Brand: Lancashire Eccles Cakes Ltd.
Found at: Tesco
As an American living in the UK, I keep running into place names that sound made-up. Newcastle upon Tyne, Blackpool, Ipswich, and Swansea all seem like they’ve been lifted wholesale from the novels of CS Lewis or JRR Tolkien. Asking people about their hometowns, I get the needling impression that they are pulling my leg: that the whole of the UK is somehow named to poke fun at Americans who don’t know any better. I realize the irony, of course, as someone who grew up down the road from such “Wild-West” towns as Elk Plain, New Reliance, and Prairie Ridge. When I talk about visiting the Nisqually Valley, I see the same suspicious look in the eyes of my British classmates, as if they are wondering if I’m just making it up as I go along.
Eccles cakes are just another fine example of this. Like champagne or Turkish delights, these cakes are named for the region from which they come: Eccles, Lancashire. A place that, to my American mind, is clearly fake. Google will tell you that Lancashire is a county on the west coast of England (a little north of center and facing Ireland), but I refuse to believe it. You might as well tell me that it’s east of Hogwarts and just south of Westeros, because there is no way that the towns of Wigan, Sale, and Bootle are not taken from works of fiction.
Personally, I think that these cakes should have been marketed under their alternate name, so as to avoid this kind of confusion. “Squashed Fly Cake” is a far better moniker anyway, and I can’t think of why Lancashire Eccles Cakes Ltd. would not have adopted it for their cause. Though it may not be “traditionally marketable,” it’s a far better descriptor of what these cakes actually look like: their dark brown raison and current filling does indeed look like it could have come from the bottom of a fly trap. Thankfully, that’s where the similarities end, as these cakes taste pleasantly of blended dried fruit and flakey pastry. It’s an old-fashioned flavor, certainly, but I was surprised and delighted to discover how much I liked it. It was a perfect treat with a cup of tea on a hot summer day – sweet and sticky, but not too rich. It reminds me of an English version of a Chinese wife cake, with crumbly crust and sweet filling – but if there is a connection, I cannot find it.
I just wish they had not made up an entire county just to market it. We consumers are far too clever for that.