As far back as the Paleolithic era, funerals have had an intimate relationship with food. Early funeral services may have included using a corpse as a table to eat off of. The Victorians had their own version of funeral feasting -- funeral biscuits. Wrapped in wax paper, these cakes were given to friends & family who attended a deceased person’s funeral service. The paper often had a note attached to it with the deceased’s name, age, and a mourning poem.
If you would like to gain some hands on experience learning about Victorian funeral customs, we suggest making your very own funeral biscuits at home! Below is an 1860s recipe that was published in the New York Times. We highly recommend you use aluminum foil cups to bake these in, as the sugar makes the cakes stick to the pan. If you want to go more period authentic, squares of parchment paper would be appropriate for baking them.
Victorian Funeral Cakes - As published in the New York Times
Total time: 35 minutes Yield: 18 cakes
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar 1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour 1/4 cup butter, melted, cooled
1 tablespoon baking powder 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs, beaten 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar for dusting
aluminum cup papers, or parchment paper for lining
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. In a medium-size bowl, mix sugar, flour and baking powder. In a small bowl, mix eggs, milk, melted butter and vanilla. Add to dry ingredients, stirring just until mixed.
3. Fill cups halfway. Bake on the middle level of the oven for 12 to 15 minutes.
4. Immediately remove the cakes from the pan, and let cool on racks for 15 minutes. Sift confectioners' sugar over each cake.