29 March 2009

Midlent Sunday

Sorry I haven't posted anything this weekend. I've been either busy or worn out in alternating cycles! I still intend to post something about St John Climacus, but in the meantime, here is something posted by Drake Aristibule Adams on Facebook concerning 'Midlent Sunday':

ILE to thee a simnell bring,
'Gainst thou go'st a mothering ;
So that, when she blesseth thee.
Half that blessing thou'lt give me. -
Cavalier poet, Robert Herrick 1648

Tomorrow marks our halfway mark through Lent: the Fourth Sunday in Lent, also known as Midlent Sunday, Dominica media Quadragesimae, or Laetare Sunday from the Sarum Office hymn 'Laetare Jerusalem':

Rejoice, O Jerusalem, and gather together, all ye that love the Lord: rejoice with joy for her, all ye that mourn for her, that ye may rejoice and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolation.

This Sunday in the old British tradition is also the original Mother's Day (before the current popular secular day was invented to sell greeting cards.) It was also the day one returned to their 'Mother Church' (the original Homecoming) - later an important day for household servants who were allowed to return home to see their mothers (and of course, go to Church - the center once of our Western life!) It was a widespread custom - which might go back to Roman times (and ours in local style named after Shrewsbury, noting that this was part of the Roman province that once had the largest Roman settlement in Britain.) In more recent times, one would make this cake - and take it to their mother after Sunday Liturgy to receive her blessing. There is a Shropshire Legend (I think rather a tongue-in-cheek folk etymology) that the custom starting with a Simon and Nell that wanted to make their mother a cake - they could not agree on how to do it, so compromised and thus was made the 'Sim-Nell' cake. Rather, Simnel refers to fine flour (from Old French Simenel, from Latin Similia, and Greek Semidalis.)

It is a fruit cake, with almond icing (in variations we like with apricot preserves in the middle), including 11 marzipan balls on top for the faithful Apostles (Judas Iscariot is excluded.) There are as many different recipes as there are family traditions (and local - as there are also Devizes, Bury, and other styles besides Shrewsbury), and the modern Simnel cake can vary widely (from more 'cakey' to mostly fruit enclosed in dough.) Since there had been variations in fasting practices in Lent, and more recently a great relaxation by the more liberal Western sects (even to the point of abandoning fasting altogether) - many Simnel cake recipes call for egg, butter, even milk. We've done it a few different ways over the years - and noting health concerns as well, that dairy products may be substituted by a variety of 'vegan' options: bananas for eggs, applesauce for eggs or butter (with addition of baking powder to help rise), - and of course rice or almond milk for cow milk.


Here's our try for this year - let me know if anyone finds something that works better.

1 cup fine flourpinch salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup currants
1 cup sultanas
1/2 cup mixed peel
1 cup applesauce
3/4 cup caster sugar
2 bananas
1 cup rice or almond milk to mix
(I'm not sure if it won't need a little oil to keep from sticking - which our rules allow on Sat./Sun.)
1 Jar Apricot preserves.
a few tubes of Marzipan paste

Simple directions: preheat oven to 325 F. Mix dry ingredients, then add in dried fruits. In separate bowl cream bananas and mix in applesauce, sugar, and rice/almond milk. Add mixed dry ingredients to creamed mixture. Spoon into non-stick 9 inch cake tin halfway, add layer of apricot preserves, add the rest of the cake mixture, tap on hard surface to settle ,roll a layer of marzipan and apply to top of cake, and cover with foil to avoid losing moisture. Bake 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until done in the center (check with a toothpick to see if it comes clean from the center.) Let cool on rack, and remove from tin. Roll out marzipan into 9 inch circle and apply as 2nd layer on top, set aside 11 rolled balls of marzipan for decoration. Brown lightly under grill, remove and cool.

Anyone with suggestions to improve the recipe as I've worked it out so far, please let me know - it simply needs to remain vegan as to the ingredients (no animal products), and traditional in being made with fine flour, dried fruit, and marzipan (almond paste) icing.

Enjoy, many thanks and congratulations to all the Mothers out there - if you make a cake, please take pictures and post!


Esteban Vázquez said...

And here I thought that 'Midlent Sunday' was last Sunday, and that Lent ends two Fridays from today! ;-)

Aaron Taylor said...

Thank you, Esteban! I can't account for the math, but obviously, this is a Western Rite thing. I happen to find it interesting, whatever the timing of 'midlent' may be.

Esteban Vázquez said...

Oh, the Western Rite! No wonder this didn't register. ;-)

Actually, I happen to find this interesting as well, but precisely in connection to the timing of 'midlent.' It was always my understanding that, in the Roman Rite, Laetare Sunday (like Gaudete Sunday in Advent) was placed not at the mid-point of the season, but rather on the second-to-last Sunday of the season, and therefore always past its mid-point. This is the first I've ever heard of a 'Dominica media Quadragesimae'; I wonder, then, if it is an English thing.

Aaron Taylor said...

I'm not surprised you haven't heard of the 'Dominica media Quadragesimae', since a Google yielded only my reposting of Adams's words on the Lenten blog I contribute to, and some Wycliff sermons.

I thought I remembered also hearing something about being midway through Lent in church over the weekend, whether in some hymn or in the homily, or something else, I don't know. Oh well!