Atlas Obscura writes about fortune-telling cakes. I have to admit that I never heard of them! Fascinating ---
On one recent Tuesday night, I texted my friend Katie and asked her to come over to make some fortune-telling flatbread. When she showed up, wary but game, I explained a bit more. We were going to bake a dumb cake. The name, by the way, isn’t meant to describe a poorly-thought-out pastry. Instead, it was the main event of a baking ritual conducted by young, unmarried women across the United Kingdom and North America from the 1700s up to the mid-1900s. Universally, the goal was the same: to discover the identity of their future husbands with what one encyclopedia called “a dreaming bread.”
Dumb cakes were once part of an enormous tradition of soothsaying foodstuffs. Rings hidden in cakes and mashed potatoes could reveal who was next to be wed, while an apple peel tossed over your shoulder might very well fall into the shape of the first initial of your future spouse. These traditions took place on the liminal, celebratory days of the year, when mystical or seasonal change was nigh: Halloween, Christmas Eve, and solstices, for example.
But making dumb cakes wasn’t often considered a fun party game for a group. Instead, it was more like a spooky, complicated sleepover game, such as “Bloody Mary,” the ghost-summoning ritual conducted with a mirror. But instead of seeing a gore-covered spirit, these duos or trios of girls hoped to see their future husbands in a dream.