by Whitney Durrwachter
The smell of a homemade rum cake is intoxicating. And depending on how long it has soaked in spirits, you can almost take that literally. Whether the simple pound cake is fully immersed or lightly sprinkled with rum, that distinct flavor makes this island staple shine. The exact story of how the Bermudian rum cake came to be is elusive. One theory is that its development is linked to the Caribbean “black cakes” that were derived from steamed puddings traditionally made for the holiday season. In these cakes, dried fruit is soaked in rum for months and added to the dough, and the final product is similar to a fruitcake.
The concept of a dessert soaked in rum may have come from hard biscuits being dipped in the rum ration, or “tot,” given to sailors on British Royal Navy ships. Ten years after the rum ration officially ended in 1970, the founder of Pusser’s Rum obtained the formula from the Royal Navy, and the rum was available commercially for the first time. It is a tradition for the Royal Navy to make rum cakes for special occasions using Pusser’s Rum, and Premium British Navy Pusser’s Rum Cakes can be purchased from the brand in collectible tins.
For Kamilah Cannonier, owner of Sweet Saak Bakery in St. Georges, Bermuda, rum cake is such a classic that she has never questioned its history. “It’s just one of those things that’s always been there and never really had to be explained,” she says. There’s no questioning, though, that Bermuda is an island that appreciates good alcohol. Kamilah says, “A good rum cake is like a bartender’s good swizzle in Bermuda.”