New book reveals the history of the nation’s favourite sweet treat

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Alysa Levene

An Oxford Brookes University academic will launch her new book Cake: The short, surprising history of our favourite bakes, at a Blackwell’s event this week.

Dr Alysa Levene will discuss the history behind one of the nation’s favourite sweet treats at the event which will take place at the Oxford store on Thursday 25 February.

What does cake mean for different people? How have we come to have such a huge variety of cakes? What had to happen historically for them to appear? And what can they tell us about the family and women’s roles in particular? I wrote this book to find out the answers.

Dr Aylsa Levene, Oxford Brookes University

The book follows a journey from King Alfred to our modern-day love of cupcakes and cronuts, via Queen Victoria’s patriotic sponge, the Southern States of America, slavery and the spice trade, to the rise of the celebrity chef.

Alysa said: “My sister had three wedding cakes. Rather than spend a lot of money on a traditional cake she asked our grandmother, our mother, and our step-mother to make their signature bakes. My grandmother made the rich fruit cake she always baked at Christmas. My mother made a chocolate sponge which we called Queenie’s Chocolate Cake after the great aunt who gave her the recipe; it appeared at almost every one of our birthdays in one guise or another. And finally, my step-mother made chocolate brownies (Nigella Lawson’s recipe, if you’d like to know), whose sticky, pleasurable unctuousness is fully explained by the amount of butter they contain.

Cake A Slice of History

“In our family, as in many others, these familiar cakes are the makers of memories. My siblings and I took this idea into our adult lives, and now bake for our own families. But it wasn’t until I developed an interest in the history of food that I started to think about the deeper significance of these tasty treats. What does cake mean for different people? How have we come to have such a huge variety of cakes? What had to happen historically for them to appear? And what can they tell us about the family and women’s roles in particular? I wrote this book to find out the answers.”

Alysa has researched and published articles and books on a variety of topics including the history of childhood, health, the family, and food. Details of the launch event can be found on the Blackwell’s website.

Alysa will also be at the Henley Food Festival on 1 March, Bath Literary Festival on 2 March and at Aye Write Literary Festival in Glasgow on 19 March where she will interview The Great British Bake Off winner Frances Quinn.