I know. I know. Tomorrow is Lent III, but I didn't want you to have any excuse not to make one for next week, which is "Refreshment Sunday"
It is also known as "Latare Sunday" but never confused with Gaudete Sunday - which is Advent III.
It is sometimes called "Rose" or "Mothering" Sunday - probably because in the 16th century, people went to the nearest Cathedral or their "home" church (which was most likely the Cathedral) for worship. This is why, in some churches, the vestments are rose or pink in color.
It was also a time when women employed as domestics were given time off and one of the few times during the year that the entire family could be reunited to share a meal together.
My Portuguese grandmother made Simnel Cakes faithfully. Every year.
Except she called them "Bolos do riso" or "Laughter Cakes". And, they didn't look anything like the fancy-schmancy one pictured above.
Apparently, in the original British version, on the top of the cake and around the edge one is supposed to put eleven marzipan balls to represent the true disciples of Jesus. Judas is omitted, of course. In some variations Christ is also represented by a ball placed at the center.
When I was a small child, mia VaVoa made them like large muffins with two Very Thick gobs of butter frosting, in the shape of a cross, on top.
They looked sort of like an English "Hot Cross bun". She probably couldn't afford the marzipan to make all those little representative disciple balls. That's okay. Her frosting was absolutely to die for.
As more and more grandchildren came and I got older, she would make a huge, single layer cake and put the frosting on squares of it and then cut them into individual servings.
I mean, I remember snow storms where the snow was up to my waist. Now, I suppose, the snow would come up to my knee. Well, at least, that's the way it was this winter in New England.
"Laughter Cakes" were most appropriate on "Refreshment Sunday" because, as a young, Pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic, Lent was taken as seriously as a heart attack.
We fasted every Wednesday AND Friday - I mean, no solid food, just lots of juice and water, and lots of milk and sugar in our tea - and didn't break the fast until AFTER we had gone to church and said the Stations of the Cross. At four o'clock. Promptly.
I think I still might be able to say that liturgy in the original Portuguese from memory.
We moved around the darkened church, Father with his prayer book, reading to us of the various stations in Portuguese. As we processed from station to station, we sang the various verses of Stabat Mater Dolorosa. In Latin. Of course.
I can still remember the first verse:
Stabat Mater dolorosaI thought it an unbearably sad hymn. It always made me weep - well, once I stopped giggling at all the old Portuguese ladies - "The Widows" - dressed all in black from head to toe, including the black scarf which they wore snugly around their head, tied in a large knot under their more than ample chins.
Iuxta crucem lacrimosa
Dum pendebat Filius
At the cross her station keeping,
stood the mournful mother weeping,
close to Jesus to the last
"The Widows" were also known as "The Wailers" to us kids - which they would start doing as soon as the procession started. Wailing, that is.
As kids, we joked that they were paid to wail. We figured they were as excited for the annual arrival of Lent as we were for Summer Vacation. We surmised that they made extra money every Wednesday and Friday in Lent in addition to being paid to wail at every funeral the church held.
They weren't of course. Paid, that is. We were bad. I know. Actually, we were just being kids trying to make the best of a Very Adult situation.
I hated those boys. I was sooOOoo jealous that THEY got to do it and girls weren't allowed. It made me angry and hateful, but since we knew there was nothing to be done about it, we just giggled at the "Widow Wailers" instead.
Now that I know what it probably meant for most boys to be "Father's Boys", I weep for them when I think on it.
'Round about the fourth or fifth week of Lent, we kids stopped rebelling against having to be in church THREE WHOLE TIMES a week during Lent. We were, by then, resigned to our fate and took hope in the knowledge that Lent was Almost Over.
I remember that, 'round about the sixth or seventh station of the cross, the drama of the story of the crucifixion finally began to sink in and I was completely caught up as the story unfolded, literally step by step. By that time, the unbearable sadness of the Stabat Mater Dolorosa would begin to hit me.
The notes of the ancient chant found a way into my soul and opened my heart to the suffering everyone endured - especially his mother.
We made the cakes on the Saturday before Lent IV. My grandmother and I would put the raisins to soak in the brandy - homemade by my grandfather - before going to bed Friday night. I was the oldest granddaughter, and we lived right upstairs, so I was allowed and nobody else was. Ha!
We would gather in her kitchen sometime on Saturday afternoon, after all the other Saturday chores had been done, including polishing our shoes and laundering our white gloves.
We would line up all the ingredients on the kitchen table - the older kids measuring the liquid ingredients, the younger ones allowed to measure the dry ingredients. One of us was assigned to greasing the pans, another to chopping the walnuts (which we first had to crack - usually with a hammer - and get the meaty walnut out before chopping).
And I, only I, was allowed to sift the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves into the batter. Ha!
And my grandmother, only my grandmother, was allowed to pour in the hot applesauce. We all stood back when she did that, in a respectful silence which was tinged with a bit of awe saved only for sorcerers and magicians.
And, indeed, she did cook up laughter there in her kitchen. In the midst of the doldrums of Lent, she was making Bolos do riso - "Laughter Cakes".
Oh, but here's the special ingredient - the secret of "Laughter Cakes".
After every ingredient had been added and stirred, and before she poured the batter into the muffin tins or cake pans, she would gather us round the Very Large Mixing Bowl. And then, she would tell us not to worry. That Lent was a very sad time, but that soon, it would be Easter. Jesus would play a wonderful trick on Satan, and death would not kill him.
And, because death could no longer kill Jesus, death could no longer kill us. Because of Jesus, we would know eternal life in heaven where we would all someday be, once again.
She would tell us this and then say, "So, laugh, children. Laugh into the bowl. Laugh into the cake. Laugh at the Devil. He can't win. He can't ever win! Only Jesus can win. Only Jesus! Laugh! Laugh! Laugh!"
And, we would. Laugh. Loud. Right into the bowl. I swear people ten blocks away could hear us laugh.
It was the best part of making - and eating - that cake.
And yes, she would put the brandy my grandfather made in the cake AND the frosting.
Hmm . . . maybe that's also why she called them "Bolos do riso".
Nah, laughter was the special ingredient that "made" that cake - special for Refreshment Sunday.
Well, so, here's the recipe. Now you have no excuse to bring one to church for Coffee Hour next Sunday. Just remember to laugh into the batter. And, enjoy!
Bolos do riso (Simnel Cake)
1 ½ c. raisins
4 tbsp. (or so) Brandy
1 c. shortening
2 c. granulated sugar
2 c. very fine flour (all purpose will do if you sift it)
2 tsp. Baking soda
2 ½ tsp. Cinnamon
1 ½ tsp ground Cloves
2 tsp. nutmeg
½ tsp. Salt
1 ½ c. chopped walnuts
zest of one lemon (optional)
2 c. hot applesauce
Soak raisins in brandy overnight.
Mix together in a large bowl - shortening, sugar and eggs. Into that sift flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves. Add chopped walnuts and raisins with the brandy. Add 2 cups of applesauce while it is VERY HOT. Blend thoroughly. Add optional lemon zest. Pour batter into 8 ½ x 12" pan (greased and floured.) Bake at 350̊ For about 30 minutes (or until done).
When done, cool cake in pan 5 minutes - then remove to finish cooling on a cake rack. Frost generously with Butter frosting.
1/4 lb. (one stick) Butter
1 lb Confectioners Sugar (10-X)
about 3 tbsp heavy cream (or milk)
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
Blend together the butter and sugar. Add in the cream (or milk) and vanilla until smooth. Makes enough frosting for the cake above.