Bakes for All Seasons

with Gerard Baker


Have you ever wondered ...




What the link between food & modern-day celebrations is?

Why consumers choose to celebrate with baked products?

Why certain flavours are popular at different times of the year?


Mother's Day



There is a challenge in defining food traditions for Mother’s Day in the United Kingdom: the modern day celebration was launched in the United States in the early 20th Century as a celebration of her own mother by campaigner Anna Jarvis.

However, the food traditions and roots of the mid-Lent celebration of Mothering Sunday, as celebrated in the Church of England, have very different origins and are very similar to those of Easter.

Having said that, celebrations of motherhood all over the world have in many cases – and certainly also in the UK - come to adopt the American term Mother’s Day and the traditions of giving cards and flowers.  Traditionally in the UK, Violets would be given.

What is certain, thankfully, is that cakes and sweet pastries have always been associated with all such celebrations.

Common themes around the world are that families should come together for Mothers day, bring dishes and celebrate with special foods. 


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In Europe and the Middle East, mothers are commonly treated to breakfast in bed, featuring spiced sweet pastries and cakes with cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, mace and cardamom being widely used.

In the USA and the UK, it is the most common day to eat out as a family. The focus of product development should be breakfast or tea-time goods such as buttery yeasted pastries or fruit-rich cakes and buttery yeasted breads suitable for an indulgent family Sunday breakfast or brunch.

Afterall, why not come home for Mother’s Day?  

Why did this matter and how does it relate to the family and mothers in particular?

It was common in feudal Britain that the children of poor families would live away from their home and go into service in the houses of their feudal lords. In some sense this practice existed well into the middle of the 20th Century.


One of the few days that families would be able to meet, then, would be at their Mother Church in the middle of Lent. At this point the usual restrictions of lent would be relaxed for one day – Mothering Sunday - when families would share cakes baked for just this occasion. 

You might well ask what types of cake would these be?

The answer is a simple, yeasted mixture sweetened with honey and spices. The Simnel cake is our closest modern example; today more richly filled with almond paste and topped with 11 balls of marzipan to represent the Apostles (minus a ball for the absent Judas).

Traditionally wild violets would be gathered by children as gifts for their mothers, and in time these appeared on cakes in sugared form. Bear in mind that the native violet does not have the taste of the European Parma violet, which is made into colored liqueurs using the highly flavoured roots of the plant.



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To further explain Mothering Sunday:

Celebrations of motherhood, as you might expect, date back to the earliest  human texts – mothers being the root of society, family and the future. Early Greek and Roman goddesses were celebrated in turn and, as was often the case, the early Christian church adopted these annual events and of course, venerated motherhood in the distinct form of the Virgin Mary, mother of Christ.

16th Century British records show that Mothering Sunday was widely celebrated, but this was not related to the mother of any one family in particular. The mother, in this sense, was the Mother Church – to which an individual would return on the fourth Sunday of Lent, the church in which he or she had been baptized. Conversely, the church to which an individual would attend on a weekly basis was the Sister Church – a lesser and smaller building than the larger Mother Church..

Mothering Sunday is still celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent, following this early tradition.


Anna Jarvis trademarked both the phrases ‘Mother’s Day, and ‘Second Sunday of May’, which is when the American day is celebrated.
Commercialization of the day in the USA was promoted by companies such as Hallmark that saw value in promoting the day for the sale of their cards. In time, Jarvis campaigned against the day she had founded: she felt that the private monies being made from the celebration at odds with her reasons for its foundation.


Copyright J G Baker, December 2018