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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Simnel Cake for Mothering Sunday

Early Christians in England used the fourth Sunday of Easter to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of Christ, and also, "mother church".  People traditionally visited the Cathedral of their diocese on this day, gathering together with extended family and loved ones there.

In the 1600s, a clerical decree was made that the day would be broaden to include honoring not only Mary and mother Church, but also, earthly mothers.  It came to be known as "Mothering Sunday".

Mothering Sunday was traditionally a day for apprentices and servant girls to go home to visit family.  They brought with them the present of a simnel cake made for their mothers, to be enjoyed on this special day at the midpoint of Lent.  Daughters presenting cakes were then, in turn, given a blessing by their mothers who were, no doubt, overjoyed to see them on this special day.  This process, along with the visitation of the cathedral, was known as  "going-a-mothering".

Leighton-Call to Arms
Edmund Blair Leighton [Public domain],
 via Wikimedia Commons
This day was also customarily a day for matchmaking, the announcement of the engagements of young couples, and the only day during the entire Lenten season when marriages were solemnized.  For all of these customs, a special meal would be celebrated, to include a desert that was forbidden for all other days in Lent.

Simnel cake is a light fruit cake made with dried fruits and zest with a layer of almond past bakes into the center. Around the edge of the cake are eleven marzipan balls, which represent the true disciples of Jesus.  Judas, of course, is not included.  In medieval times, the cake was often stamped with the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Like many Christian traditions, this one probably developed over time as a combination of many observances through the centuries, from honoring of ancient Greeks and Romans of "mother gods" and its collision with early Christianity, and on down through the Christian centuries.  Like Christmas, Easter, and other Christian observances, we have the choice to saturate this tradition with Christ and embrace it to enrich our Christian homes...or reject it out of fear that it is somehow tainted by historic influences.

As regular readers of this blog know, we choose to embrace our historic Christian traditions and see Christ in all things.  In keeping with this orientation, I was gifted with a lovely Simnel cake prepared by my talented daughter and touched by her creative follow up a lovely dinner made by my awesome husband.  Truly, I am blessed.

The recipe, that Elyse used, is the first recipe here.  This recipe make about 10 cups of batter.  A guide for pan size options is here.  Elyse used a well known candy in place of the marzipan balls.  The nest is cotton candy.

The Laetere period is considered to begin the Wednesday before Mothering Sunday, and end the Wednesday after.  Next Thursday, this blog will quietly reenter the desert of the Lenten season.

For more about Mothering Sunday, visit here.

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