Friday, October 31, 2008

Two Excuses to Celebrate.

Today is the third birthday of The Old Foodie. How Amazing. It started off as a little experiment for fun, and here we all are, 863 posts later. Who’da Thought It?

A few people around the world will chose to celebrate Halloween instead of the TOF’s birthday of course, for tonight is also the e’en (evening) of All Hallows (All Saints) Day.

The modern customs of Hallowe’en are the result of clever commercial manipulation of traditions that have their roots in the the ancient Celtic celebration of Samhain which marked the end of the harvest season. It was believed that on this night the passages between the worlds of the living and the dead were open, and the souls of the dead could walk the land, wreaking havoc if they were not properly appeased (or confused by scary costumes and noise.)

The spirits could also be invoked to foretell the future, and many Halloween games and customs are based on old divination methods. For example, in a variation of the bean in the Twelfth Night Cake, or the charms in a Christmas Pudding, one custom in Ireland was to put a ring in a sweet fruit bread called a barm brack. The girl who got the ring would get her man within the year – a hugely reassuring promise at a time when her only other alternative to marriage was remaining dependent on her parents or brothers for ever.

Barm Brack comes from the words barm (yeast) and breac (speckled) and refers to the fruit scattered through the sweet dough. In that other stronghold of the Celts – Wales – speckled bread is called Bara Brith, and in Scotland it is the same as Bannock.

The earliest recipe I have found so far (after a far from an exhaustive search) is from a Scottish cookery book of 1802 – the recipe donated by a lady in Bath, proving that the provenance of recipes nearly always demonstrates a mongrel heritage. The name of the particular recipe is clearly a phonetic interpretation at the name.

To Make Barren Brack.
Take three quarts of flour, rub into it three ounces of butter, seven ounces of sugar, some carraway seeds, make a hole in this; put into it two eggs beat up to a froth, a gill of barm in as much new milk as will wet it; work it up and let it rise, and bake it upon a girdle.
Mrs. Cobb, Bath.
The New Practice of Cookery, Pastry, Baking, and Preserving: being The Country Housewife’s Best Friend, by Mrs Hudson, Mrs Donat, Edinburgh, 1804.

Quotation for the Day …

On the plain household bread his eye did not dwell; but he surveyed with favor some currant tea-cakes, and condescended to make a choice of one. Charlotte Bronte.

5 comments:

srhcb said...

I for one am glad to have an excuse to celebrate anything other than Halloween.

Nobody older than three should be allowed to wear a silly costume, and no one over eight should beg for candy.

Happy Anniversary

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

I think I'd rather celebrate your birthday than Halloween. Congratulations! Three years daily is an awesome accomplishment!

Duncan | syrupandtang said...

Congratulations on one of most original and stimulating food sites on the web. I read you often, but rarely comment (this is only my second or third over the years). May you enjoy yourself for a long time to come.

The Old Foodie said...

Thanks everyone - I do intend to keep going, so I hope you all keep coming.

Barbara said...

Congratulations on 3 years of entertaining and interesting posts. Really funny to follow the costume discussions on Twitter. I imagine some costumes are as bizarre as some of the Melbourne Cup outfits we see at this time of year. Who needs Hallowean when you have the Racing carnival.

Will work on some dates for get together soon.