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Devizes Simnel Cake


A Springtime celebration cake, made in a star shape.

An early receipt, supplied by the Wiltshire Heritage Museum Library is: "Three and a half lbs plain flower, Three lbs currants, 2 lbs lemon peel, Half oz safron powder mixed with bun powder and egg yoke, Prove well, form into star shapes. Boil, then bake. Glaze"

Devizes Simnel Cake, 2015
Image:Alex Bray

A delightfully unlikely-sounding story, re-told in 'Chamber's Book of Days' of 1898, is that long ago there lived an honest old couple, boasting the names of Simon and Nelly, who, one Easter, found their household with a surplus piece of dough. The argued and fought over what to do with it - Simon wanted to boil it, and Nelly to bake it. In the end, they compromised and did both, so that, 'This new and remarkable production in the art of confectionery became known as the cake of Simon and Nelly … Sim-Nel, or Simnel!

The story is known in several versions, at least since this poem in the 'Wiltshire Independent' for Thursday 08 March 1838;

To a mind ill-disposed to believe every story
That is told us each day Tom Stiles and Jack Nory,
The following relation will scarce be believed.
Though here tis as true as the Gospel received.
Man, aces ago, when the season Lent
Was, by Christians, devoted to fast and repent.
When the proud mitred Prelate, and laity sinner.
Cleansed their conscience from sin by forsaking a dinner
At least that foul part which consisted meat,
While fish, pudding, and cake, they might heartily eat
Nor did any recoil the humble repast,
Concluding that forty days only t'would last,
And that sins of all kinds were discharged by the fast
Then he was most lov'd who produced the best take,
Of which they might all, without sinning, partake.
And, tho' numerous the claimants, as I have heard tell,
There were none who were equal to Simon and Nell.
At this season was that the parties recited,
Who soil bonds wedlock had long been united,
Determined a cake of such taste to provide. #
That should be the town and the country the pride.
But they could not agree on the best way to make it,—
It was Simon's opinion to mould it and bake it;
While Nell, a true woman, protested t'would spoil it.
And resolved to put on the pot and boil it-
What then could poor Simon, whose love to his wife
Made him loth to engage in simple a strife.
Yet could not consent to have the cake spoiled,
And knew it must surely be so if twas boiled;—
Call'd Nell to a parley, and then in a trice,
To prevent future broils subject so nice,
Agreed to please both sides, —that first in the pot
The cake should be boiled, till soaked and hot;
Then Simon should afterwards from the pot take it,
And place it within a hot oven and bake it.
Thus ended the strife; and our grandfathers tell,
That the cake from that instant was called SIM-NELL
Devizes, 1810

For general background to the Simnel Tradition, see:
Simnel Bread
...and for other Simnel Cakes, see:
Devizes Simnel Cake
Gloucester Simnel Cake
Shrewsbury Simnel Cake
Bury Simnel Cake

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