Surprising guests by hiding things in pastry goes back to Ancient Rome. Stuffing one animal inside another was a particular treat. A guest might carve into the belly of a cow to find an entire roasted pig inside. Inside the pig? A lamb, a rabbit, a chicken, and a mouse.
Medieval banquets often featured recipes meant to shock and entertain as much as nourish. They included live eel pie, dead animals made to look alive and live animals made to look dead. Chefs enjoyed splicing together bits of different creatures to make a beast they called a cockentrice. The bizarre Cockentrice combined a pig and a chicken into one “new” animal.
The next step was humans encased in pies or cakes. At a banquet hosted by famed French engineer Philippe Le Bon, an enormous meat pie containing a reported twenty-eight musicians, men and children, who played as the giant crust was opened. In 1626, the Duke and Duchess of Buckingham presented Charles I with a pie from which emerged a dwarf. Jeffrey Hudson arose from the crust, 18 inches (45 cm) tall and dressed in a miniature suit of armor. Queen Henrietta Maria was delighted with “Lord Minimus” and accepted him as an amusing gift.
Decadence, money and murder
If you associate girls jumping out of cakes with decadence, money and murder, it’s probably because of the Pie Girl Dinner.
By the 1800s, the humans buried in pastry seemed to be limited to attractive women at decadent parties. In 1895, wealthy New York City architect, Stanford White, hosted a party for about 50 prominent gentlemen and socialites, including Edward Simmons, Nicola Tesla, and Charles Dana Gibson. The night would forever be remembered as “The Pie Girl Dinner.” The blonde “Pie Girl”, sixteen-year-old Susie Johnson, wore a skimpy one-piece suit and a stuffed black bird on her head.
The pie divided as if by magic, and, falling apart, disclosed Susie Johnson, the sixteen-year-old model. A great bevy of canaries, which had been inclosed with her, flew into the room and perched on the easels, on the pictures, anywhere they could find refuge. Then there was a great shout […] and the young model was lifted from the table to the floor. She was dressed in filmy black gauze.
On Sunday, a seven-column of Susie capering on the table–most of her nudity blurred–filled the first page of the Sunday World Supplement. Only a small amount of text described the dinner.
When White was murdered by Harry Kendall Thaw, the whole country read about the “bacchanalian revels” AGAIN as part “The Trial of the Century.”
And Susie Johnson? She abruptly disappeared. Some sensational newspaper accounts associated Stanford White with the girl’s downfall and disappearance. More than a decade later, newspapers reported that Susie had subsequently married, but when her husband found out about her past he had thrown her out of the house. In one version, friendless and forgotten, she committed suicide.
By the 1950s, it became downright mainstream for bachelor parties, office wingdings, and conventions to feature an attractive woman in a giant cake—usually in a skimpy bathing suit, or completely nude, depending on the audience and event. The cakes were decidedly real. An AP newspaper article in 1975 interviewed a longtime San Francisco baker who made his living charging $2,000 a pop to construct fancy layered confections with empty cylinders inside, just large enough to hide an exotic dancer.
A cake jumper could make as much as $50 at the time, about $217 in today’s dollars, the article claims.
By the end of the 1970s, the popularity of women inside cakes faded as more and more women joined the workplace. Scantily clad women in cakes would have been a little. ..awkward at company functions.
However, women jumping out of cakes has become such a part of pop culture, that the astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle used it as a metaphor to describe the beginning of the universe as a “party girl jumping out of the cake.”
Siobhan O’Shea is a freelance writer. She writes about pretty much everything but especially likes to bring readers’ attention to new tech, marketing, human behavior, and other oddities.