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Tag Archives: Thomas D’Urfey

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.