This is a local recipe from Bedfordshire to celebrate St. Catherine’s Day on the 25th of November, with cakes which were also named after Catherine of Aragon, a famous Tudor inhabitant of the county. The traditions of Catterning are very similar to those of Souling celebrated on the 2nd November (All Soul’s Day). Indeed, Charlotte Burn, in 1914, argued persuasively that these were all aspects of the same custom.
“The traditions of Catterning were first mentioned in 1730 and like ‘souling‘ beggars and children went around on the 25th November to houses singing and knocking on doors for cakes and breads, (in some counties it was for apples and beer).” However, Charlotte Burn, noted that Catterning, unlike Souling, was (probably) mainly a tradition for women, and/or women dressed up like men.
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.”
Catterning Cakes Recipe
- 900g Bread dough
- 60g butter (soft)
- 60g sugar
- 1 egg (beaten)
- 2 tsp caraway seeds.
Dough made with yeast, as for bread (see below). Take the dough you made and then further knead well with the soft butter, caraway seeds, sugar and beaten egg. Leave to rise in a warm place for 2 hours. After 2 hours gently knock back the dough. Tear tennis ball sized pieces of dough off and shape them into rounds, place on floured baking tin, push them down a little flatter, leave for thirty minutes for a second rise, and then bake in a moderate oven (180C to 190C) for 2 hours.
For The Bread Dough
- 800g plain white bread flour – unbleached stoneground (plus extra for dusting etc.)
- 1tsp of salt (sea salt ground)
- 600ml of warm water (1 part boiling, 2 parts cold)
- either – 24g of dried yeast & 1 tsp sugar (make up according to instructions)
- or – 50g of fresh yeast & 1 tsp of sugar (make up according to instructions)
Dried Yeast: If using dried yeast as a raising agent – in a small bowl or jug pour in half the warm water, (300ml) dissolve in the sugar, and sprinkle in the yeast and whisk it thoroughly. Leave to sit for 10 minutes in a warm place to allow the yeast to start to work. Check to see if the yeast is rising. After about 4–5 minutes, it will have a creamy and slightly frothy appearance on top. Do not allow the yeast to sit longer than 12 minutes before using, leaving it too long will exhaust the yeast before it is in the dough. When ready, stir and pour in all the remaining warm water 300ml.
Fresh Yeast: If using fresh yeast you need twice as much fresh yeast as dried yeast and you must use it in half the time after activating it. Make in exactly the same way as above.
Make The Bread Dough
Into a large mixing bowl sift in the flour and sprinkle over the ground sea salt, (mix the ground salt in well with the flour, so it does not interfere with the yeast when added) then make a well in the centre. Add the yeast water into the well and bring the flour and water together into a dough with a knife, wooden spoon, or your fingertips
Add some more plain white bread flour (if needed) until you form a firm dough which you can knead, it should still be on the ’sticky’ side, but not so that it is difficult to remove from the bowl. You are looking for it to be springy and elastic. Take the dough out of the bowl and onto a flat floured work surface.
Start kneading the dough to make your Bread for 7 minutes (kneading dough is a ‘push-pull’ technique to break the gluten and starches down in the flour). If sticking to the work surface sprinkle over a little extra flour, it will probably need a few casts of extra flour over the 7 minutes, but do not over do it. When ready it will become satiny and when pressed with a finger tip the indentation in the dough will rise back out. Then use in the Catherine Cakes as directed above.
St. Catherine was a noted Christian saint and martyr, with sources putting her as a scholar in the early 4th century. On her Martyrdom, as a Christian living among pagans she was condemned to death on the breaking wheel, an instrument of torture (the latter-day inspiration for the firework called the ‘Catherine Wheel’). Yet according to legend the wheel itself broke when she touched it, so she was beheaded instead, in defiance of this miracle. In the late middle ages St. Catherine was one of the most influential saints and her feast day on November 25th was a very popular one – and still remains so amongst practising Catholics.
Catherine of Aragon was born on the 16th December 1485, and died on the 7th January 1536 – she was also known as Katherine or Katharine, and she was the first wife of King Henry VIII. And also previously she was the first wife to Henry’s older brother, Arthur, Prince of Wales who died young. She lived in Bedfordshire as the Queen of England, at Ampthill, from 1531 to 1533, until Henry VIII divorced her, and these local cakes also celebrate 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.