Dashed, but not lost hopes

Easter is one of my favourite times of year and this year has been no exception. It is a time of hope – hope of winter really being over, hope for new beginnings, hope for a good growing season with more progress towards self sufficiency, a garden flowering with plants which are a pleasure not only for us but for the wildlife that they attract and support and the ever eternal optimism of longer days giving more time for exercise and physical fitness.

I had high hopes for this Easter break – I had intentionally started sowing seeds in March to get ahead making the most of the greenhouse which is about to celebrate its first birthday. The broad beans under cloches in the polytunnel are now a good 10cm tall and I hope we will get an early crop before the tomatoes go in. So the plan was to get to grips with the herbaceous beds which have not been tended all winter cutting back all the dead stems which have been protecting new growth from late frosts and weeding and mulching and planting out overwintered potted plants.

Well I had not bargained for a completely debilitating bout of flu followed by a chest infection which has left me as limp as a frosted lettuce leaf and all hopes dashed. I have sat in the sunshine in the greenhouse and dozed, I have sat outside when it got warmer and dozed and I managed to pot on the tomatoes and make a simnel cake but that is it.

I was feeling really sorry for myself this afternoon, feeling like my Easter holiday had been totally wasted and annoyed that I cannot shake this bug off and get going. As I sat in the sunshine I caught a glimpse of a brimstone butterfly, my first of the year, and then watched as it returned to hover around the holly hedge. About half an hour later a peacock butterfly skipped up and down the border which the man of the house had tended this morning it looked like it was inspecting the compost that he had used to mulch around the rosa mundi and lavender plants. I sat and watched the butterflies, I listened to the chiffchaff calling and then I sat for about an hour watching Mr Wren preening and strutting and singing to Mrs Wren as they flitted in and out of the Irish Juniper which is a favourite nesting site for them. So I may not have ticked off the gardening to do list this Easter but I took time to listen, watch and enjoy the beauty of the natural world and to be grateful for living in such a special spot.

And hope – yes I hope by next weekend I will be back to my usual self and the borders will be sorted and more vegetables planted and the hope of a lovely spring and summer remains strong in my heart.

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Shrewsbury Simnel Cake

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!.