern Cake, very interessting. Iam a hugefan of lace too! =)

  3. Sue says

    Fabulous, I was searching for a recipe for cattern cakes to make today for my Katherine. I shall be posting the results later today. Thank you Karen.

  4. Rolling Pin Claire says

    Wow,caraway seeds take me back 20 years to when my Mam used to make Caraway Cakes. Will definitely try these over the weekend. Thank You!

  5. Karen S Booth says

    Thanks Jude, these are really lovely little biscuits and if you like seed cake,as I do, then you will love these!

  6. Janice says

    What an interesting post Karen. I have heard of that book but had no idea about the French ladies and their hats or the lacemakers. Thanks for sharing these little gems of inofrmation. The cookies look pretty good too.

  7. Karen S Booth says

    Thanks Marie ~ I am a bit of a fan of old traditions, as you know, and these were a joy to make for a special day!

  8. Karen S Booth says

    Thank you Helene ~ Katherine of Aragon was indeed an amazing lady and also very educated for the time……Lace, I am also a lover of too!

  9. Karen S Booth says

    Thanks Sue! I have made these every year for a while now, being a Karen which is a derivative of Katherine, I make them for myself as a treat…..they are VERY tricky to roll into the swiss roll shape, but other than that, are fairly straight forward. Looking forward to hearing how they went.

  10. Karen S Booth says

    Thanks Rolling Pin Claire, and what a great name by the way! I LOVE seed cake, and so these always go down well with me!

  11. Laura@howtocookgoodfood says

    I love your posts as I always learn something from you, so thanks for sharing your knowledge.
    What a great recipe too, love anything with seeds to provide a bit of texture….xx

  12. Laura@howtocookgoodfood says

    I love your posts as I always learn something from you, so thanks for sharing your knowledge.
    What a great recipe too, love anything with seeds to provide a bit of texture….xx

  13. kellie@foodtoglow says

    Very interesting post, m'dear. I have never heard of Cattern Cakes but they look scrummy. Gorgeous bobbin lace too.

  14. Kentish Keg-Meg says

    Thank you for this post. I had a few facts about St Catherine's day but now i have so much more. The Cattern cake recipe will be tried here soon.

  15. Sharyn Dimmick says

    What a wonderful post: as a lifelong spinster I particularly enjoyed hearing about the French traditions. Perhaps I'll send up a prayer and put on my best hat. The Cattern cakes look good, too.

  16. Neesie Natters says

    So interesting Karen. Thanks for sharing all those facts. I had no idea.
    But last night travelling on a train into the city I actually saw a young girl wearing a very strange outfit topped off with a gold crown sort of hat and wondered what on earth she was wearing….now perhaps I know?
    It matched your description perfectly, plus the date matched too.
    I wonder if she was successful in finding a husband?

    The cakes look very tasty and I love your photo's…especially the way you incorporate the lace…very clever ;D
    Have a wonderful weekend.

  17. Neesie Natters says

    So interesting Karen. Thanks for sharing all those facts. I had no idea.
    But last night travelling on a train into the city I actually saw a young girl wearing a very strange outfit topped off with a gold crown sort of hat and wondered what on earth she was wearing….now perhaps I know?
    It matched your description perfectly, plus the date matched too.
    I wonder if she was successful in finding a husband?

    The cakes look very tasty and I love your photo's…especially the way you incorporate the lace…very clever ;D
    Have a wonderful weekend.

  18. Choclette says

    Are those bobbins yours Karen? I'm fast beginning to think you are not human at all, are there no end to your talents? The cakes look delicious, a bit like rock cakes, but nicer. Must get some more caraway seed – used the last in my rye bread and keep forgetting to replace it. It would be nice if spinsters got to have a saint of their very own, rather than having to share!

  19. Working london mummy says

    Such a lovely post Karen and so nice to hear about the traditions behind these seasonal feasts. A great series in the making. The cakes look lovely too, are they scone like? x

  20. Heather says

    Karen,
    I just love love love these posts with a bit of foodie history to them :D I love the tradition of feast days and all the little special things that go with them~

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