Daily Archives: March 1, 2017
A wonderful spiced and fruited cake which heralds the advent of Spring, simnel cake has a fascinating cultural heritage with roots that stretch back to the Romans and Athenians. In Britain, known as the Shrewsbury Simnel, it is simply made using white flour, fragrant spices and is generously studded with dried fruits and pungent peel.
Like a Christmas cake, it is covered with pale sweet almond paste. The decoration is plain – twelve little balls of smooth paste. A specially baked simnel cake is a wonderful gift to take to your mother for Matronalia, Mother’s Day, or Mothering Sunday Tea Time. Decorate it with crystalised flowers and tie some yellow ribbon around the side.
For the almond paste:
- 400 g icing sugar, sifted
- 250 g ground almonds
- 1 large egg yolk, beaten lightly
- 3-4 tablespoons orange juice
- 5 drops almond essence
For the cake :
- 250 g plain flour
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 280 g currants
- 250 g sultanas
- 110 g mixed peel
- 160 g butter
- 160 g caster sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 200 ml milk, to mix
You will also need:
- a sifter,
- nest of bowls,
- food processor or electric beater,
- wooden spoon,
- 24 cm round cake tin,
- baking paper,
- brown paper and twine,
- rolling pin,
- thin metal skewer.
To make your own almond paste you will need:
- a food processor fitted with a steel blade.
- Don’t be tempted to use store-bought almond paste because it contains lots of sugar and few almonds, it will turn to liquid under the grill.
Place icing sugar and almonds in food processor bowl. Process, slowly dripping in egg yolk, orange juice and almond essence. The mixture should form a pliable paste. Set aside a small portion for balls with which to decorate the cake. Roll out the remaining paste into 2 circles which are the approximate size of the tin. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 160°C/320°F.
Use a sturdy non-stick cake tub or line the buttered base with baking paper. As the baking period is long (1-1 1/2 hours), prevent the cake drying out by wrapping a double thickness of brown paper around the pan and securing it with twine.
Sift flour, salt and spices together, then stir in fruit and peel. Cream butter and sugar thoroughly until light and creamy then beat in eggs one at a time, until the mixture is fluffy. (Reserve a drop of egg yolk for brushing over top layer of almond paste.). Stir flour and fruit into creamed mixture (you may need to add a little milk to give the mixture a dropping consistency).
Place half the mixture into a greased and lined cake tin. Place one pre-rolled round of almond paste over the top. Cover with remaining cake mixture. Before baking the cake, give the pan of mixture a sharp tap on to a firm surface. This settles the mixture and prevents holes from forming in the cake.
Bake in the center of the oven for 1-1 1/4 hours or until a thin metal skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out without a trace of stickiness. Level the cake by placing a weighted plate on top of the cooked cake while it is still hot.
Turn out cake on to a wire rack after leaving it to settle in the cake tin for between 10 and 15 minutes. Peel off paper and leave to cool completely.
Cover the top of the cake with a second round of almond paste. Roll 12 small balls of paste and place evenly around the top of the cake. Brush the top with a little beaten egg and very lightly brown under the grill until the almond paste turns light golden brown. Remove and leave to cool.
Note from someone who tried this recipe:
I did give the pan it’s tap to get rid of air bubbles but almost had a disaster when I went to take everything off so that I could set this on a cake rack to cool.. the almond paste in the middle was still liquid and was leaking down the sides of the cake at a great rate, so I quickly shoved it as neatly as I could back into the springform and let it cool completely before loosening it again. At least my baking paper helped stem the flow before I lost it all. Some of my twelve little balls slipped off while I had this in the oven the second time… so I’d advise not to put them too near to the edge of the cake.
In ancient Roman religion, the Matronalia (or Matronales Feriae) was a festival celebrating Juno Lucina, the goddess of childbirth (“Juno who brings children into the light”), and of motherhood (mater is “mother” in Latin) and women in general. In the original Roman calendar traditionally thought to have been established by Romulus, it was the first day of the year. As the first day of March (Martius), the month of Mars, it was also the Feriae Martis.
The date of the festival was associated with the dedication of a temple to Juno Lucina on the Esquiline Hill circa 268 BCE, and possibly also a commemoration of the peace between the Romans and the Sabines. On the day, women would participate in rituals at the temple, although the details have not been preserved other than the observation that they wore their hair loose (when Roman decorum otherwise required them to wear it up), and were not allowed to wear belts or to knot their clothing in any place.
