Lessons from a Pirate Ship Cake

By Heather Shumaker
Yes! We eat it. The pirate ship cake is exciting to make, but devouring it is part of the process.

Yes! We eat it. The pirate ship cake is exciting to make, but devouring it is part of the process.

My kindergartener loves pirates, so we concocted a pirate cake for his birthday party. I love the process of turning a child’s wish into reality. The ship was three-tiered, complete with poop deck, bowsprit, topsails, gun ports and a chocolate wafer plank. All told, it took eight hours to make. Then we plunged a knife in through the chocolate frosted deck boards and devoured it.

“How could you eat something like that?” people asked. “It’s too beautiful to eat…all that work…”

Elaborate cakes give me joy, but it’s the joy of creative process I love most.  The cake itself is ephemeral. Concocted, created with great enthusiasm, then… GONE.

It reminds me how important process is to children when they create art. The delight comes from experimenting and bringing something to life. It’s the action of art that’s important for kids, not the final product. Asking “how” questions when a child shows us artwork helps keep the focus on the process.  Next time a child shows you a painting or drawing, ask an action question “How did you do that?”

The cake itself has been reduced to crumbs. The Playmobil pirate guys are back in the living room, the frosting scraped off their feet. The cake is gone, but the fact that it was created lives on.  What we create stays with us. The process shapes us. The joy it gives prompts us to do more. What will be our next creative endeavor?

Creating edible art helps us practice the art of letting go. This is an essential life skill – it helps us accept change, accept death, and refocus life to center on relationships and experiences rather than ‘stuff.’ Besides, what’s the good of keeping it?  A cake will only get moldy.  Better to eat the pirate ship while it’s still fresh and marvelous.

And, of course, moving on to the next stage is also delicious.

What do you hang on to? How do you practice letting go and moving on? What’s your latest creation?

~                      ~                    ~

For those of you curious about the pirate ship cake process:

IMG_5104I built the ship in three layers, using up three cake mixes. The ship was longer than a 13x 9 pan, so I had to cut and piece cake together with frosting.  Using a pattern helps keep the shape consistent between the layers.





Pretzel rods made an excellent “wooden” bowsprit and taff rail around the ship. I attached the pretzels to the tootsie roll stanchions with dabs of frosting.  The cannon balls are malted milk balls.  Buckets are made of rollos.  The plank is a chocolate wafer cookie. I made the gun ports by poking in black licorice pieces and outlining them with colored frosting.



IMG_5123To make an ocean I just directly frosted the wooden cutting board used as a base, making “waves” with swirls of extra frosting. I originally hoped to make edible sails or at least masts made of pretzels rods, but paper ones worked better.  The sails are cardstock paper poked by wooden barbeque skewers (pretzel rods were too fat to do that). I added skewers at the bottom of each sail for the yards, and the crow's nest is made of cardstock, too.






Finishing touches – pirate figurines, pirate gold, extra supply of swords, tiny treasure map and Calico Jack’s pirate flag flying off the stern.







9 responses to “Lessons from a Pirate Ship Cake”

  1. deidra says:

    WOW is all I can say!

  2. What a great mom! I would've killed for a birthday cake like that when I was 8 yrs old.

    My weakness is hanging on to financial documents way past when I need to. Not sure why, I just do, but am mentally working up to the day I start shredding the oldest of them.

    I have no trouble eating any culinary masterpiece either I've created (rare) or have eaten in a finer restaurant (a bit less rare, but we don't eat out at fancy places very often).


  3. Erika Cedillo says:

    I loved your post!! Thanks for the reminder of focusing on to the process, the memories, the experiences and relationships... and to let go.
    I hang on to every single craft my children do as if I would like to document every stage and how their abilities evolve. What I've came up to is to create a digital file so I take a picture of everything and now I have a big digital photo album that only takes virtual space but that I can go back to and see their crafts. Then I just choose the very special ones and I restrict myself to just 3 (well maybe 4-5) for every 6 months or so and then let go the rest because all are in photos.

  4. M Brown says:

    Thank you for this story. It's a good reminder to me to be present moment-to-moment. Also, you remind me of a Dan Hodgins quote: "Always be yourself. Unless you can be a pirate. Then, always be a pirate."

  5. jannette says:

    where did you get the pattern?

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