Simnel Cake was originally a large spiced plum pudding that emerged sometime during the 15th century. Initially it was wrapped in a cloth, like a pudding, and simmered in water. Later, it would be removed from the cloth and baked into the form of a cake.
Traditionally, Simnel Cake was prepared as a present for mothers on Mothering Sunday (also known as Laetere Sunday or Mid-Lent Sunday in the Roman Catholic Church while in the Anglican Church it was known as Refreshment Sunday, a day on which the rules of Lent could be relaxed)
It could have been eaten then and there or, if Mother wished it could have been saved for the Easter festivities. Over time, it came to be decorated more specifically for Easter, dressed with smooth yellow marzipan, and decorated with eleven balls of marzipan (one for each of the apostles, except Judas)
Without doubt the cakes would have kept until Easter.
After boiling and baking, their shelf-life would have been lengthened to several months if then kept in cool, dark, air-tight conditions to slow the growth of ‘souring’ bacteria .
Later, with the addition of a selection of marzipan fruits and with the marzipan balls caramelised under a hot grill to add a little colour (right) The Simnel Cake evolved into the category of a celebration cake, more akin to the Christmas Cake.
Together with May Day (Whitsun) and Harvest Home (Autumn), Easter and Christmas mark the four main ‘natural feasts’ of the agricultural and Church year.
The cake below is a more fun version, a sponge base with pretty little chicks, glazed fruits and a broad ribbon, to be made by, or enjoyed by, the children.