Thursday, April 23, 2015

For Bealtaine: Highland Quarter Cakes

In honour of Bealtaine, just around the corner now, here is an excerpt from F. Marian McNeill's wonderful book on Scottish food and related lore. She mentions the now lost bannock made for Imbolc as well--how I wish we had the rituals related to that.

Blessings of the season! 

Oatcakes, prepared in a special way were used from time immemorial, in the rites of Beltane (May 1st, O.S.). Pennant (1769) writes: ‘Everyone takes a cake of oatmeal, upon which are raised nine square knobs, each dedicated to some particular being, the supposed preserver of their flocks and herds, or to some particular animal, the real destroyer of them. Each person turns his face to the fire, breaks off a knob, and flinging it over his shoulder, says: “This I give to thee, preserve thou my horses; this to thee, preserve thou my sheep,” and so on. After that, they use the same ceremony to the noxious animals: “This I give to thee, O Fox, spare thou my lambs; this to thee, O Hooded Crow, this to thee O Eagle!”

 ...In Badenoch, until recently, oatcakes marked on one side with a cross and on the other with a circle were rolled down the hillside on Beltane morning. (See The Silver Bough, Vol. II.)...

The Beltane bannock appears to be the last survivor of the old Highland Quarter Cakes; the bonnach Bride, St. Bride’s bannock, baked for the first day of spring; the bonnach Bealltain, Beltane bannock, baked for the first day of summer; the bonnach Lunastain, Lammas bannock, baked for the first day of autumn; and the bonnach Samhthain, Hallowmas bannock, baked for the first day of winter.

– F. Marian McNeill, The Scot’s Kitchen: Its Traditions and Lore with Old-Time Recipes, Mayflower Granada (1979) pg 232-233.
(First published 1929)

No comments: