Rum Cake Time Machine

The temperate weather and overwhelming politeness of today mask the deliciously seedy history of Nova Scotia’s capital city. These days, Halifax is just literally delicious thanks to Rum Runners Rum Cake Factory.

When I think about prohibition, I think tinkling jazz piano, gangsters and tommy guns, Dorothy Parker at The Algonquin and the high-stakes world of illegal liquor production, distribution, and consumption. Prohibition was also a pretty exciting time in Canada and the United States. In Nova Scotia, entrepreneurs with boats were among the most notable beneficiaries – through rum running. 

Rum Runners’ owner, Gordon Stevens, took me on a trip back in time, describing Halifax’s connection to rum running and how the past influenced the present – their delicious line of cakes and the undeniably fun bakery and storefront on Halifax’s waterfront.

On the port (or starboard?) side, a counter runs the length of the shop that illustrates the increasing sophistication of rum running ships during prohibition – fishing boats and a little good luck to more rugged ships camouflaged to match the sea to purpose-built ships with secret compartments. It’s all a part of our glorious/dubious past.

In an interesting twist, Stevens’ own family connection to rum running came to light when the store was being constructed. Historical family photos around the shop are used to illustrate an often-hidden part of our glorious/dubious past. Information displays describe the history of prohibition in Canada and the United States, the emergence of rum running and “Rum Row,” and the cast of characters involved, including legendary gangster Al Capone. Fun fact: there’s a museum on Saint Pierre & Miquelon that has Al Capone’s hat.

Rum Runners prides itself on serving up a “Delicious Piece of Nova Scotia History,” and it wins on several levels. First, the cakes are everything you want in both a cake and an alcohol-infused dessert. Second, they took the traditional rum cake recipe of “Flour, Butter, Rum [and lots of it]…” and added local flavour to make a product as Nova Scotian as a Sou’Wester. Third, they took history and made it come alive through informative displays in the shop and fun merchandise. Plus, the cake!

And what cakes they are. I approached my tasting with studied precision of an expert cake-eater. First, the golden cake. Soaked in rum and topped with pecans and coconut, it’s the perfect starting point in your rum cake journey. Next the chocolate cake, full of the same cocoa used by Rum Runners’ sister shop, Sugah!, in its range of tasty, unique chocolate bars. The cake itself tastes like a dark chocolate bar with just enough rum to remind you that you are eating a grown-up party in a cake.

I saved the whisky cake for the final course. Drizzled in a heavenly glaze made of Cape Breton’s Glen Breton single malt whisky from Glenora Distillery, the spicy cinnamon, nutmeg and clove cake is meant to be savoured and enjoyed at a leisurely pace. I took it to the office, and everyone thought they missed someone else’s birthday because it was such a tasty treat. (Mostly true story.)

If cake and history aren’t enough, Rum Runners has a bunch of fun products to enjoy with your cake. Books, glassware, water bottles and t-shirts with rum themes and prohibition-style slogans that let you proudly display our glorious/dubious past. I particularly enjoyed these shot glasses, in original and “Nova Scotia” sizes.

Gordon has a lot on the go. Rum Runners is one of a suite of local companies known as the Uncommon Group, which brings the best of Nova Scotia to the world through coffee (Uncommon Grounds), sweets and treats (Sugah!), unique kids’ “gear” (Uncommon Kids), globally-conscious goods (Carbonstok), and, of course, cakes (Rum Runners). The Uncommon Group of companies makes it easy to love supporting local business with fun, unique, high-quality products that will have you known as the hostess par excellence the next time you have friends over. I guarantee you will dazzle them with an amazing spread of coffee, cake, and sweets direct from the Halifax waterfront.

For the record, I had pre-emptively drafted about a dozen pirate-themed titles for this post, the winner being, “Yo ho ho, it’s a piece of cake!” Even though I was off by a hundred years or so, history has never tasted so delicious.

Leave a Reply