Bannocks – Samhain Recipes!
Bannocks are traditional quick breads seen across the world, from Tibet to Canada. Quick and easy to prepare, bannock bread was also the Irish weapon of choice for any Celtic festival or celebration. There were bannocks for marking seasonal feasts like Lúnasa, for getting married, for having a baby…even for wanting to get married or have a baby.
Because in Celtic Ireland, bannocks performed a role beyond just being food: they were signs, tools, omens. Pagan symbols used in the pagan rituals that governed your calendar. The most important of which was the Samhain ritual.
Bannocks for Samhain rituals
The bannocks prepared for the Samhain rituals are a good example of the symbolic role bannock bread played in proceedings. Prepared in meditative silence, Samhain bannocks were part of the display of hospitality shown to anyone dropping by during Halloween in Ireland. Be they guisers bent on causing mischief (trick), poor children performing songs in exchange for bread (treat), or the spirit of a disgruntled relative storming through your home, gracing you with their presence despite being ten years in the ground (trick and treat).
Just like other Samhain recipes – the sacrificial Irish tea cake among them – these bannocks told the future.
Unmarried girls would prepare Samhain bannocks together an hour before midnight on Halloween night, scoring their initials into these witch cakes. A dark figure would then descend upon the kitchen, telling of their future husbands. Or (traditions varied from place to place) each girl ate one of these salty bannocks in three bites before heading to bed in total silence – their future Prince Charming would surely appear in their dreams to quench their thirst.
OR (traditions continuing to vary/crumble) the girls would break up the bannock, with each placing a piece of it beneath their pillow and entering the land of Nod. His business done in fantasies farther afield, the bold P.C. would surely not pass up the chance to visit yet more virgins.
Simple bannock bread
This unleavened bread recipe can surely be conjured up as part of your Halloween or Samhain rituals, but it’s good any time of the year, really. Made from oats, flour, salt and water, its secret recipe is the slow, stabilizing power of simplicity. In a world drugged by detail.
Because life is way too cluttered, right? And being busy isn’t necessarily a good thing, or means that you are accomplishing that which needs to be accomplished.
Just as they did for the ancient Celts, these Samhain bannocks offer you the chance to slow down, look into yourself a little. Placing plain on your palette can provide the perfect launching pad for seeing – and, if you engage the process often enough, sight. Just ask a Zen monk how he likes his diet of rice and water, three times a day, seven days a week…tastes good!
Irish food traditions
Bannock bread can really be made from any kind of flour, but we’ve stayed traditional Celtic on it. The Samhain recipes of the ancient Celts would’ve called for oats, making this simple witch cake over a bonfire set ablaze for their Halloween rituals.
Samhain bannocks are essentially oat cakes done on a griddle. As this is just a wee bit too horsey for our tastes, we have opted for half Oats and half plain white Flour. Do make sure to use ‘old-fashioned’ rolled oats for your Samhain bannocks; groats that have been steamed and flattened during processing.
Irish of days gone by almost certainly made use of seaweed, heather and other yeast agents; to make the Irish liquor, poitín, for example. Native Americans were using pearl ash in unleavened bread recipes for centuries. But enterprising though they were, neither the inhabitants of old Erin’s Isle nor the original North Americans had access to the modernly magical soda bicarbonate. So feel free to add a small pinch of Baking Soda to your mix, it’ll give it a bit of lift.
But any more than a pinch will likely bring that metallic taste to your bannock bread. If you care to make this Samhain recipe in the oven, do of course add baking soda – two teaspoons should bring about a nice and fluffy end product.
Plainer than the bannock recipe that features in the Celtic festival that precedes it (Lúnasa), the bannocks for the Samhain ritual were super straightforward flat breads. Up there with other simple Samhain recipes, such as that infamous witch cake, barmbrack or ‘Irish tea cake’, and the culinary cakewalk that is traditional baked onion. Each of them fantastically easy yet totally authentic Irish food.
To get started, Mix the Oats, Flour, Salt and Baking Soda together in a Mixing Bowl. Once done, slowly Add the Warm Water, a little at a time. You want the dough to take on that nice Goldilocks consistency: not too dry, not a bowlful of slop.
Once you’ve got the consistency nice and firmish, Knead the dough a little. Just a few times through will do. The goal is simple to Bring the Dough together. After that, we Cut the dough into two smaller balls.
Our dough balls* rounded, we left them in the (covered) mixing bowl. Just for about twenty minutes, to give the soda a little chance to get to work. We’re not sure of the science here, perhaps the reaction with the water is too small to make a difference, but this is the way this bannock recipe has been handed down to us.
Returning to your Dough Balls, place them on a lightly floured surface and Flatten the bannocks into patties by using the palm of your Hand. No need to roll them out, your hand will do for shaping them. If you’re feeling in the Halloween mood, or disparaged by your unmarried status, Score your Initials into the bread-to-be.
Cooking the bannocks
Add some Oil to a Griddle over medium hat and Cook your bannocks one by one. Once the bannock has taken a hue of delectable golden brown, flip your outlook and give the other side some play. It will take about 8 minutes for each side. Done in the oven as one large bannock, expect it to take 30 minutes in an oven preheated to 400° f/200° f/gas 6.
Remove from heat and Serve. It’s Irish tradition to Tear the bannock bread rather than cut it.
Again, these are rather plain bannocks that might not appeal to many, so do enjoy with some a spoonful of Irish Buzz smeared atop. You can also play with the form and ingredients of your bannock recipe – from a large Halloween cake to small scones.
Ingredients for Bannocks
Makes 2 medium-sized Samhain Bannocks
- 5 1/4 oz (150 g) Rolled Oats
- 5 1/4 oz (150 g) Plain Flour
- 5 fl oz (150 ml) Warm water – approx., enough for firm dough
- 1/2 tsp Salt
- Pinch of Baking Soda – if baking in the oven, use 2 tsp
- Mix the dry ingredients in a Mixing Bowl.
- Stir in Warm Water until dough has a firm consistency.
- Bring the dough together in a ball by briefly Kneading it through a few times. Set aside in a covered container for approx. 20 minutes.
- Flatten the dough into patties with the palm of your Hand.
- Heat some Oil in a Griddle over medium heat and Cook the bannocks until golden brown on both sides, about 8 minutes per side.
[If making your Samhain bannocks in the oven, preheat the oven to 400° f/200° c/gas 6 and bake on a middle shelf for 30 minutes.]
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* That has to be the name of a rapper someplace