It was originally made for the middle Sunday of Lent, known as Laetare Sunday, when the forty day fast would be relaxed. Laetare Sunday was also known as Mothering Sunday, Sunday of the Five Loaves, and Simnel Sunday.
The meaning of the word ‘simnel’ is unclear though there is a 1226 reference to ‘bread made into a simnel’, which is understood to mean the finest white bread, from the Latin simila, meaning pure, wheaten flour, a cake that was intended to please.
This tradition developed late in the Victorian era, altering the mid Victorian tradition of decorating the cakes with preserved fruits and flowers.
The cake is made from best white flour, sugar, butter, eggs, fragrant spices, dried fruits, zest and candied peel.
More recently they have become a Mothering Sunday or Easter tradition.
Different towns throughout the UK have their own recipes and shapes of the Simnel cake, including Bury, Devizes and Shrewsbury but it is the Shrewsbury version that became most popular and better known.