At home, women received gifts from their husbands and daughters, and Roman husbands were expected to offer prayers for their wives. Women were also expected to prepare a meal for the household slaves (who were given the day off work), as Roman men did at the Saturnalia.
This annual “festival of women” was held in honor of Juno Luciana, a goddess who watched over married women and those in childbirth. This aspect of Juno was associated with childbirth. The name lucina was thought to have come from the Latin word lux (light); thus, when a child was born it was said to have been “brought to light”.
In this aspect the goddess was a lunar deity, often paired with Diana and depicted as holding a torch. In the worship of Juno Lucina, women untied knots and unplaited their hair – sympathetic magic to prevent entanglements in the delivery of babies. She was in charge of newborn infants, and a woman in labor might make offerings to her so that she would have a safe delivery of a healthy child.
Women and girls prayed to her and brought offerings for prosperity in marriage. Gifts were exchanged, people feasted on similla, cakes decorated it with 12 balls of marzipan around the edges. and everyone treated the ladies exceptionally well on this day. Cakes with a similar name, simnel cakes, are associated with Mothering Sunday in England from which Mothers’ Day is derived.
Children of all ages were expected to pay a formal visit to their mothers and to bring a Simnel cake as a gift. In return, the mothers gave their children a special blessing. This custom was so well-established that masters were required to give servants enough time off to visit out-of-town mothers – provided the trip did not exceed 5 days!
Juno was the Roman Mother Goddess, known to the Greeks as Hera, and her original name to the Romans was Junonius. Juno is a counterpart of Janus and the divine watcher over the female sex, so this month is considered the best time to marry. As Juno Moneta, guardian of wealth and money, she had a temple on the Capitoline hill in Rome where the empire’s coins were minted.
Among Juno’s attributes, she is queen of heaven, approximating Frigg in the Northern Tradition, and Mary in the Christian. She is ruler of the high point of year, when there is maximum light and minimum darkness (the northern Summer Solstice).
Later on, Matronalia evolved into Mother’s Day in Europe, and was shifted to the fourth Sunday of Lent. During the Middle Ages, those who had moved away from home would return on this day to their “mother” church, visiting their families who still remained in the village. Servants were allowed to pick flowers from their masters’ gardens, and given the day off to return home; hence, the custom of bringing one’s mother some flowers on Mother’s Day.
In the United States, Mother’s Day actually falls in May, and is held in honor of humanitarian work carried out by women during the Civil War.
“You’re right to come, Marcher; your days demand their place
and the month that bears your stamp is here.”
March (Martius), the first month of the lunar calendar, was named after Mars and the entire month was dedicated to Him. The festivals reflected a purification and regeneration of the arms and fields, marking a time when farmers had to think of cultivating and protecting their lands. The efficacy of Mars’ divine aid was much needed in preparation for the seasonal crop growth and upcoming military campaigns, as wars often began or were renewed in the spring.
March 1st was the lunar calendar’s New Year’s Day, and may have also been Mars’ birthday. The festival of Quinquatrus (named for its length of five consecutive days) commenced on 19 March when the ancilia of the Salii and the weapons of the whole army were purified.
On 23 March, the Romans venerated Mars during the Tubilustrium, a cleansing ceremony for the trumpets used in sacred rites and the instruments of the entire army. A subsequent purification rite was performed on 19 October during the Armilustrium, and the Salii, commemorating the return of the legions in the fall, made their final procession through the streets of Rome. It signified the end of the military campaign season when arma (arms) and ancilia were purified and laid to rest for the winter.
How do we relate to Mars this month?
With Mars, there is no contemplation before action. The drive associated with Mars differs from that of the Sun in that it is self-assertion rather than assertion of the will; it is raw energy rather than creative energy.
Mars is still the essence of the god from antiquity. He is still the captivating aggressor, the rouser, and the protagonist of destiny; breathtakingly candid in His purpose and deliberate in His bounty. Mars personifies a vigorous energy that carries with it its own reproductive weight, immersed in singular ambition, and seldom outdone. He is the quintessential model of male sexuality; the catalyst for creation Who leaves little doubt that our perpetuation is imminent and our survival inevitable. Yet His artful passion is lucid; a flowing expression steeped in honorific intent and delivered with remarkably unbiased conveyance.
