Friday, October 15, 2010

He loves me... He loves me not?

     During this time of the year, the superstitious people come out of the woodwork, and the Irish are no strangers to folklore.  One myth is that the soul of the last buried in the churchyard, must watch over all until another soul enters in, indentured to carry water to those souls waiting in Purgatory, another is when approaching a funeral you must turn back and walk at least four steps with the mourners.  Children born at night were gifted with seeing the fairies, spirits and wee folk, and during the magical time of Hallow e'en people avoided taking short cuts in fear of the spirits or wee folk leading them astray.
     Hallow e'en for the Irish was a time of divination, the completion of the year's harvest, and the remembrance for the dearly departed kinfolk. Even the poorest of households prepared something special for the night.  Oddly enough, what we know as Cabbage Night, has roots in Ireland.  Cabbage was tossed against neighbors door on Hallow e'en to give them a fright.
     Matchmaking was among the favorite pastimes of the Irish.  Special foods were prepared for such an occasion.  Colcannon and Barm Brack were used as divination tools to the future of young women and men.  The word Barm comes from and Old English word , beorma,  meaning yeasty fermented liquid.  It is said that this bread was made with the yeast skimmed off of the top of fermenting beer, and Brack from the Irish word brac  meaning speckled.  Barm Brack is a yeasty bread speckled with dried fruit, and was a tool of fortune telling and divination.  A real party starter in my book!!!  Various objects were hidden and baked in the bread. If the guest had a bean it meant poverty. If the slice contained a button you were destined to bachelorhood. A thimble, the woman would be a spinster. A coin you would attain great wealth and the most prized token of all was the gold ring, which meant marriage, the greatest of all the tokens. Spending your life with your beloved was the far greatest treasure to attain.

Barm Brack

1# mixed dried fruit( raisins, golden raisins, sultanas)
1 strong pot of Irish tea (constant comment works great)
1/2 cup room temperature  milk
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp active dry yeast
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp mixed spice( mixed spice is the US version of cinnamon,cloves, nutmeg, allspice and mace)
1 egg, beaten
3 tablespoons butter(Cabot)
2 tablespoons sugar

Soak the fruit in the tea over night. Combine the yeast, sugar and milk and allow to form bubbles(activating the yeast), sift the flour, with the remaining sugar, spices and cut in the butter with a pastry cutter. Make a well in the center and add your activated yeast and the beaten egg, and mix until a soft dough forms.  Knead in the fruit until well incorporated.  Place the dough in a well greased bowl and let rise for an hour.  Knead again lightly and form into loaf pans and let rise an additional 30 minutes. Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with pearl sugar and bake at 400F  for 35 to 45 minutes or until when tapped it will sound hollow.  Serve with butter and wonderful hot herbal tea.

Perpetual devotion to what a man calls his business, is only to be sustained by perpetual neglect of many other things. ~Robert Louis Stevenson(1850 to 1894)

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