Today we'll be observing another ancient custom with a slice of Simnel cake.
The name 'simnel' comes from simila, the Latin word for fine, wheaten flour, and it is a fruit cake – not unlike a Christmas cake – covered in a thick coating of marzipan and, sometimes, with another layer of marzipan or almond paste baked into the middle of the cake. Yummy!
The cake is decorated, around the top, with eleven marzipan balls representing the true disciples of Jesus (Judas being excluded) and, in some cases, with single, larger, ball of marzipan placed in the centre of the cake to represent Christ. Today, they could well feature a few fluffy chicks and be dotted with mini-chocolate eggs, but there are many kinds of variations on the Simnel cake tradition.
Although the cake is now an Easter treat (and, so, is often just called 'Easter Cake'), but in the 18th and 19th Centuries, it was associated with Mothering Sunday (or, as we now more commonly refer to it, 'Mother's Day') which falls a few weeks earlier than Easter, on the fourth Sunday in Lent – a day which has been known by many other old names, among them 'Refreshment Sunday' so called because it was marked by a relaxation of the Lenten fast and was the day in the year when people made the pilgrimage to their 'mother church' where they had received the sacrament of baptism.
Since it was often the same church as the one in which their family had been baptized, it meant that children who were working away from home as domestic servants or apprentices, had an opportunity to be with their parents and pay their respects to their earthly – along with their spiritual – mother. Many girls working as maids and kitchen staff in the 'big houses' would often take their mothers a homemade Simnel cake, baked in their employers' kitchens.
Lesson over; now, just cut a slice –– and tuck in!