Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Cake, Kuchen, Koek, Kake, Kolač, Cacen, Keke, Kage, Kuko*, Keyk

When my niece Emily was little, she couldn't manage my name (Kate) and instead called me Cake. In spite of the fact that I don't like actual cake (I wish I had been Aunt Pie or Aunt Lemon Square), I liked the moniker.

So, what's in the name? Where does the word cake come from. It has a connection to the Old Norse word kaka (phew, dodged a bullet with that linguistic evolution...unless you live in modernday Sweden). But I can't help but feel that somewhere, far up in the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) branches there is a connection to the verb cook.**

I'm picturing early man, pre-fire, making a "batter" of ground up roots and water and eating it two-finger style (like poi).

Then, fire. Same mixture + hot stone = a cooked thing. Let's call it a cook....or koek or kaka.

Then, iron. Same mixture + hot pan = cook/koek/cake in a pan. Let's call it a pan cake.

Then, leaveners. Same mixture + leavener + hot pan = pan cake but taller

Now we've got the hang of it. Let's make a small version. Let's call it a cookie.

And now, let's bake that cookie not once but twice (because now we have an oven, yo). Let's call it a biscuit, biscotto, or zweiback.

Actually, near as I can tell (or near as the brains behind the OED can tell), the process went the other way around. The original cake was a hard little twice-cooked hockey puck suitable for nomads and other journeyers. (Oh, P.S., johnnycakes, journeycakes.) But I like my story better.

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*Esperanto. As in "Shut your kuko-hole."
**For you linguistic pedants out there, I am aware that the original connection to the Latin verb coquere has been discredited. But that brings me to one of the Latin words for cake, which is placenta.