Mothering Sunday in the UK

by NanLT

Mothering Sunday is a holiday in the UK that dates back to at least the 17th century. Though sometimes called Mother's Day, it has no connection to the American holiday

Mothering Sunday falls each year on the 4th Sunday in Lent, three weeks before Easter, and thus comes at a different time each year. In 2014, Mothering Sunday falls on 30th March.

Children today of any age celebrate Mothering Sunday by giving gifts and cards to their mums, much as people do all around the world.

The origins of Mothering Sunday in the UK have little at all to do with one's Mum though!

The Christian Origins of Mothering Sunday

In the UK

Clematis and lilac @NanLT400 years ago, in the 1600s people would worship at their nearest parish church, called a "daughter" church. Once a year though, during Lent it was considered important that all people would attend the "mother" church, the main church or cathedral of the area.

This also became a time of family reunions as children who were working away from home would return home. Children were routinely sent out to work or in an apprenticeship by ten years of age at this time.

Young British boys and girls were only allowed one day each year in which to visit famliy. In most communities this was Mothering Sunday. The cook or housekeeper would frequently allow the maids to bake a cake to take home for their mother.

It became traditional to bring flowers as the children would have to walk home to their village, and would pick wild flowers from the meadows along the way. These flowers would be blessed at the church before being given to their mothers.

The Simnal Cake

The simnel cake is a fruit cake. A flat layer of marzipan is placed over the top and it is decorated with 11 marzipan balls, representing the 12 apostles, while omitting Judas who betrayed Jesus.

These cakes have been known since medieval times and the word probably derives from 'simila', meaning fine wheaten flour. This is what the cakes were made from.

The antiquities of the Simnel appears in a history of the village of Comberton, dated from the early 1200s. Erchenger, the baker, was given a manor. In exchange he had to provide a hot simnel loaf to the King each morning.

Local versions were made all over but Shrewsbury, Devizes, and Bury all made larger quantities of their own special shapes and recipes. The Shrewsbury version is the best known today.

The Simnel cake is so important that the 4th Sunday in Lent is still called "Simnel Sunday" in some areas. In earlier traditions the Simnel Cake was eaten on Mothering Sunday, but over time it became customary to keep the cake until Easter Sunday. The rich fruitcake was said to test a young girl's cooking skills. If the cake remained moist and maintained its taste until Easter sunday she was considered a good cook.


Image obtained under Creative Commons license from Apple & Spice March 2007

Simnal Cake
Simnal Cake

'I'll to thee a Simnell bring
'Gainst thou go'st a mothering,
So that, when she blesseth thee,
Half that blessing thou'lt give to me.'
Robert Herrick 1648


Mothering Sunday Gifts

Mothering Sunday

Traditional songs from England and Scotland

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EL.L® Long Stem Dipped 24k Gold Trim blue Rose In Gold Gift Box a wonderful gift for Mother's Day...

This would make a beautiful and loving gift for Mothering Sunday, or any other day of the year.

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Original 19th Century Simnel Cake Recipe

Repeated in its entirety

The name given to a sweet, rich, flat cake made chiefly in Lancashire, to be eaten on Mid - Lent Sunday. The name Simnel is derived from the Low Latin siminellus- bread made from simila wheat-flour. The following is a good receipt for its manufacture:


Beat 1lb of butter with the hand till creamy, then add the well-whipped whites of six eggs; beat these together for a minute, then mix in the beaten yolks of the six eggs, 3/4lb of caster sugar, 1 1/4lb of flour,1 1/2lb of well-washed and dried currants, 3/4lb of finely -shred candied citron and lemon peels, 1/2 lb of blanched and chopped almonds, 2oz of orange-sugar, and ½ oz of pounded nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice. When the above ingredients are well mixed, pour in 1 wineglassful of brandy and a little water, and beat them for some time. Gather the paste into a lump, then roll it out, double it over, put into a cloth that has been wrung out in hot water and floured, tie it up, put in a saucepan of boiling water, and boil for three hours. Take the cloth off the cake at the end of the three hours, stand the cake on a tin, the smooth surface upwards, and leave it till cool. Brush the cake over with a paste brush dipped in beaten egg, and bake in a slow oven till the outer crust is hard and lightly browned. Take the cake out, and leave it till cold.

~Garret, Theodor Francis, 1899, The Encyclopædia of Practical Cookery

A More Modern Simnal Cake Recipe

Almond paste:
400 g icing sugar, sifted
250 g ground almondssimnal cake
1 large egg yolk, beaten lightly
3-4 tablespoons orange juice
5 drops almond essence

250g flour
pinch salt
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
300 g currants
250 g sultanas
90 g mixed peel
160 g butter
160 g caster sugar
3 large eggs
200 ml milk to mix
(Serves 6-8)

a sifter, nest of bowls, food processor or electric beater, spatula, 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.

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. Preheat oven to 160 C. 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 the 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 centre of the oven for 1-1 1/4 hours or until a thin metal skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out without a trace of stickiness. Turn out cake on to a wire rack. Peel off paper and leave to cool. Level the cake by placing a weighted plate on top of the cooked cake while it is still hot.

Break off a third of the remaining paste and roll into a circle which is the approximate size of the tin. Set aside. Cover the top of the cake with a second round of almond paste. Roll 11 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.

Found in various places on the web

Learn more about Mothering Sunday

I had to do a bit of research while writing this article. These pages are where I found my information.
Mother's Day UK ( Mothering Sunday) 2009 Information on Mothering Sunday, Mothers Day in England. Find out when Mothers Day in the UK is and the history and traditions behind Mothering Sunday.
Wikipedia article on Mothering Sunday
BBC history of Mothering Sunday
Updated: 11/18/2013, NanLT
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NanLT on 05/06/2022

Whatever mom wants would be my meal and drink of choice.

DerdriuMarriner on 05/06/2022

NanLT, Thank you for practical information, pretty pictures and product lines.
In particular, I appreciate the images that your text inspire of children picking wildflowers to be blessed and the scents, sights, tastes and textures that your recipe inspires. There just may be time for me to integrate this recipe -- even though it's for Mothering Sunday, not for Mother Day Sunday -- into the coming Sunday's meal times.

What would one traditionally serve to drink? And would one serve specific main and side dishes or would whatever the cook selects work?

jptanabe on 11/20/2013

Love the different style of recipes! And such an interesting history to the day - I can just imagine all those children traveling home, carrying a cake, picking wildflowers on the way. How special for the mothers to see them arrive!

NanLT on 11/19/2013

Up until around 100 years ago, most cookbooks and recipes presumed the cook knew to do certain steps, and knew what certain measurements would be - and so left them out of the recipe.

AbbyFitz on 11/19/2013

This is really interesting. I'm glad cooking techniques have modernized though lol

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