Remembering the Tradition of ‘Mothering Sunday’ and Simnel Cakes (with Recipe)
It is the day of all the year
Of all the year the one day.
And here comes I, my Mother dear
To bring you cheer,
A-mothering on Sunday
Long before America engaged in Mother’s Day, even dating as far back as the Middle Ages, Europeans honored their mothers on the fourth Sunday of Lent, otherwise known as Mothering (or Simnel) Sunday. This was the one day each year when the European laborers, apprentices, and servants were allowed a holiday to return home and honor their mothers. Their Lenten fast was allowed to be broken, and all children would bake their mothers a special type of cake, a fruit cake with marzipan, that would then be enjoyed by the entire family on their day of rest. This was a special time and often the only time older children would see their mothers all year, which made it all the more important and special.
Simnel Cake Recipe (from 19th century)
- 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) sweet butter at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups Sugar
- 4 large eggs
- 2 cups unbleached flour
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 3/4 cup currants (or raisins)
- 3/4 cup candied fruit peel, ground fine in a food processor *
- 8 oz. almond paste (available ready-made in cans)
- Confectioner’s sugar
- Candied violets or marzipan fruits for garnish (optional)
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Sift the flour with the salt, and separate into three parts, blending each portion into the egg-butter-sugar mixture thoroughly. Fold in the currants (or raisins) and candied fruit peel and mix lightly.
- Grease an 8 to 10 inch round cake pan, and line with waxed paper or greased parchment paper.
- Pour half the batter into the pan. Roll out half the almond paste into a circle between two sheets of waxed paper. Remove the top sheet of waxed paper, and place the circle of almond paste onto the top of the batter. Peel off the remaining piece of waxed paper. Add the remaining batter into the pan.
- Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the cake pulls away slightly from the inside of the pan. Roll out the remaining almond paste into a circle between two sheets of waxed paper. (You can also roll the marzipan into balls like many ancient recipes, and decorate the top with these small balls of almond paste.) Place the circle of almond paste (and any other almond paste decorations) on the top of the cake, and return the cake to the oven for another 10 minutes.
- Pull the cake out and let cool for 30 minutes on a baking rack. To remove the cake from the pan, run a knife along the inside edge of the pan, and turn out carefully. Sprinkle the top of the cake with confectioner’s sugar as desired, and decorate or garnish with candied violets or marzipan fruits around the outer edges.
*Note: Candied fruit peels are sometimes harder to get, but they are very easy to make yourself. Peel oranges, lemons, and limes into long strips and place on a cookie sheet. Dissolve 2 cups sugar into 1/2 cup of water in a heavy saucepan and stir over medium heat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Raise the heat, cover, and bring to a rapid boil for 3 minutes, then uncover and boil for an additional 3 minutes. Brush the fruit peel with the glaze. After it dries, chop the fruit peel into desired sizes, or pop into a food processor to chop thoroughly.