Knobby Food

What's the connection between pattypan squash and the bagel? OK, pretty remote, but it exists.

In England, there's a traditional Lenten fruitcake called a simnel, which has both a filling and a frosting of almond paste. Originally, however, the simnel was a "sodden [boiled] bread," cooked by boiling the dough awhile and then baking it, which is how pretzels and bagels are cooked. The simnel was described as bis coctus , "twice cooked," as early as 1290.

The heyday of the simnel was the 17th and 18th centuries. By that time, it had become a fruitcake encased in a saffron-dyed crust, boiled in cloth for several hours and then brushed with egg and baked. The crust ended up as hard as wood, and there were lots of jokes about simnels being taken for footstools.

The traditional shape of a simnel, as far back as the 15th Century, was a thick disk with knobs or points formed around the rim. The present-day simnel has 11 balls of almond paste in place of the knobs.

With its knobby-pillow look, the pattypan squash reminded some Americans of a small pie (patty), but others of a simnel. And that's how the pattypan got its other name, which some people still use: cymling, which is a dialect pronunciation of simnel.

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