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Articles listed in this section were contributed by members of the wider community and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of House Shadow Drake.

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Bannock Traditions in Wales
Cooking and Recipes



By: Morwynn of House Shadow Drake

Published in Traditions Magazine, Samhain 2004 Issue


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 surrounding area.

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 life.

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.

Bannock Recipe

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

Instructions
  • 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 above.









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