Superstitions & Cakes

Have you thought of superstitions in relation to cakes? We like to think that certain beliefs belong to the past or to the less educated. The truth is that old beliefs and customs permeate our daily life, regardless of where we live, even if we are not aware of them. Often hidden, but they are there lurking in the background waiting for us to discover them and enjoy the brief enlightenment.

Many of the superstitions we are aware of became laughable by the 21st century but with a closer look we can see that the majority of them emerged to serve a purpose. They existed for centuries to ensure the wellbeing of communities and to protect the environment. Of course, there are funny ones that we can easily ignore and no harm will befall us but the practical ones are worth to remember and treasure for more than one reason. In this case, one of the reasons is that thanks to a certain belief, my childhood was filled with walnut cakes of the most varied kinds.

Walnut trees reigned every garden of my very Hungarian childhood. My paternal grandparents lived in the proper countryside, with cows returning home seemingly on their own after grazing, the backyards were filled with the noise of the poultry and some kept horses and oxens too to help work on the fields. (Note: These horses were real giants, not the delicate ones used for riding. Everything was practical. Fun and romance was not part of everyday life as nowadays people prefer to think of real country life! I had to comment on this at least once in my life. I was there, saw it, lived it, it’s sweat and blood, period.) My maternal grandparents lived on the outskirts of my birth town, which I wouldn’t call a village but it was also home to families with big gardens and ancient looking walnut trees. The moment my family moved from a flat into a house, my father planted a walnut tree and the neighbouring gardens also possess one of them. Understandably, walnut was always part of our diet, never in my life I had to buy it from the shop. Until recently.

Only when I moved to the UK for a few years I realized what a luxury it was. A handful of these nuts was so pricey that I couldn’t afford it at that stage of my life. Sadly, a few years ago walnut trees started to decay country-wide due to various diseases, which likely are connected to the climate crisis. The tree in my family’s garden is affected too, the harvest becomes rotten well before it would drop off the tree, which means I am forced to purchase this delicacy at the market these days from the lucky ones, whose trees are still healthy and generous.

I knew nothing about what lies in our obsession of planting walnut trees in every possible place until I found a reference to an old belief. It stated that walnut trees protect us from evil forces. Isn’t it wonderful? Searching for more information I found that the same superstition exists in neighbouring countries and farther away too. The walnut tree is considered sacred, even the druids used it in their sorcery. It is the tree of gods and semigods, Mohammedans respected it the same way as Christians, Catholics, and the ancient Greeks. It is considered the tree of witches who dance it around when the night falls.

I have found references to witch hunts the memorials of which could be researched in the archives of my birth town. I haven’t done an extensive research in the topic, but interestingly, it seems that a walnut tree can be both dangerous and protective. Either way, I am grateful for their existence. In addition to their beauty, they provide shade and delicious cakes.

Until I can tell you more about the topic, see the photos of the traditional walnut and poppy seed cake I made for Christmas. Poppy seed… an other exciting ingredient!

In any case, I would advise to approach walnut trees with due respect. For that matter, we should approach all living things with due respect.

Walnuts still on the tree in their bright green shells.

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