Thursday, September 28, 2006

Michaelmas Eve.

Today, September 28th …

If you have any Scots ancestry, and wish to be true to any Celtic blood in your veins, today is the day to bake your “Struan Micheil” ready for blessing by the priest tomorrow, for today is Michaelmas Eve.

In your ancestral land it is harvest time, and the traditions of the Christian feast of St.Michael and All Angels are heavily blended with much more ancient traditions of harvest time and the necessity to appease the harvest deities. In case you have forgotten, a Struan-Micheil (“St Michael’s Cake” or Bread) is a type of “bannock” or unleavened bread cooked before the fire on a stone or on a griddle. It is essential to get the ritual and method exactly right, for baking disasters portend all manner of evil falling upon your family in the coming year. I will therefore remind you of the details.

The awesome responsibility of faultless production of the bread falls upon the oldest daughter of your house (or at least some other dependable female). The grains used must be in the proportion of those grown on your land (you probably have barley, oats, and rye). A peck (8 Imperial quarts) of flour from this grain (or two pecks if you have a large family) is to be mixed with an appropriate amount of sheeps’ milk into dough. This preparation is ideally done upon a lamb-skin. The dough is then placed on a “struan-flag” – a large stone which your menfolk brought in from one of yon bonnie banks earlier in the day – and is placed before the fire. During the baking three layers of a batter of cream, eggs, and butter is daubed over the dough to enrich and engolden it.

Important: do not throw away the flour ("fallaid") remaining on the baking surface, sweep it carefully up and place in something like a small bag or sock, you will need it tomorrow for Michaelmas.

Recipe for the Day …

Here is a basic bannock recipe for you to adapt to your ingredients.

Oatmeal Bannocks.

Rub half an ounce of fresh butter into two and a half pounds of Scotch oatmeal, and stir briskly in as much lukewarm water as will make it into a stiff paste. Sprinkle some oatmeal on the pastry board, and spread the mixture out into a round cake, about half and inch thick and four inches in diameter. Bake in a moderate oven for one hour. Sufficient for ten or twelve persons. [Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery; 1870s]

[Surely it means a number of cakes four inches in diameter, not just one?]

Tomorrow’s Story …

Michaelmas Day.

Quotation for the Day …

“ … an entertainment is prepared with primeval simplicity, the chief part is a great oatcake, called Struan-Micheil, or St. Michael’s Cake, composed of two pecks of meal, and formed like the quadrant of a circle, it is daubed over with milk and eggs, and then placed to harden before the fire.” Thomas Pennant, A tour in Scotland, and voyage to the Hebrides.; 1776.

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