We have entered the month of March which means Easter Day is approaching! The word ‘March’ comes from the Roman ‘Martius’. This was originally the first month of the Roman calendar and was named after Mars, the god of war. We changed to the ‘New Style’ or Gregorian calendar in 1752, and it is only since then that the year begins on 1st January.
We are now in the season of Lent. One of the flowers associated with this is the narcissus (wild daffodil). Narcissus is also known as Lent Lily because it blooms in early spring with the flowers usually dropping before Easter.
On the 26th March it is Mothering Sunday. No one is absolutely certain when Mothering Sunday began. However it has been argued that it could have been adopted from a Roman Spring festival celebrating Cybele, their Mother Goddess. It is known that on this date, about four hundred years ago, people made a point of visiting their nearest big Church (the Mother Church), the Church in which each person was baptised. Young British girls and boys ‘in service’ (maids and servants) at the local Manor House or in a Mansion, were only allowed one day to visit their family each year. This was usually on Mothering Sunday. For some this could be a significant journey since their Mothers may have lived some distance away, indeed in another town altogether from the places where they were put in to service. Often the housekeeper or cook would allow the maids to bake a cake to take home for their Mother. Sometimes gifts of eggs or flowers from the garden was allowed.
Mothering Sunday is also sometimes known as Simnel Sunday because of the tradition of baking Simnel cakes. This is a family favourite for some. We are lucky to share a Simnel cake on Mothering Sunday in our Church! The Simnel cake is a fruit cake. A flat layer of marzipan is placed on top of and decorated with 11 marzipan balls representing the 12 apostles minus Judas, who betrayed Christ. I have included a Simnel cake recipe that you may wish to try:-
* 225g sultanas
* 100g currants
* 50g mixed peel
* juice of 1 lemon (optional
* 50 ml brandy (optional)
* 50 ml orange juice (optional)
* 225g soft butter
* 225g light muscovado sugar
* 4 eggs
* 225g self-raising flour
* 100g glace cherries, rinsed in hot water, dried and quartered
* grated rind of 2 lemons
* 2 tsp mixed spice
For the topping:
* 450g best quality marzipan
* 2tbsp apricot jam
* 1 egg beaten, to glaze
- Two days before you intend to make the cake place the sultanas, currants and mixed peel in a bowl with the lemon juice, brandy and orange juice, mixing it well and leaving to one side for the fruit to soak up the liquid. This will produce a much moister cake when baked, but can be omitted.
- Pre-heat the oven to 150C/Gas 2. Line the base and sides of a 20cm deep round tin with silicone paper.
- Measure the rest of the cake ingredients in with the fruit and beat well until thoroughly mixed. Put half of this mixture in the bottom of the cake tin and level it off so that it is as flat as possible. Divide the marzipan into three equal parts and roll out one piece into a circle 20cm diameter, and put it on the top of the cake mixture. Gently spoon on the rest of the mixture, levelling the surface again.
- Bake for approximately 2 ½ hours until brown, well risen and firm to touch. Allow to cool for 15 mins and then turn out to cool on a wire rack.
- When the cake is cool, warm up the apricot jam in a small saucepan and brush the top of the cake with it. Roll out half of the remaining marzipan to the size of the top of the cake. Press it down firmly and push the edges down with your thumb to crimp it round the sides. Roll the rest of the marzipan into eleven balls to represent the Apostles, without Judas. Brush the top of the marzipan with the beaten egg and place the balls evenly around the outside, brushing the tops of the balls as well. Place the whole cake under a hot grill until the marzipan turns a light golden colour.
Lent is not only about giving things up but maybe trying to do something extra for someone else.
One old saying is ‘when March comes in like a lion it goes out like a lamb’. Let’s wait and see…
With love, Martha x