The annual love fest, otherwise known as Valentine’s Day, celebrated every year on 14 February, is upon us. Sending cards, flowers and chocolate and romantic dinners provides a commercial boost to drive the sales of around £500mn which we spend today. It’s come a long way from its origins!
Origins of St Valentine’s Day
In ancient Rome, the fertility festival of Lupercalia in mid-February is thought to have provided the backdrop to a rebranding of the tradition as a Christian feast day to commemorate the life of not one but two third-century AD Christian martyrs called Valentine, who were martyred for their faith in Rome on 14 February. And so, the Valentine’s Day tradition began.
We had to wait until the 14th century and writer Geoffrey Chaucer before the links were made to love and romance. In his Parlement of Foules, Chaucer wrote in his poem to celebrate the engagement of the 15 year-old King Richard II to Anne of Bohemia: “For this was on St. Valentine’s Day, when every bird (fowl) cometh to choose his mate.”
By the 17th century St Valentine’s Day was well established with Valentine’s notes regularly passed between star-struck lovers and the literary links continued. In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Ophelia laments: “To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day, All in the morning betime, And I a maid at your window, To be your Valentine.”
During the Victorian era, the introduction of the postal service in 1840 made it easy to send Valentine cards anonymously. Mass produced cards with schmaltzy verses and sentimental pictures of cupids, roses and hearts became the order of the day.
Valentine’s Day recipes
I inherited a heart shaped cake tin a few years ago and have made Valentine cakes ever since. I made this chocolate cake to raise funds for a local cancer charity event. Here’s Grandma’s easy recipe if you want to showcase your baking to the love of your life:
What you need
6 oz/175g sugar
6 oz/175g butter
6 oz/175g self-raising flour
2 tbsps cocoa
2 tbsps black treacle (warmed)
½ tsp vanilla extract
½ cup milk
How to bake
Cream the butter and sugar together. Mix the cocoa and flour together. Beat the eggs. Add alternately to the mixture with the flour and mix gently. Add the warmed treacle and vanilla. Add enough milk to give a soft (dropping) consistency. Bake in a moderate oven for approximately 45 minutes. (350F, Mark 4, 180 C). Allow to cool. Fill with butter cream or fresh cream and decorate with melted chocolate or butter cream as you wish.
If the cake doesn’t take your fancy … bake some of Grandma’s other Valentine’s Day recipes like her popular Valentine shortbread biscuits or Valentine gingerbread biscuits. A Valentine shaped cutter will comes in handy for these. As a final flourish, pop a glace cherry, crystallised ginger or cranberries on each biscuit or drizzle with lemon icing.
Wishing you a Happy Valentine’s Day! I’ll be baking a cake with my grandchildren to keep our family tradition alive. We love a heart!