A Shropshire tradition that's spread around the world
The simnel cake is one of those lovely English traditions that make the rest of the world look at us a bit strangely. In earlier times a simnel cake would have been taken home by a girl in service when she visited her mother on Mothering Sunday.
Once a tradition for Mothering Sunday or mid-Lent, the simnel cake is now eaten at Easter.
There are many recipes for simnel cake, and the dictionary describes it in a way that bears little resemblance to the version we are familiar with now.
The idea was that a girl who hadn't seen her mother in six months - since the last hiring fair - would be allowed to take home a cake made of whatever ingredients were available.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, there was 'a kind of bread or bun made of fine flour and prepared by boiling, sometimes with subsequent baking' or 'a thick copped Cake, or Loaf made of white Bread, Knodden up with Saffron and Currans' or 'a plumb-cake having a raised crust for the exterior'.
In Jersey, a simnel was 'a kind of thin biscuit made of the finest wheaten flour and water.'
But now, probably the best known recipe for a simnel cake is the Shrewsbury recipe. We thought as far as baking is concerned, we couldn't do better than to ask the WI.
Jan Bailey of Shawbury makes a simnel cake every year. Here's her recipe.
Shrewsbury Simnel Cake
Ingredients for a 6 inch cake tin:
The traditional decoration for the simnel cake is eleven balls of marzipan arranged in a circle. These represent the disciples - omitting Judas.
The cake can be served as it is, or you can glaze the marzipan with egg-white, and a nice touch is to place the cake under the grill until the marzipan just begins to turn brown.
As you can see from the photographs, Jan has trimmed her cake with a yellow ribbon to make it look really stylish.
last updated: 13/11/2008 at 11:38