The ‘Groaning Cake (Kimbly)’ from “The Birth House” by Ami McKay

Groaning Cake (for birthing mothers) GF1 by Karen Swan

As Mothers, I know so many women who can handle the loss of evenings out at restaurants or a girls night at the movies, but it’s the loss of time to READ that they find hard to bear.

Reading has always been my ‘thing’.  I would happily pull the plug on the television and shut down my laptop for good, if I was promised a never ending supply of good novels to devour.

In the early days after my son’s birth, I spent hours, no, days sitting on the lounge breastfeeding.  With the help of one of those book seat bean bag thingies, I read and read and read!  There was a time when I was getting through a book a day!  I soon put aside the parenting books and got back into the novels I so love.

Recently, I’ve noticed that I’m plugged in all the time.  I missed reading.  So, I began to stay in bed when I snuggled my son to sleep and pick up a book again, instead of turning on the laptop. I’ve been doing this for a few months now and I’m back to reading a book every other day!  I’ve gone through over 20 books in the past few months!

Recently, I opened, and didn’t want to put down, The Birth House by Ami McKay .  It tells the story of Dora, a young woman living in an isolated village in Nova Scotia, who is taken into the care and guidance of an old, Acadian midwife, Miss Babineau.  Modern medicine and questionable ‘cures’ for women’s health issues (think vibratory treatments for ‘hysteria’!) soon arrive in the village and Dora is left to champion for the rights of women to have some control over what happens to their bodies, how they choose to birth and most importantly, to keep alive the rich traditions and herbal wisdom passed down to her.

I was so sad when I finished this story.  I wanted to stay in Dora’s world a little longer.  I adore a book rich with the traditions and rituals of women, (The Red Tent, The Dove Keepers)  and “The Birth House” delivers.  You’ll feel such affection for these women you’ll find yourself becoming protective of them, urging them to stand up for their rights, cheering as they do.

Included in the book, (along with an amazing herbal A-Z) is the recipe for the cake made within the book’s pages, “The Groaning Cake”.  I was intrigued and inspired.  So I made it!  Certainly, I was much more comfortable baking the cake without the waves of labour washing over me, but I could see how the scents of the ingredients, the rich clove, cinnamon and molasses smell as the cake baked, would soothe the labouring Mother.  I substituted gluten free flour with success, so this is a cake suitable for mothers (or anyone!) with coeliac disease or a gluten intolerance.

I’m curious now to learn about the food or special dishes that other cultures make at the time of birth.  If you have any traditions in your family or cultural history, I’d love you to share them with me!  You can email me,

Author of “The Birth House”, Ami McKay, shares the history of the Groaning Cake and her recipe below:

“Groaning Cake”

The tradition of the groaning cake, or kimbly at (or following) a birth is an ancient one. Wives’ tales say that the scent of a groaning cake being baked in the birth house helps to ease the mother’s pain. Some say if a mother breaks the eggs while she’s aching, her labour won’t last as long. Others say that if a family wants prosperity and fertility, the father must pass pieces of the cake to friends and family the first time the mother and baby are “churched” (or the first time they go to a public gathering) after a birth. Many cultures share similar traditions…a special dish, bread, or drink, spiced with cinnamon, all spice, and/or ginger. At one time there was even a “groaning ale” made to go with it…

I made groaning cake the day of my son’s home birth and my neighbour brought me “health bread” the day after the birth. This recipe is a combination of the two. It has apple, molasses, orange juice and spices and can really help to see a woman through a long labour, or give her strength after the birth!”

'Groaning Cake (Kimbly)' from The Birth House by Ami McKay01


(Makes two 9 X 5 loaves or about 18 muffins.)

2 ½ Cups Flour (I used Well & Good Gluten Free Plain Flour)
3 eggs
2 tsp. Baking powder
½ Cup oil
1 tsp. Baking soda
½ Cup orange juice
2 tsp. Cinnamon
¼ Cup molasses
½ tsp. Ground cloves
1 1/3 Cups sugar
1 ½ cups apple (grated, no skin) (I used 3 x pink lady apples)
1 tsp. Almond extract  (EXTRACT, not ESSENCE!  Use half if using essence)

Groaning Cake (for birthing mothers) GF8


Grease and line 2 x loaf pans

Sift dry ingredients together.

Add apple. Beat eggs.

Add oil, orange juice, molasses and sugar.

Add to dry ingredients.

Mix well. Add almond extract.

Bake at 350 F. (180 C) for 35-40 minutes.

*Additions: raisins, dates, dried fruits, or nuts.

'Groaning Cake (Kimbly)' from The Birth House by Ami McKay08 Do you love reading?

Come and join us over at the MamaBake Book Club and join me for a cup of tea and some reading, won’t you?

The Birth House by Ami Mckay

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