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Whereby a Bideford Baking Mishap Inspired a Chapter in Anne of Green Gables

A certain baking mishap took place during LM Montgomery’s stay at the Bideford Parsonage in 1894/95 that was so entertaining it stuck in her memory for the next decade. In 1905, Montgomery found the occasion to pluck this memory from her mind and weave it into the pages of what would become her most famous novel, Anne of Green Gables.

And so it is that Chapter 21 of the book will always hold a special place in our hearts.  Fittingly titled ‘A New Departure in Flavourings’, many readers refer to the chapter simply as ‘The Liniment Cake Story’ or ‘Anne’s Disaster Cake’.  Both of these titles, while not as poetic as Montgomery’s, accurately describe the amusing and rather mortifying incident Anne Shirley finds herself in during a Wednesday tea with special guests. 

In the novel, Marilla hosts Mr and Mrs Allan, the new minister and his wife, for Wednesday tea. Anne has already decided she very much likes Mrs Allan because she encourages her Sunday school students to ask questions. As we well know, Anne’s curiosity knows no bounds, so she sees Mrs Allan as a kindred spirit.

Anne volunteers to bake a layered cake, intent on impressing Mrs Allan. She frets to Diana about the cake coming out wrong, even though she’s baked it many times. Lo and behold, when she pulls the cake from the oven it is perfect in every way. It is only after everyone sits down to enjoy the cake, that the disaster becomes evident. 

While Mrs Allan puts on a brave face when she takes a bite, so as to spare Anne’s feelings, Marilla cuts to the chase after sampling her slice. Something is very awry – the flavour of the cake is, well, quite horrible. Anne insists the only flavouring she’s added is vanilla from the bottle in the pantry. Marilla then realizes what has happened – Anne has used an old bottle labelled ‘Pure Vanilla’, but it is the very same bottle that Marilla poured liniment oil into the week previous after breaking the original bottle the topical lotion came in. 

Anne is beyond distraught and flees to her bedroom and begins sobbing. Mrs Allan finds her way to Anne’s bedroom and helps her see that there’s some humour in the mistake and that anyone could have made it. Anne finds consolation in the fact that she never makes the same mistake twice, thus when she’s made every possible mistake once, she’ll live a mistake-free life from then on. 

And so concludes one of the many endearing tales within the novel that has ensured its timeless and universal appeal. After all, haven’t we all found ourselves in at least one situation where our efforts to impress someone we admired were turned upside down and embarrassment ensued? 

We love Chapter 21 for its gentle message – mistakes happen, but we also love it because the inspiration was drawn straight from a baking mishap that Lucy Maud Montgomery witnessed first-hand during her stay at the Bideford Parsonage.  

As she relates in ‘The Alpine Path’, Montgomery’s hosts at the parsonage were the Reverend Estey and his young wife, Mrs Estey. One evening the Esteys hosted a visiting minister for tea. Mrs Estey served a layered cake which she accidentally flavoured with anodyne liniment. The visiting minister didn’t reveal his true feelings about the cake, however, he did eat the entire slice. Whether he was being polite or actually enjoyed this newfangled cake flavour, we will never know! 

During your visit to the Bideford Parsonage Museum, you’ll see the kitchen where Mrs Estey prepared the ‘original’ liniment cake. Our passionate guides also have all sorts of other  intriguing stories and insights about Montgomery’s time at Bideford to share with you. We look forward to welcoming you and we promise we won’t serve you cake that tastes like a topical lotion! 

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