By howard, Mar 15 2016 04:42PM
n 1793 James Birch's shop on the corner of Vicarage Road in Eccles began selling small, flat, raisin-filled cakes. They sold, quite literally, like hot cakes!
Earlier, in 1769, Mrs Elizabeth Raffald, the housekeeper and owner of a confectioner's shop in Arley Hall, Cheshire, wrote an influential cookery book, "The Experienced English Housekeeper" which became a best seller. The book contained a recipe for "sweet patties" with ingredients identifiably similar to the Eccles cakes of today. Could this have been the recipe seized upon by a cookery-mad servant girl who took a copy of the book with her when she went to live in ... Eccles?
Whatever the murky origins of the cakes, James Birch was certainly the first person credited with selling them on a commercial basis. They were sold from a shop at the corner of Vicarage Road and St Mary's Road (now known as Church Street) in Eccles.
However, the story becomes lost in the mists of time. Although the shop's letterhead in the 1870s showed that the firm was established in 1796, the land tax returns show that a James Birch first appeared as a "shopkeeper" in Eccles in 1785.
Whether James Birch made a name for his cakes in the 1780s, in 1796, or indeed some time later, is now impossible to say. It is equally impossible to construct a link between James Birch and Elizabeth Raffald (who died four years before the opening of Birch's shop).
More recently the question of origin of Eccles Cakes has been raised in Parliament. A question was tabled regarding the future of cakes made outside Eccles to the same ingredients. Could non Eccles-made cakes still be referred to (and sold) as Eccles cakes?
Although traditionally made in the town from where they get their name, Eccles cakes are now famous throughout the world.
As early as 1818 they were said to be sold "at all the markets and fairs around and are even exported to America and the West Indies".
Eccles Cakes are sometimes, though always with affection, referred to as 'dead fly pies'!