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Origins: Pat-a-Cake, Pat-a-Cake

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Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man,
Bake me a cake as fast as you can.
Pat it and prick it, and mark it with ‘B’
And put it in the oven for baby and me.

Though Pat-a-Cake (sometimes known as patty-cake or pattycake) first appeared in the form we know it in Gamer Gurton’s Garland in 1784, it is rather older.

In Mother Gooses Melody (1765) the rhyme appears as:

Patty Cake, Patty Cake, Bakers’ Man,
That I will Master, As fast as I can
Prick it and prick it, And mark it with a T
And there will be enough for Jackey and me.

The rhyme was certainly known in the late 1690s, too. From Opie,

[Pat-a-cake] was portrayed as an infants’ ditty as early as 1698. In [Thomas] D’Urfey‘s comedy The Campaigners the ‘affected tattling nurse’ murmers endearments as she suckles her charge.
‘Ah Doddy blesse dat pitty face of myn Sylds, and his pitty, pitty hands, and his pitty, pitty foots, and all his pitty things, and pat a cake, pat a cake Bakers man, so I will master as I can, and prick it, and prick it, and prick it, and prick it, and throw’t into the Oven’.

It is unclear when this less popular second verse was added;

Patty cake, patty cake, baker’s man.
Bake me a cake as fast as you can;
Roll it up, roll it up;
And throw it in a pan!
Patty cake, patty cake, baker’s man.

It may be that the rhyme refers to the baking of bread in a communal oven, a practice common in England in the middle ages and early modern era. Websters Online Dictionary describes the tradition;

 The family (usually the woman was in charge of breadmaking) would bake on a fixed schedule, perhaps once a week. The starter was saved from the previous week’s dough. The starter was mixed with the new ingredients, the dough was left to rise, then a piece of it was saved (to be the starter for next week’s bread). The rest was formed into loaves which were marked with the family sign (this is where today’s decorative slashing of bread loaves originates from), and taken to the communal oven to bake. These communal ovens over time evolved into what are known today as bakeries, when certain people specialized in bread baking, and with time enhanced the process so far as to be able to mass produce cheap bread for everyone in the village.

This is, as is so often the case, an educated guess.

2 responses »

  1. I was reading an ancient Mesopotamian text today called ‘Atra-hasis.’ The text covers the creation of mankind to the deluge, and there is a selection describing the goddess Mami (possibly Mommy) creating a second generation of man out of clay. Two analogies are used to describe the creation, one is brick making (possibly in the Pink Floyd sense, as mankind was being created to serve the gods) and the second analogy was breadmaking. What struck me most was that it mentioned Mami marking the flour, which would then ‘bake in the oven (of the womb) until Ishtar has performed a certain function, (Ishtar representing Venus which has a nine-month orbit around the sun, or the same as the human gestation period.) My theory is that the letter being marked indicates a soul, the baking could be the time in the womb. It also makes sense to me because Paddy-cake, or playing paddy cake has become slang for having sex, like in ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit.’ Still, just a theory.

    • That’s a really interesting theory. I’ll definitely look into it and see if there are any more links. The rhyme appears to have originated in the UK, so a link to an Ancient Mesopotamian creation story is fairly unlikely, though the time it was first written down was also a time of great exploration, so who knows!


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