The Groan Cake

The cooler seasons are a perfect time for baking. Sweet and spiced aromas filling the home provide a warmth all of its own. I’ve been tooling with a couple new muffin, cake and breakfast bake recipes myself and I’ve had fun attempting to avoid gluten, and therefore, the after baked goods bloat, namely by using different, non-wheat flours in my rogue Betty Crocker creations. Most of my successes have been with nut, namely almond, and buckwheat flours and a slightly inedible status has been granted by my partner to the sweet treats created with coconut and garbanzo bean flours. I’m still learning. But given the recent surge of baking inspiration, I’ve been motivated in my birth work practice to learn more about age-old tradition of making ‘Groan Cakes.’

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Initially coined, ‘Kimbly cakes,’ in the 1800’s by English folklore generating out The UK, Canada and other northern countries and where, more often then not, birth was taking place at home. These birthday cake’s ingredients were set aside to ideally be prepared by a laboring mama in her early stages of labor for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, the process of baking and engaging in a very productive and tactile activity will busy a woman’s mind, body and soul, which can be a wonderful distraction especially if mama is having prodromal labor.* This type of engagement can guard against monotony and fatigue. Also while keeping mama active and vertical, the process will employ gravity to further promote baby’s journey towards the birth canal. The wonderful gingerbread and fruit cake aromas will bring a sense of warmth and ease to a laboring mama, further hastening the process. And least we not forget, labor is hard work and food is fuel. After taking a look at few labor bread recipes, you will see these cakes are loases with goodness: heathy fats, protein and iron. When eaten during early labor, their richness can help provide an energy boost, combat fatigue and replenish iron stores due to blood loss. When eaten after labor, it can provide the new mama with renewed energy and be shared with visitors for good luck creating a full circle of nourishment. The earthy rich aroma will again stimulate comfort and calmness for mama and her partner as they learn to care for and nourish their baby. If you, or someone you know is expecting a new addition to the family this cold season, and you aren’t already aware of the practice of making groan cakes, or labour bread, during the early stages of labor, it may interest you to learn more and inspire those around you as well.

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  • The tradition arose in the northern counties when women were gifted Cheshire cheeses, fruit cakes and gingerbread from their female neighbors and shared in celebration of their newest tribe members. Some writings of the practice dated around the 15th century even detail ceremonies preformed with the labor cakes that resemble bridal bouquet throwing rituals of present day. Partners of new mamas would dIvinely place chucks of the cakes into their midwives smocks which were then thrown to the unmarried girls of the village. The girls were instructed to place the sweet breads under their pillows in dreams of finding future husbands…

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Whether a mama plans to birth at home, in a birthing center or at a hospital the process of making a Groan Cake can be incorporated into her birth plan during the early stages of labor to center and distract, hasten the physiological progress, aromatically comfort and calm and fuel her inner birthing goddess. More over, the element that moves me about this process is its lineage of tradition. I often tell my clients in moments when they are needing a little emotional support, that in that moment, all over the world, ‘ over 300,000 women are giving birth with you. Imagine all of you becoming mothers together.’ A little fact I learned from Ina May. There is such fierce ancestral support in that statement. Ruminate on it for a minute… Now enhance that connection and incorporate a relic tradition like preparing a Groan Cake and there she has just tied in with the mothers that have gone before even before baby makes their way into the world outside of mama. That is divine support.

You can find many different recipes out there that are packed with delicious nutritional goodness. Some are even topped off with a rich cream cheese frosting. A popular recipe generated out of Ami McKay’s, ‘The Birth House’. She is wonderful. You can follow along with her blog here: http://amimckay.com. Upon my suggestion, one of my latest clients, a chef in her own right, was very excited about making a labor bread before the birth of her second child. For her, I found this wonderful recipe from http://neohomesteading.com. She graciously shared with me, her partner, her sweet young daughter Aria and others who entered her home and thus her sacred space in the wee hours of the morning. It was delicious and just the pick me up I needed too having left the house in the middle of the night, forgetting to pack breakfast. It truly filled their home with warmth and spicy sweetness and I think she really loved moving through that grounding ritual before she met her son later that day.

I needed to try preparing one of these Groan Cakes myself after her experience. I craved it. And I got to practice with a bunt pan I’ve been eager to use since my husband and I were married. Detailed below is the recipe from NeoHomsteading.com.   

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2 1/2 cups of flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1 cup sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup orange juice (*I used an organic carrot orange juice)
1/4 cup molasses
11/2 cups grated apple
1 tsp almond extract
*I also added dry shreded coconut, raisins, walnuts and pecans

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Oil or butter the lining of the pan, loaf or bunt you wish to use and sprinkle with flour.
  2. Combine all wet ingredients except for the apple – set aside.
  3. Combine all dry ingredients. Add apple to the dry ingredients aneeded once it’s coated
    add the wet ingredients as well.
  4. Add any extra ingredients of your choice and mix. Then pour into prepared cake tin
    and bake for 35-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
    Let cool before removing from pan. Dust with powdered sugar or frost with cream cheese icing before serving if desired.

* Prodromal labor is categorized as a very long, (meaning days), first stage of labor. Mama will be experiencing contractions however they are very sporadic, some are longer and some are shorter and no real pattern develops and often times no real change to the cervix. Although typically she will not be experiencing the real intensity of her active labor contractions, prodromal labor can be exhausting so it’s important for mama to try to rest and when active have light activities to engage in to distract her.

Enjoy and be well.

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