03 April 2011

Fourth Sunday in Lent; Simnel Cake

The Fourth Sunday in Lent has come down to us with several different names, all indicative of joy and celebration, such as:

Mid-Lent Sunday:  Self-explanatory. We are halfway through Lent.
Laetare Sunday: from the Introit Laetare Jerusalem (Rejoice, Jerusalem).  This and Refreshment Sunday (Dominica Refectionis) reflect the muted joy which, like a work break,  encourages and strengthens us in the midst of our penitential season.  Flowers and rose-colored vestments are part of this day.

Laetare Jerusalem: et conventum facite omnes qui diligitis eam: 
gaudete cum laetitia, qui in tristitia fuistis: 
ut exsultetis, et satiemini ab uberibus consolationis vestrae. 
(Psalm) Laetatus sum in his, quae dicta sunt mihi: in domum Domini ibimus. Gloria Patri. 


Rejoice, O Jerusalem: and come together all you that love her: rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow: that  you may exult, and be filled from the breasts of your consolation. (Psalm) I rejoiced at the things that were said to me: we shall go into the house of the Lord. Glory be to the Father.
Bread Sunday (Dominica di Panibus), from the Gospel today of the miracle of the loaves and the feeding of the 5000.
Rose Sunday (Dominica Rosae): from the golden rose or flower carried by the Pope in procession and blessed today.  The Catholic Encyclopedia discusses at some length the meaning and history of the golden rose:
"A precious and sacred ornament made of pure gold by skilled artificers, which the popes have been accustomed for centuries to bless each year, and occasionally confer upon illustrious churches and sanctuaries as a token of special reverence and devotion, upon Catholic kings or queens, princes or princesses, renowned generals or other distinguished personages, upon governments or cities conspicuous for their Catholic spirit and loyalty to the Holy See, as a mark of esteem and paternal affection."

[Three of these roses were given to Henry VIII.   So much for loyalty.]
Mothering Sunday:  Originally, the faithful visited and brought offerings to the mother church (the cathedral) of the diocese today.   This gradually fell out of use and became a day for family gatherings; servants, apprentices, and others who had left the maternal roof returned home carrying food and presents for their mothers (this was called "Going a-Mothering").

"And all the country in an upturn going out visiting.  Girls and boys going home to see their mother and taking them cakes, brothers and sisters of middle age going to see each other." Rev. Robert Kilvert, Diary, 19 March 1871.

Veal seems to have been the entree of choice today [perhaps in reference to the Prodigal Son's Return?]
Bragget Sunday: for a warm spiced ale called bragget (or braggot) which was served today.

From British Popular Customs, Present and Past, p. 117:
"In Nares' Glossary (Halliwell and Wright, 1859, vol. i. p. 102) the following receipt for making bragget is given from the Haven of Health, chap. 239, p. 268:
Take three or four galons of good ale, or more as you please, two dayes or three after it is densed, and put it into a pot by itselfe; then draw forth a pottle thereof, and put to it a quart of good English honey, and set them over the fire in a vessell, and let them boyle faire and softly, and alwayes as any froth ariseth skumme it away, and so clarifie it, and when it is well clarified, take it off the fire and let it coole, and put thereto of pepper a pennyworth, cloves, mace, ginger, nutmegs, cinamon, of each two pennyworth, beaten to powder, stir them well together, and set them over the fire to boyle againe awhile, then bring milke warme, put it to the reste, and stirre alltogether, and let it stand two or three daies, and put barme upon it, and drink it at your pleasure." T. F. Thiselton Dyer, British Popular Customs, Present and Past (1900).
Simnel Sunday, because the large Simnel Cakes, a favorite present for Mum, were made and enjoyed today.

"I'll to thee a simnell bring,
'Gainst thou go'st a mothering;
So that when she blesseth thee,
Half the blessing thou'lt give me."
                             Robert Herrick. To Dianeme. A Ceremony in Gloucester.

Simnels were rich cakes made with expensive ingredients: crusts of fine flour and saffron surrounding an interior full of candied fruit and peel, currants, raisins, and spices.  As with a plum pudding, they were made up very stiff, tied up in a cloth, and boiled, after which they were brushed over with an egg wash and then baked.

  " When ready for sale the crust is as hard as if made of wood, a circumstance which has given rise to various stories of the manner in which they have at times been treated by persons to whom they were sent as presents, and who had never seen one before, one ordering his simnel to be boiled to soften it, and a lady taking hers for a footstool." Robert Chambers, The Book of Days: A Miscellany of Popular Antiquities (1863) p. 336


Fisheaters has a recipe for a very rich Simnel Cake on their page for the 4th Sunday in Lent, or you can try the one below.  Neither one needs to be boiled before baking.

Preheat oven to 325° F.
Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan.
Separate 1 egg (only the yolk will be used here; save the white for another recipe)

Thoroughly blend together 1/3 cup of butter with 6 to 7 ounces of almond paste and the egg yolk, and set aside.

Cream 3/4 cup of butter with 1 cup of flour. Set aside.

Beat 3 eggs until light and lemon-colored.  Beat in 1/2 cup of sugar and a dash of salt.  Combine egg/sugar mixture with flour mixture.  Stir in 1 cup of dried currants and 1/3 cup of chopped mixed candied peel.

Pour half of the cake mixture into the springform pan.  Top with a layer of the almond-paste mixture, (reserving the rest to be piped around the top later). Add the remaining cake batter.

Bake for about 1 hour.

Remove from oven (do not turn off oven).  With a pastry tube, pipe the remaining almond-paste mixture around the edge of the top of the cake (yes, you can pipe it into 11 rounded forms to represent the 11 true disciples. This old recipe doesn't stipulate that, and from the drawing above, neither did the original cakes). Return the cake to the oven for 15 minutes to brown the top.  Remove from oven and cool.

And serve it up, rejoicing.