J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, January 06, 2007

Dr. G's Twelfth Night Plumb Cake

On Thanksgiving, I quoted novelist Royall Tyler’s account of that celebration in a genteel Yankee household, written for The Bay Boy, a never-finished revision of his bestselling novel, The Algerine Captive. Writing in the 1820s, Tyler insisted The Bay Boy contained authentic descriptions of life in pre-Revolutionary Boston—but he reserved the right to shift dates and details as his memory or sense of storytelling dictated. I therefore take his descriptions as basically authentic, but a little exaggerated for comic effect and not necessarily confined to colonial times.

The narrator of The Bay Boy is a young doctor in training, and his mentor is apparently based on Dr. Silvester Gardiner, Boston’s top surgeon in the 1750s. By the 1770s Gardiner had retired from daily practice in favor of making money through real estate and importing medicines for other doctors to prescribe.

Like Gardiner, Tyler's character “Dr. G.” is an Anglican and a fervent Loyalist. Before Thanksgiving he tells his trainee, “Eat your pumpkin pudding wherever you please. I hope, however, you will take your Christmas pie with me.” And what a Christmas feast it is!

Here’s the centerpiece of Dr. G’s “supper and ball” on Twelfth Night:

Our attention was undividedly attracted by a large dressed plumb cake on the center of the table, on the ample top of which might be seen the sugar huntsmen and hounds pursuing the stag thro’ groves of box twigs tipped with gold, while the center was covered by a large royal crown with G. R. flaming in gold on its fillet.
That would be “Georgius Rex,” the Latin monogram of King George III.
This cake had been ingeniously severed into slices, held together by its top. In one of its compartments it was understood that an almond, commonly called a bean, was concealed and the young lady who was fortunate enough to select that piece was according to the tradition of our English ancestors pretty sure, if a suitable offer was made in due season, to become a bride before the next Christmas holiday.
And now I’m off to take down this year’s wreath.

1 comment:

gato said...

Hello I enjoyed reading the front page of your blog very much and I will go through the archives next. What I often think about when reading about history or seeing history programs is how hungry those people probably were. That is, the majority of them couldn't afford to eat cakes, meat, etc, as much as they would have liked to.

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