As a Naval man, Charles Austen would have been quite familiar with the Rum rations offered at sea, and with his many years in Bermuda and the Caribbean, would, no doubt have been familiar with rum cake, as well. Just as rum was adapted from available resources, so rum cake is a variation on classic Christmas, or Plum Pudding recipes– instead of boiling it for hours in a pudding cloth, however, cooks in the tropics took to baking the ingredients in a cake tin– saving a lot of labor and heat in the kitchen! Rum cake is now sold year round at tourist hotspots and each island has its own specialty flavor and brand.
“So romantic is the history of rum that it has long since been adopted as the drink of the working class man throughout the world. This might be due to its association with the “fighting man” and the strength of victorious sailors fighting for the New World; or perhaps, the defeat of Napoleon’s fleet by Admiral Nelson’s rum drinking crew at the crucial battle of Trafalgar; or maybe down to the swashbuckling, freedom-tales of Caribbean pirates handed down through the centuries. Whichever, it is clear that rum has had a checkered history undeniably linked to the riskier business of the day.
One of the main challenges of sixteenth century sea voyages was providing their crews with a liquid supply to last long journeys. Navy captains turned to the most readily available sources of liquid in the day – water and beer, with no real discrimination made between the two. Water contained in casks was the quicker of the two to spoil by algae, but beer also soured when stored for too long. Royal Navy sailors took to drinking their rations of beer first and water second, sweetening the spoiling water with beer or wine to make it more palatable. The longer the voyage, the larger the cargo of liquid required, and the larger the problems of storage and spoilage would be.
As seafaring vessels entered the Caribbean regions captains took advantage of a cheaper and more readily available source of liquid sold by local sugar cane plantations called “kil devil” – a foul tasting by-product of sugar cane processing which later became known as rum. Rum quickly replaced the beer rations and became an official ration on British navy ships from 1655 onwards. Reportedly these rum rations were causing such a “rumbullion” (drunkenness and discipline problems) amongst the seamen that in 1740 Vice-Admiral Edward Vernon issued an order to dilute rum rations with sugar and lime juice (possibly why the mixture was reputed to fight off the sailors ‘lurgy’ or scurvy). Due to his nickname – the ‘old grog’ – this new mixture attained the new name of ‘grog’.
Dilution ratio’s varied aboard different ships and over time but the tradition continued until ‘black tot day’ on July 30, 1970 when the last “up spirits” rum measure was served aboard Royal Navy ships forever.”*
Classic Rum Cake
1 c. chopped pecans (walnuts will do)
1 18.5-oz. box yellow cake mix (do not use the sort with pudding in the mix)
1 3.75-oz. vanilla pudding mix
1/2 c. cold water
1/2 c. oil
1/2 c. rum
Mix all cake ingredients together. Bake in bundt or tube pan at 325 for one hour. Let cool slightly and remove from pan. Glaze when cool.
1/4 lb. butter
1/4 c. water
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. rum
Melt butter in saucepan. Stir in water and sugar. Boil 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; add rum.
In order to glaze the cake, first use a carving fork to poke holes in the top and sides of the cake. Slowly spoon glaze over cake. It will take a while for the cake to soak up all the glaze. Sometimes it is necessary to let the cake stand for five minutes or so in the midst of glazing so it can absord the liquid. Then continue to glaze the cake until the glaze is all used up.
To purchase your own authentic Bermuda Rum cake– baked on location at the Royal Dockyards, Charles Austen would have been so familiar with, visit Bermudarumcakes.com.
Step by step instructions with photographs can be found at The Pioneer Woman.com
*The history of Rum provided by Barcardi
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