Throughout the British Isles and Ireland, great
ceremony attended the cutting of the last sheaf; the last refuge of the
harvest. St. Michael's Day was held on September 29th, and was a
festival that shared many of the same features of Lughnasadh.
When I recollect my childhood memories from Wales, I remember my
family's celebration of this day and it always takes me back to the
making of the Struan Micheil or Michael's Bannock.
The Struan Micheil was a special cake, more like a heavy bread,
that was made from all of the different types of grain that were
harvested during that time of year by my family from all around the
I remember various large round loaves that were marked with deep
crosses. These loaves were then fire cooked. Within my family,
each woman's fire contained special sacred woods in which their loaves
were baked. My grandmother's contained sacred oaks, rowan, and some
various bramble wood that she loved the best because to her it smelled
of the dark brambles or blackberries that it would soon harvest and was
"best" for her fire and her bannock. I also remember how various women
each spoke of the different ingredients they used and why. I also
remember that I did not care for bannock made with sheep's milk!
I have been blessed with having the awesome pleasure of owning my
grandmother‘s bannock recipe which was willed to me and will one day be
passed down to the next generation of my family. I think that of all I
have experienced, her recipe is by far the best, and I will always
fondly remember the smell coming from the cook fire for the rest of my
I have researched many recipes on bannock that have included different
grain types, the availability of various grains and flours, and the
times during the year that the bannock loaves were cooked and for what
purposes they were made.
I found that Wales and Ireland were not as similar as I had thought
they might be. In Ireland, the bannock is typically made from a
wheat flour. Barley flours were used extensively in Wales. Bannock
loaves provided a main staple food and were eaten at feasts as well as
all of the daily meals. They acted as the prime form of breads and
cakes in the days of old.
During the times of the harvest, my grandmother made and put up as many
loaves or cakes as she had enough flour to cook. All during September,
she and the family cooked enough bannock loaves that would supply them
throughout the harvest season, the coming Winter. and throughout most
of the Spring.
Folk tradition has it that the baker imbues each cake with a blessing
during every stage of the bannock: mixing the ingredients, kneading the
dough, leaving it to proof, baking the cake, and a special blessing if
it was for a gift. Therefore, care must also be taken during this day
in respect to how many cakes are cooked. I have also found that it is
traditional for many in Ireland, Wales, and Scotland to bless each
bannock as it is removed from the fire.
All day long my family baked.
There were also processions, songs to Michael, and horse racing in the
afternoon that almost everyone attended. We then returned to our
home early in the evening to enjoy music, dancing and the exchange of
gifts. It seemed that over the years the gift exchange was done more so
at Samhain and during Yule after we moved to the United States.
My family still cooks a bannock for many holidays. Michael's Mass has
past us now this year, however, Samhain is upon us and maybe during
your celebration this year, someone would perhaps like to add the
custom of preparing the bannock to their own celebrations. Do not be
afraid to use and try different flours of your region as well as whole
grains and spices.
Although I do not know the exact time period that bannock originated;
my family’s original recipe has been handed down within my family and
dates to 1538.
The following is a simplified version of the bannock recipe that you
can try at home. It is has been further adapted from the recipe that
was used by my grandmother, Lady Ethel of Wales, and myself.
1 Cup Barley flour
1 Cup Wheat flour
1/2 Cup Rolled Oats
1 Cup White Sugar
1/2 to 1 Cup Sultanas or White Raisins
1 1/2 Cup Buttermilk
2 tbsp. Baking Powder
2 tbsp. Baking Soda
1 tbsp. Coarse Ground Salt
1 tbsp. Allspice
1 tbsp. Cinnamon
1 tbsp. Cloves
1 tbsp. Nutmeg
- Gas Mark 400 Fahrenheit or 200 Celsius for 20-25 minutes.
- Electric Oven 375 Fahrenheit or 190 Celsius for 40-45 minutes.
In a large bowl, sift both flours fine, add salt, baking powder and
soda to sifter. Re-sift the mixture of flours, salt, and baking soda
then add the spices and sift. Remove sifter and add the next set of
ingredients by tossing in the rolled oats, sugar, and sultanas. Slowly
add the buttermilk and mix by hand until mixture forms a ball. Next,
turn the dough out onto a well-floured board. Knead, turn about 50 or
60 times, and re-flour as needed.
You will then need to decide the desired size of your loaf. You can
turn this into a large loaf, or split it into two medium cakes.
Separate the dough into small rounded balls and then flatten it into a
small round flat cake about 3/4 inch thick. For medium or large sized
loaves, score the top of each cake with a cross. Bake as directed