'We've certainly got our work cut out!' The group of gitls grinned appreciatively at Bride Bettany's heartfelt exclamation and the Chalet School's head girl sighed in exasperation. 'It's all very well to laugh, but we need some ideas!' Big Tom Gay chuckled - quite maddeningly, as far as Bride was concerned - but. when she spoke, her remarks, as was usually the case, were full of common sense.
'Keep calm, my child, keep calm - all this worry doesn't suit your style of beauty at all! I think we're all here now and we should be able to think of something, although I'll be the first to admit that the kids have come up with some really excellent ideas. Kudos to them for setting the standard!'
There were nods af agreement all round and, to explain a little, the girls' present dilemma related to the following week's Sunday Tea. These were a fairly recent introduction. Rationing had not stopped with the end of the war and, for the most part, cookery lessons had continued to emphasise ways to make the most of basic supplies. More and more items, however, were now 'off ration' and some generous donatons from an Old Girl - one Corney Flower, whose own culinary mishaps had gone down in the school's legends - had made a very welcome addition to Frau Mieders' store cupboards. Since then, that lady had set the girls to researching speciality dishes from around the British Isles and the various forms were taking it in turns to supply a special treat each Sunday. The idea had proved a popular one and, from the start, the girls had provided not only the cakes, but a short topical entertainment to go with them. So far, the school had enjoyed items such as Singing Hinnies, Fat Rascals and Wet Nelly. Petticoat Tails had been supplied for Burns' Night and the juniors had been thrilled by the Parkin Pigs that had appeared for Guy Fawkes. As Tom said, the girls' efforts had ben very good and the sixth form was on its mettle to match them.
Bride relaxed and chuckled herself as he realised the wisdom of her friend's words. Yes - you're right. They've worked hard as well, so I'd like our effort to be extra-special to show that we've noticed. Right then - ideas please!'
Needless to state, her request was met by dead silence. When one is specifically asked for inspiration, it usually seems to be at its most elusive, and then Rosalie Way suddenly spoke up. 'Tom, I believe you might have the answer yourself, What were you saying about the special service that your father mentioned in his last letter? It reminded me of an old folktale and I was able to track it down in the library. I think it might just fit the bill...'
+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +
Much to the sixth formers' relief, the next Sunday dawned to a beautiful spring morning and, as soon as church services were over, a select band, armed with baskets, disappeared into the school grounds to gather flowers whilst the rest took command of Hall. Usually, all meals were taken in the dining-room but today the girls had begged a special dispensation and they had a good deal to arrange. Events were well in hand by lunchtime, but there was still a fair amount to do and, as soon as they finished their meal, the girls dashed off again.
Luckily, their speciality cakes were of the 'keeping' kind so were all ready in advance but there were bread and butter to cut and sandwiches to make and the girls were kept busy. Ambitiously, they were to provide hot cakes as well, and the best cooks amongst them had decided on a choice of scones and Welsh Cakes. Everything was ready at last, the kitchen tidied and the girls just had time to dash upstairs to the dormitories to don their white frocks. Indeed, it was a set of very well-groomed young ladies who stood ready to greet their guests as four o'clock struck.
The school streamed in and it was a pleasant sight that met their eyes as the sixth had transformed Hall into a charming tea-room. They had borrowed every card table the village hall and anybody else could offer and the more informal arrangement looked very well. The tables were spread with bright cloths and small vases on each held posies of spring flowers. Every guest was given a knot of primroses or wood viiolets to pin to her frock and, all in all, the girls had achieved a very festive effect. The eatables were attractively set out on long tables along one side of the great room and, amongst the more recognisable items, there were a number of large cakes. Some seemed to be iced in yellow whilst others were flatter and undecorated and were either star-shaped or round. An unwritten rule for the teas meant that, if anyone recognised that week's particular treat, they were bound not to give things away, but there were smiles from various girls and mistresses as they noticed the tempting offerings.
Everyone settled down and Tom appeared at the front of the room.
'Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to this week's tea!
'Today is the fourth Sunday of Lent and, over the years, it is or has been known by a number of different names: Rose Sunday and Refreshment Sunday are two examples. In Britain, a very old name for today is Mothering Sunday and our treat is connected with this name. At least as far back as the seventeenth century, there was a custom that children working away from home had the day off to go back and visit their families. They would take gifts with them and Simnel Cakes, as they are called, were a popular offering. Indeed, in some parts, the day itself became generally known as Simnel Sunday and Shrewsbury, Devizes and Bury have particularly strong simnel traditons, each with its own recipe.
'But were does the word 'simnel' come from? Some will tell you that it derives from the latin 'simila' which means 'fine flour' and that simnels were cakes made from the best quality ingredients to mark special occasions. Some think that they were invented by Lambert Simnel. Others will say that, as some recipes use equal quantities of sugar and flour, the name arises from 'similis' which means 'like' or 'same'.
'And some think that the story goes like this ...'
With that, Tom stepped back and various of her form-mates came forward to remove the screens that had been spread across the front of the dais.
A delightful cottage interior was revealed. There was a fireplace to one side with a cauldron hanging from a pothook and a rag rug spread by the hearth, real geraniums decorated the lattice window at the back and a couple of windsor chairs and a table were at centre stage. The chairs were occupied by an elderly couple; the lady clad in a decent dark petticoat and bedjacket, topped off by a snow-white apron and cap, and the man in corduroys and smock.
They were talking of Mothering Sunday, how much they were looking forward to it and how good it would be to see the children. Then the goodwife suggested that they make a cake to celebrate. There was still some christmas pudding left and, with a pastry crust added, there should be enough to go round. Her husband praised the idea and they set to, making their pastry and carefully enclosing the pudding with it.
Alas and alack! At this point, a sudden quarrel broke out; Dad asserting that their creation was a pudding and should be boiled whilst Mother insisted it was a cake and should be baked! Both stubbornly stuck to their opinion and their voices rose higher and louder and their tempers waxed hotter and stronger, until they suddenly turned their backs on each other and stomped to opposite ends of the kitchen. There was a pause while both realised, that if they carried on, the whole day would be spoilt and everyone disappointed. They begged each other's pardon and then agreed that their confection should be half boiled and half baked.
This worked well and the children began to arrive, bringing bunches of spring flowers they had gathered along the way and a little package that opened to reveal some strips of lace for Mother's Sunday cap. Everyone feasted on the cake and enjoyed a happy day.
And the name for the cake? All the children agreed that ir should be named for its inventors Simon and Ellen, who were known to all as SIM and NELL.