Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Lammas Time.

Today, August 1st …

This day in the Northern hemisphere is Lammas Day, one of the “cross-quarter” days that occurred at the midway point between the solstice and equinox and divided the seasons of the ancient Celtic calendar. It is the beginning of the harvest season, and the name probably comes from “loaf mass”, as it was traditional for a loaf of bread from the first ripe corn (i.e wheat) to be taken to church to be blessed.

Of course, the roots of the festival go way back before the Christian era, and another explanation of the name is that it may come from the Feast of Lughnasadh, or Lugh – the ancient Irish sun-goddess. The Irish certainly lay claim to the oldest continuing Lammas fair, which has been held in Ballycastle in County Antrim since the fifteenth century. If you can get there today, the traditional specialties of dulse and yellowman are the things to buy.

Dulse is the healthy food choice - an edible seaweed with deep purplish-red fronds, and is sold dried in bags, to be munched on like popcorn, or boiled or roasted, or added to salads or bread. Yellowman on the other hand, is holiday fair food – a honeycomb toffee which must be a relatively recent tradition as it relies on the use of baking soda – an early nineteenth century invention – to give it the characteristic texture. In fact “toffee” (or “taffy”) is a relatively new word, and the first references in the OED also come from the early nineteenth century. It must surely be related to “taffeta”, which has referred to a glossy fabric since at least the fourteenth century?

And, miraculously, between taffeta and toffee we find recipes for Taffety Cream (a dish of cream and eggs) and Taffety Tarts, which usually contained apple. Here is a spectacularly fragrant sounding version – the apple pulp scented and flavoured with orange, quince, rose-water, and violets!

To make Taffaty-Tarts.
Mix a quarter of a Peck of Fine Flour, with a quarter of a Pint of Yeast, and as much hot Liquor as will make it into a stiff Paste, with two Pound of butter, the Yolks of twelve Eggs, and half a Pound of fine Sugar; make it up into small Balls, and then roll it out into thick Plates; wash round their Brims with Milk: Boil Pippins soft, peel them and scrape the Pulp from the Cores, mingle the Pulp with fine Sugar, a little Marmalade of Quinces, the Scrapings of candied Orange-peel, and Rose-water: Make up your Tarts, dry them in a warm Place, bake them, scrape Sugar, and sprinkle Essence of Violets or Roses over them, and serve them up.
(The Cook’s and Confectioner’s Dictionary” 1724)

Tomorrow: Musings on Moose.

Quotation for the Day …

Laughter is brightest, in the place where the food is. Irish proverb

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