The expression of our basic needs remains the one true constant among all living beings. When we peel back the layers of aspirations and ideals, we reach the crux of the human race with uncanny fidelity; the instinctual drives that have served us so well. It is here, at this center that we find Mars, ceaselessly reminding us that no matter how far we venture from this place, the road back is always nearer than we realize.
How do we honor Mars this month?
Mars represents the instinctive nature still evident in all species: that of survival and protection. In antiquity, Mars’ reigning aspects were interwoven into a society that understood a definable application of pursuit and preservation. The Romans recognized the necessity of this sequence as the occurring truth behind any deliberate progress. These enduring principles are at the very heart of Perpituitas; qualities attributed to our role as the caretakers of our posterity.
In His warrior aspect we associate Mars with iron, but an iron will is of the same caliber. Protection has always been our gift to those we love, and a duty to ourselves. Though we no longer spend our days in the fields, the fruits of our labors still determine the quality of our life.
Pray to Mars when you need to shift into another gear, to bring your purpose from wishful pondering to fruition and culmination. Look to Mars when your spirit needs reawakening and you find yourself lost in the cycle of delay, needing to summon up the courage to act. When the mundane begins to chisel your determination into quiet resignation, let Mars hear your call to arms. His still powerful voice speaks volumes to all who listen. Mars continues to provoke and ignite while craftily providing us with His earthly wisdom; those universal gifts of our own nature which allow us to fully embrace our life’s experience and remain secure in our duration.
- Colors: red, green, white
- Plants: Daffodils, leeks
- Activities: Send flowers, attend concerts, host a dinner party
Saint David’s Day is the feast day of Saint David, the patron saint of Wales, and falls on 1 March each year. The date of 1 March was chosen in remembrance of the death of Saint David on that day in 589, and has been celebrated by followers since then. The date was declared a national day of celebration within Wales in the 18th century.
The 17th century diarist Samuel Pepys noted how Welsh celebrations in London for St David’s day would spark wider counter-celebrations among their English neighbors: life-sized effigies of Welshmen were symbolically lynched, and by the 18th century the custom had arisen of confectioners producing ‘Taffies’ – gingerbread figures baked in the shape of a Welshman riding a goat – on St David’s Day.
In 2003 in the United States, St. David’s Day was recognized officially as the national day of the Welsh, and on 1 March the Empire State Building was floodlit in the national colors, red, green and white. It is invariably celebrated by Welsh societies throughout the world with dinners, parties, recitals and concerts.
To celebrate this day, people wear a symbol of either a leek, or daffodil. The leek arises from an occasion when a troop of Welsh were able to distinguish each other from a troop of English enemy dressed in similar fashion by wearing leeks. An alternative emblem developed in recent years is the daffodil.
I found this account of Mother March in an old book about Bulgaria, published in 1877. I love the way they used to celebrate the month of March. It occurs to me that it might be fun and informative to watch the weather this month and assign certain days to certain people and see what happens.
The month of March, which falls in the Spring equinox is called by the Bulgarians, Baba Mart, Old Mother March, and is the only female month of the year, the others being considered as masculine. March in Bulgaria is like April in England, inconstant and capricious, alternating between storms and sunshine; and it is here specially dedicated to the fair sex, who during its continuance enjoy complete idleness, doing no work, and asserting a sort of temporary superiority over their husbands, which sometimes even goes to the length of administering a thrashing, without fear of reprisal.
In order not to displease Baba Mart, the women do not even smear the floors of their houses with clay (a work which is usually performed every week), wash, weave, or spin; for if they were to do so Baba Mart would give no rain during the year, and lightning would infallibly strike the house in which she had been thus insulted.
There are certain clever old women who, knowing where Baba Mart resides, pay her a visit, and from her information assign to each of the married women a day of the month on which the weather will be according to the character of the lady whose day it is; thus, if Mrs. Dimitri gets the 1st of March, it will be fine, with perhaps a warm and gentle shower or two, for she is an amiable and soft-hearted woman, a little give to shedding unnecessary tears upon any pretext. Mrs. Tanaz is a loud-voiced shrew, so her day will be made up of wind, black clouds, snow, and heavy rain. “Don’t go out shooting tomorrow, Chelibi, for it is the day of Kodja Keraz’s wife, and she has such an awful temper that the weather is sure to be horrible.”
When a woman is assigned a day for the first time, her character is judged by the state of the weather; fortunately this system is not extended to young ladies on their promotion, or many a match might be broken off by an inopportune storm in the month of March.