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Shrewsbury Simnel Cake

Shropshire, Herefordshire, Gloucestershire

A Springtime Celebration Cake. Traditionally a light rich fruit cake with saffron, boiled first and then baked. Made with a central layer of marzipan, decorated on top with icing or marzipan and icing or paste balls or points.

Shrewsbury Simnel Cake
Image: Alex Bray...

This form is now rare, and when Simnel Cake is made in Shrewsbury it is, as elsewhere in England, now commonly of the Bury Simnel Form.

The Form of Shrewsbury Simnel Cakes
Image: Chamber's Book of Days, 1869

Chambers Book of Days of 1869 reports that; "It is an old custom in Shropshire and Herefordshire, and especially at Shrewsbury, to make during Lent and Easter, and also at Christmas, a sort of rich and expensive cakes, which are called Simnel Cakes. They are raised cakes, the crust of which is made of fine flour and water, with sufficient saffron to give it a deep yellow colour, and the interior is filled with the materials of a very rich plum-cake, with plenty of candied lemon peel, and other good things. They are made up very stiff; tied up in a cloth, and boiled for several hours, after which they are brushed over with egg, and then baked. When ready for sale the crust is as hard as if made of wood, a circumstance which has given rise to various stories of the manner in which they have at times been treated by persons to whom they were sent as presents, and who had never seen one before, one ordering his simnel to be boiled to soften it, and a lady taking hers for a footstool. They are made of different sizes, and, as may be supposed from the ingredients, are rather expensive, some large ones selling for as much as half-a-guinea, or even, we believe, a guinea, while smaller ones may be had for half-a-crown. Their form, which as well as the ornamentation is nearly uniform, will be best understood by the accompanying engraving, representing large and small cakes as now on sale in Shrewsbury.

The usage of these cakes is evidently one of great antiquity. It appears from one of the epigrams of the poet Herrick, that at the beginning of the seventeenth century it was the custom at Gloucester for young people to carry simnels as presents to their mothers on Midlent Sunday (or Mothering Sunday)."

Charlotte Sophia Burne's Shropshire folk-lore: a sheaf of gleanings of 1883 has "'Shrewsbury Simnels' are eaten by many who do not heed the pious habit of 'mothering' which they were intended to celebrate."

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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