Part of my Year of Living Seasonally project is to cook ritual foods. Some people are spooked (how appropriate for today!) by the word ritual. Just stop and think for a minute though about the foods we only eat at certain times. I’m not talking eating that food which is in season, but rather those recipes, dishes that we usually only have on certain dates or occasions. Like Christmas pudding. Or hot cross buns. Or simnel cake. Or brack – barmbrack to give it the full name. These are dishes that for various reasons have become synonymous with these feast days and celebrations. The history and symbolism of ritual foods fascinates me and I thought it would be interesting to incorporate it into the project.
Barmbrack (in Irish bairín breac) would traditionally have some items hidden in it which if you found them were meant to signify something that would happen to you over the coming year. The items and their meanings vary from region to region and over time, but the best known one was a ring, which mean the finder would be married within the year. Other items that I have heard or read of being included were a rag, a holy medal, a thimble, a pea and a coin. The meanings of these vary considerably and I could probably write a thesis on that alone.
In my local supermarket today there were piles of round bracks selling at €1 each. I don’t know if people don’t eat brack anymore or if people still make their own but I did notice that there were very few of the packets of ‘Hallowe’en cupcakes’ and ‘Toffee Terror Treats’ left. I do have a sweet tooth, but honestly cupcakes with orange and black icing say precisely nothing about Hallowe’en and Samhain. At the risk of sounding like a grumpy middle aged woman, I think it would be a shame if we lost these food traditions.
I made two bracks today, one a traditional Irish recipe and the other is an apricot and orange brack. My lovely stepdaughter gave me a recipe for apricot and orange brack last year which was utterly gorgeous but I can’t find it now (sorry R!) so I followed this recipe here from Crafty Mums and the other one is from Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills of Cooking. Its the Irish Tea Barmbrack recipe rather than her Hallowe’en Barmbrack one which is a yeast recipe (I might make that one next year!) We’ve only tasted one yet but they both look and smell good!
Jack O Lanterns in Ireland and Scotland were traditionally made from turnips (pumpkins not being a native crop to either country). I haven’t made one this year, although I did buy a pumpkin…… I’ll make something from it on Sunday. Maybe. It looks gorgeous sitting on my table though!
Oh and if anyone has any ritual food recipes they’d like to share, please do get in touch 🙂
I buy a fresh turkey from our local butchers every year for Christmas. And every year I vow that I will be frugal, do the whole domestic goddess thing and make stock from the carcass which I will then use as the basis for nourishing, flavoursome soup for my family. And every year we get sick of looking at the bloody thing and the remains get binned. Well not this year I decided. I’m the proud owner of many cookbooks includng Darina Allen’s Forgotten Skills of Cooking so I figured she’d surely be able to talk me through the process of making stock. Can’t be that complicated really.
Start with the ingredients: a carcass, an onion, a carrot, some lovage or celery leaves, a leek, 6 peppercorns, a few parsley leaves and a sprig of thyme. Or in my case, a carcass, an onion, a carrot, a handful of peppercorns and whatever herbs were left in the fridge after Christmas. So not the best start. But let’s keep on going.
On to method. Ok so chop the carcass as small as you can she says. Now to me chop means use a knife or similar. so I tried my biggest sharpest knife and got fecking nowhere. No cleavers in this kitchen and I draw the line at using the axe I chop kindling with. My husband had broken up the carcass with his hands to get the last of the usable meat of it already so it was in a few pieces. Ah feck it I thought that’ll do.
Chuck it all in the pan and cover with approx 7 pints of water. It took 8 pints to cover it. Hmm. 8 pints of stock is a lot. Bring to the boil – yep that’s easy done. Then skim the fat off with a tablespoon. Peer into pot, lots of foam but nothing that looks like fat. Is that because I didn’t chop it up or did I just have a skinny turkey? Then I realised another problem for me when making stock – a large stockpot full of boiling steaming liquid and glasses do not mix well. I could see bugger all of the fat that I was meant to be skimming off.
After a few minutes I gave up the skimming as a bad job and let it boil for another few minutes before turning down and simmering. For 4 hours. It smelled pretty good I must admit. Rather green in colour but I’m assuming that was down to the proportionately large amount of herbs I threw in. The aroma crept throughout the house and it was one of the first things my husband commented on when he came in from work. Cue enhanced feelings of domestic goddess-ness.
Tomorrow I’ll have a go at making soup. This stock making is hard work, I’m curled up with a pizza (homemade cue brownie points) and a much needed glass of red!
Sometimes I get a little carried away in the kitchen. Yesterday was Valentine’s Day and while I was thinking about the meal I was going to cook for my husband and I (sound like the Queen there!!) I sussed that I had a load of lemons in the kitchen and some cranberries left over from Christmas in the darkest recesses of my fridge. So – cos I had nothing else to do! – I made cranberry curd and lemon curd. I had made both of them before but I tried a different lemon curd recipe this time (Darina Allen’s actually and it is by far the nicest ever). So as well as a meal of crab cakes, T-bone steak with chips, mushrooms and onions followed by lemon meringue pie, I also made these……. I don’t think they will last terribly long!!!
Actually just writing that has made me see how easily I am sucked in by descriptions on restaurant menus. I cooked T-bone steak and chips – but I could have equally described it as “pan-seared prime Irish T-bone steak (in fact very local – raised and slaughtered less than 5 miles from my kitchen) served with handcut potato chips, sprinkled with sea salt and served with slivers of mushroom and onion sauteed in a delicate garlic butter.” See what I mean??
Anyway, it all tasted bloody good!!!!