A thousand years of fruitcake?

In British and Irish Mothering Sunday tradition, a special treat is enjoyed and it’s known as Simnel cake.

Simnel cake is a light fruit cake, similar to a Christmas cake, covered in marzipan, and eaten at Easter in the UK and Ireland. A layer of marzipan or almond paste is also baked into the middle of the cake. On the top of the cake, around the edge, are eleven marzipan balls to represent the true apostles of Jesus; Judas is omitted. In some variations Christ is also represented, by a ball placed at the centre.

The cake is made from these ingredients: white flour, sugar, butter, eggs, fragrant spices, dried fruits, zest and candied peel.

Simnel cakes have been known since mediaeval times, and were originally a Mothering Sunday tradition, when young girls in service would make one to be taken home to their mothers on their day off. The word simnel probably derived from the Latin word simila, meaning fine, wheaten flour with which the cakes were made. A legend, however, attributes the cake’s creation to the English pretender Lambert Simnel, who supposedly devised it during the time in which he was forced to work in Henry VII’s kitchens.

Different British towns had their own recipes and shapes of the Simnel cake. Bury, Devizes and Shrewsbury produced large numbers to their own recipes, but it is the Shrewsbury version that became most popular and well known.