As I was weighing the fruit for our glacé fruit Christmas Cake (or colourful Christmas cake as it has been known for many years in this house) I started thinking about stir up Sunday and various Christmas traditions – some of which have been around for centuries and others are very much our family traditions.
Stir up Sunday has links to the Anglican Church being the Sunday before Advent and has its special prayer dating back to the 1600s to stir up people in their faith but as with many traditions there is modern secular version of stir up Sunday which links to making the Christmas pudding. Probably due to the fact that a Christmas pudding should mature quietly in its pudding basin for around 4 weeks before being eaten.
Well this year the stir up Sunday tradition was broken I didn’t get round to making our Christmas pudding until the 1 December! Making a Christmas pudding ( or as Mum calls it Plum Pudding) is fairly new to me as Mum used to make a pudding for each of us. Bringing back the Christmas pudding from Ireland in my hand luggage often caused discussion at security but fortunately I never had to forfeit my bomb shaped pudding.
Several years ago Mum shared the recipe which originates from a friend’s Mother. But not only did she share the recipe but she came over to Shropshire to teach me how to make it. I think I fairly proficient at it but obviously don’t have the number of puddings under my belt that Mum has – it’s a delicious recipe and it’s always good to make a big one so that it can be enjoyed throughout January .
Sadly the other tradition that will be broken this year is each member of the family stirring the Christmas cake mixture while making a wish. We usually manage been at three of us – last year all four but tomorrow it will just be me and I shall have to wish extra hard. And my wish – well that never changes I wish for a happy, peaceful and healthy Christmas for all our family.
Mum’s Plum Pudding recipe
The second Simnel cake of the year is just out of the oven and cooling ready to have the marzipan topping and the traditional 11 balls of marzipan put on top which represent the 11 ‘good ‘ apostles.
In this house just as important as the Simnel cake are Blackies. These delicious little treats stretch back into my dim and distant childhood when they were as much a part of Easter as our first swim of the season on Easter Monday on Tyrella Beach in County Down. ( I sometimes wonder how all the cousins survived the ordeal and in fact I have very fond memories of the swim and the racing on the beach afterwards!)
A real Easter treat
The recipe originated from my Mum’s sister and is one of the early recipes in the little red book which is my recipe bible. She used the mixture to top a chocolate cake – I resist that and just form them into little cakes
They are one of the easiest and tastiest store cupboard treats that you could come across and double quantities will just about see you through Easter weekend but treble is usually the best. Sadly this year I was a bit late in trying to buy mini eggs so we have had to make do with smarties on top – not that bad really.
The middle Sunday of lent is traditionally known as Mothering Sunday (or the more modern Mother’s Day) the origin of which varies. The religious one is honouring the Mother Church when people travelled to worship at the main church or cathedral. Or it could be that for the first time in six months since the October hiring fair boys and girls in service were allowed to travel home and visit their families. Following this tradition the girls were allowed to make a cake to take with them and the story goes that they made a spiced fruit cake which their mothers often kept until Easter. This explains why there is confusion as to whether a Simnel cake should be baked for Mothering Sunday or for Easter. I think it is a good excuse to bake two.
The richness of the fruit combined with the gooey marzipan cooked in the middle and topping the cake were also probably a boost when people adhered to a strict lenten diet often not eating meat or rich foods during the 40 days leading up to Easter
So why Shrewsbury Simnel Cake? There are different versions: Bury, Devizes and Shrewsbury. The Shrewsbury recipe seems to be the most popular and I must confess when I moved to Shropshire over 20 years ago I became a fan and it has become a bit of a Mothering Sunday and Easter tradition in our house. I also see it as a brilliant use of all the dried fruits that have been lurking in the cupboard since Christmas!
My favourite recipe is from the Good Home Baking by Mary Cadogan which is sadly out of print now. For for the Mothering Sunday version I make deep cuts in the marzipan topping which gives a diamond look and for Easter it gets the added topping of the traditional 11 balls of marzipan which symbolise the 11 apostles minus Judas and sometimes some mini Easter eggs too!.