One of a series of workshops for home-educators.

Try them as a family or form a group with friends on-line and share your ideas and creations as they unfold.

14 – a Story Apron for Simon & Nellie

This challenge is for you to design and make a story apron to retell the story of Simon and Nellie and their creation of the first Simnel Cake. This could be your excuse to make a Simnel Cake too (recipe below).

A story apron (or jacket or shirt) has many pockets. Each contains a prop that you can pull out to show your audience when telling the story. Some have the props for just one story in their pockets. Others have items from different stories in different pockets – this allows the audience to choose a pocket and the storyteller will tell the tale to which the item relates.

You can use an old, unwanted apron, shirt or jacket as the base for your story apron or cut up an old sheet or curtain. Scraps of material can be used to make pockets – one for each prop, as many as you need. Ask the rest of your family, see what you have around the home that you could re-use rather than recycle or throw away.

Use your creativity in making the story props for the pockets and re-imagine items that would otherwise be wasted or lay unused.

And when your done, use your apron and tell the story.

So what’s the story?

All For A Cake (a recipe for discord)

Let me take you back to a springtime in Longden Coleham. Well, of course you don’t remember it, this is a yesterday far older than the day before. A yesterday no one alive today can recall.

You can see the wood-smoke hanging in the air, smell the stench from the Tanner’s yard and, yes, you can see the cart tracks deep on the muddy lane. This is the Longden Coleham we need to see for our story to begin.

You see that window over there, the grimy one with the yellowing sackcloth hanging to one side? Well, look closer, what can you make out?

Two old figures as hard and gnarled as hawthorn trees facing into a wind. What a noise! Yes, they’re arguing again. That’s Simon and Nellie for you, never right ‘less there’s something wrong. When their plentiful crop of children left home, there was no one to yell at anymore, so they started on one another.

Let’s watch closer. When they start to row, there’s usually action ahead.

What’s their fracas about this time? Well, I’d better fill the detail in…

Looking forward to the family coming home for a visit, they found they’d next to nothing in the larder to bake a cake. Yes, I know there are those eggs on the table and that bit of unleavened dough left over from Lent, but save for that there are only almonds and that hard old bit of Christmas pudding you can see in the bowl on the dresser. Yes, over there, see?

Mix them together, yes, well we can all agree on that. But where Simon and Nellie came to their falling out was on how to cook it. Just look at them now …

‘Boil it!’ shouts Simon

‘Just like a man, for taste you must bake!’ yells Nellie

‘Nonsense, a waste of time and good firewood, boiling’s got to do’ growls Simon.

Oh, poor Simon, maybe that was one growl too many for Nellie’s injured pride. Especially with him waving that besom about in such a threatening manner. But don’t do it, Nellie! Put that chair down.

Oh dear, she’s taking aim, and there it flies … more your luck Simon to totter back and see that chair crash into splinters on the wall. Still there’s no need to go after her so. Imagine trying to tan your woman’s backside – she won’t put up with treatment like that.

She’s swinging with her broom now, and just look at him crouching and cowering. One swish and the eggs are off the sideboard crashing to the floor. Another and there goes the jar of almonds.

Round and round the table they run swishing ang swatting crushing the almonds to a dust under their feet until they finally collapse out of breath onto the table, which gives way under their weight, legs going North, South, East and West. What a sight!

Just like a woman, her temper cools quickly when seeing her and her husband looking such fools. And my faith in human nature is restored. Look, she’s trying to make the peace. Look long and hard, it has worked and what a tender sight! The joy of arguing is always the making up. But before we leave them to a loving embrace, just what is this treaty they’ve made?

Why they will boil the cake first, then bake it. There’s no need to worry about the expense of firewood when they have that broken chair and table to burn. And when the cake’s nearly ready they will decorate it, mixing those crushed almonds with those broken eggs as a coating and adorn it with the few nuts that remain whole.

What a cake for Easter-tide family gatherings! We shall remember them whenever we see their cake, but a cake needs a name before it can become a recipe.

“Simon Cake, it has to be”, shouts an old man, guess who?

“Nellie Cake, you silly old fool, there really is no choice”, rasps a lady of maturing years, and I’m sure you know just who.

Another fight brewing? No now the family are here and their youngest daughter steps between.

