Sunday, April 3, 2011

Mothering Sunday and Simnel Day

The fourth Sunday in Lent is Mothering Sunday, or Mother's Day in England and has been celebrated since the 16th century. Originally, it was a festival day that honoured the blessed Virgin Mary, the role model for all Mothers and indeed, she who is considered to be the mother of us all. It became a day to honour all Mothers. Mothers are given a gift and a card often. Some Churches actually give flowers to the children of the congregation to present to their mothers.

Another aspect of this festival is the visit to the 'Mother Church' which either is the local cathedral or the Church where an individual received his/her baptism. The tradition was known as 'going a mothering'. In previous centuries, those who were in service usually were given the day off to visit their Mothers. Often it was the only day in the year when they were allowed an entire day to visit their families. The housekeeper or cook would allow maids in the household to bake a cake to take home to their mothers. Other special gifts might be a rare flower from the hothouse or fresh eggs.

The special cake baked on Mothering Day was the Simnel Cake and for this reason, Mothering Sunday is known as Simnel Sunday as well.

Robert Herrick wrote:

'I'll to thee a Simnell bring 'gainst thou go'st a mothering,
So that, when she blesseth thee, half that blessing thou'lt give to me.'

A Simnel Cake is a traditional fruit cake frosted with a layer of marzipan with 11 marzipan balls to represent, it is said, the eleven loyal apostles who did not betray Our Lord. The Simnel Cake could not be eaten until Easter as Mothering Sunday always occurred during Lent. It therefore was a cake that would improve with age, as do most heavy fruit cakes.

Nowadays, many people simply make the Simnel Cake on Easter rather than preparing it on Mothering Day during the Lenten Fast, although the Lenten Fast is a practice that is not honoured universally in te 21st century. There was a time, however, when Lenten Fasts actually were enforced by the Church.

A Recipe for a traditional Simnel Cake:

300g or 10 oz. self raising flour
1/2 teaspoon mixed spices
100g or 4 oz. butter
110g or 4 oz. brown sugar
2 tablespoons of golden syrup
350g or 12 oz. of mixed dry fruit
2 eggs
100 ml of milk for mixing

700g. Marzipan
2 tablespoons of icing sugar

Oven: 150 C or 325 F

Mix the butter into the flour by hand, then add the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Add the Golden syrup and eggs. Add sufficient milk to form a soft but not liquid mass. Stir well to combine all ingredients, then pour half the mixture into a greased deep round 8 inch tin. Divide the Marzipan into three equal parts.

Roll out one third of the marzipan and place on top of the mixture in the tin. Add the rest of the cake mixture and make the surface smooth, then bake for 1 to 1 1/4 hours until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean.

Let the cake cool for ten minutes, and turn it out onto a rack. Roll out another third of the marzipan. Mix icing sugar with a little water to form a paste and pour this on the top of the cake, then place the rolled marzipan on top.

Make a little pattern with a fork or other implement round the edges of the marzipan.

Form 11 balls of equal size with the remainder of the marzipan, dip each into the icing sugar mixture, then place on the edges of the cake to form a circle.

If you wish, you can pour the rest of the icing sugar mixture into the very centre of the cake and add ornaments or other decorations such as flowers.

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