“The horrid news upset us dreadfully.” This is Queen Victoria writing to her eldest daughter, having been told by the happy teenage Princess of her first pregnancy. The Queen goes on to forbid the expectant mother to pass on this “disgusting” news to her siblings. A curious reaction from the Mother of her Peoples if you are not familiar with Victoria’s hyper-complex and fascinating personality; she had a horror of pregnancy, babies (“terrible frog-like action”) and infants (“children both very well but poor little Louise very ugly”) but like many reluctant mothers later made a devoted, relaxed and sympathetic grandmother.
This coming Sunday (the 4th in Lent) we celebrate Mothering Sunday which in recent years has become wrongly but inextricably confused and amalgamated with the American institution of Mother’s Day. Mothering Sunday is a medieval concept which celebrated the Mother Church and gave rise to the tradition of allowing servants a day off to visit their mother parishes and their own parents. Maids took with them a yellow Simnel cake, surreptitiously baked in their employers’ ovens, which in its turn became absorbed into the regalia of Easter confectionery.
The classic ingredient of Simnel cake is ground almond, marzipan paste. Almonds (incidentally, do you say AH-mond or ALL-mond?) appeared in Europe over two millenia ago, imported by Greek travellers from Asia. With its delicate pink and white blossoms, green velvety nut shells and delicious fruit the almond tree became a symbol of longevity, prosperity, fertility and hope: hence the gift of gilded or sugared almonds as wedding favours. A propos longevity, one of my great aunts lived very well on a diet of sweet almonds, cream horns and cigarettes to the age of 90.
Thanks to early Christian wordplay on the mention of almonds in the Old Testament the fruit became a symbol of the purity of the Virgin Mary, and hence of ideal motherhood. The Italian word for almond – “mandorla” – gave its name to the aura of Divine Light that surrounds holy figures in iconic art. You do see don’t you, how a little learning is guiding you towards a unique intellectual olfactory treat to offer on March 10th?
Consider L’Amandiere and Tonkamande, two beautiful perfumes which play with an almond theme and content. James Heeley’s L’Amandiere is all spring delicacy and colour – pale washed blue sky, sun-warmed fresh air, jade-green and silver buds, bluebells like shattered lapis and translucent glowing almond blossom. Innocent but not naïve; floral without being flowery. Tonkamande is more calculatedly exotic: sweet and aldehydic it liquifies into a milky, toasty sweet almond elixir that lightly touches on a patisserie theme but avoids gross gourmanderie. A waft from the almond trees, a hint from the oven. Purity, bounty, abundance, generosity, nourishment: how perfectly apt for a maternal offering!”
Image from jwwaterhouse.com