“A bit from here a bit from there,” she wisely says. “Simon and Nellie Cake shortened half and half to Simnel Cake sounds just right, so let that be.”

So here’s a toast to old Longden Coleham and how a wondrous cake was born.

and now courtesy of Amy Douglas

Recipe for Shrewsbury Simnel Cake


Over the years, the Simnel cake has developed and been elaborated. There are now several different types of cake, including the Devizes Simnel is in the shape of a star and the Bury Simnel, a flat spiced cake, but the Shrewsbury Simnel from Shropshire is still the most popular.

The original Simnel cakes surrounded by Lenten dough, boiled in a cloth, and baked in the way that Simon and Nelly first devised give a very hard cake; there is story that an old woman used her Simnel cake as a footstool for years! These days the Shrewsbury Simnel has evolved into a rich spiced fruit cake. The Lenten dough used to wrap up the outside has been replaced with almond paste, and there is an extra layer of the paste in the middle for good measure. It is usually decorated with eleven balls of the paste, which represent all the apostles except Judas (who is considered unworthy). Sometimes other Easter symbols are added—nests with chocolate eggs inside, rabbits, chicks—so be plain and simple or go wild—it’s up to you!


The Cake:
13 oz mixed fruit
8 oz flour
2 level tsp baking powder
1 level tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp mixed spice
5 oz butter
4 oz sugar
3 eggs

Apricot Sauce:
4 tbsp apricot jam
3 fluid oz water
1 tsp lemon juice

Almond Paste:
1 lb ground almonds
1 lb icing sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
Juice of 1 lemon

(Amy says that she found covering the cake in this home-made marzipan a bit tricky and she would definitely recommend that children only do the top and not try to do the sides! So you might need to make less, or consider using shop-bought marzipan)


Almond Paste:
Mix the almonds and icing sugar together. Beat the eggs lightly and add to the dry ingredients, together with the vanilla essence and the lemon juice. Mix to a paste and knead well.

Roll out two circles (same diameter as the cake tin), one for the middle and one for the top of the cake. Make eleven small balls, and use the remainder to roll out a long strip to cover the side of the cake.

The Cake:
Grease a 7-inch cake tin and line with greaseproof paper, greased on both sides.

Sieve the flour, baking powder, and spices together. In a separate bowl, cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Beat the eggs together in another separate container. Add a third of the fruit, a third of the beaten eggs, and a third of the flour to the creamed butter and sugar and fold together. Repeat until all ingredients are used, keeping a fairly stiff mixture throughout, but if necessary add a little milk.

Put half of the mixture into the cake tin, use one of the circles of almond paste and put over the mixture. Press down gently on the almond paste, working your way from one side to the other to make sure there are no air bubbles. Add the rest of the cake mixture on top.

Bake in a slow oven (300°F/150°C, gas mark 2) for about 1 ½ hours until the cake is well risen and firm to the touch. (With this cake, don’t rely on inserting a knife or skewer to see if the cake sticks to it; the almond paste will give the impression of an uncooked cake.)
Empty onto a cooling rack and leave until cold.

Apricot Sauce:
Mix the apricot jam with the water and simmer for five minutes. Add the lemon juice. Strain.

Use this mixture as a glue to hold the almond paste to the cake.

Decorating the Cake:
Brush the sides of the cake with the apricot sauce and wrap the almond paste around the outside. Brush the top of the cake with the apricot mixture and apply the second circle of almond paste. Arrange the eleven almond paste balls evenly in a ring around the edge of the top of the cake, using the apricot sauce to help them adhere.

Beat one egg and brush lightly over the cake to glaze.

Put the cake back into the oven at a temperature of 425°F/220°C/gas mark 7 for 5 to10 minutes or until the top of the balls are golden brown.

Applying the paste smoothly and evenly is by far the most difficult part of the recipe. It is most easily achieved by rolling out the almond paste onto a piece of greaseproof paper, pushing onto cake and then peeling the paper away. Icing sugar can be used to prevent the paste from sticking to fingers and the rolling pin.

With thanks to Amy Douglas

Amy’s recipe appears in…

English Folktales

Edited by
Dan Keding and Amy Douglas

ISBN 1-59158-260-1

The only real limit to what your Story Apron can look like is the extent of your imagination – take the challenge – let’s create at home!