01 August 2011

1 August - Lammas Day; Currant Scones

Weather: If geese and ducks run around with straw in their beaks, there will be destructive storms in late summer, and the autumn will be very boisterous.

Today is Lammas Day, also known as the Feast of the First Fruits.  Bread baked from the first harvest of grain is blessed today.  This would also be a good time to take some of the harvest from your garden to be blessed as well.  In all things, give thanks.

In many places, this was the traditional beginning of the harvest, but as everyone with a farm or garden knows, crops don't wait for certain dates, anymore than animals follow daylight savings time.

There is no consensus on the origin of the name "Lammas", with some contending that it is a short form of "Lamb-mass", either because the priests received their tithe-lambs today or because Mass said today was beneficial to lambs, and others maintaining that it comes from the Anglo-Saxon hlaf-maesse or loaf-mass, when an offering of new bread was made in thanksgiving for a good harvest.

This was formerly a quarter day, upon which rents were due and payments made, the others being Whitsuntide (May or June, depending on Easter), Martinmas (November 11), and Candlemas (February 2).  At some point, they became cross-quarter days, and those rents or payments not otherwise paid on the quarter days came due.  This was also one of the tithing days, in which a tenth of the produce or craft was paid to the church - hence the large tithe-barns.
Since the symbol of today is bread, this would be a good day to make a new loaf.  Catholic Culture has an article on the "Quarter Cakes" traditionally baked in Scotland for this day, with a recipe for them here.

Quick breads are easy; one of my oft-tried favorites is CURRANT SCONES:

Preheat the oven to 425° F.
Separate 1 egg.

In a large mixing bowl, combine 2 cups of flour, 1/4 cup of sugar, 1 tablespoon of baking powder, and 1 teaspoon of salt.  Stir well with a fork to mix.

Cut in 1/3 cup of solid vegetable shortening until mixture resembles coarse crumbs, then stir in 1/4 cup of currants or raisins.

In a smaller bowl, beat the egg yolk and 1 egg, then stir in 1/3 cup of milk.  Add this all at once to the flour mixture and stir until it is moistened and makes a soft dough (you may need to add a little more milk if the dough is too stiff).

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently for about 30 seconds.  Put the dough on an ungreased baking sheet, and either roll or pat the dough into an 8-inch circle, about 1/2-inch thick.  With a floured knife, cut the circle into 10 or 12 wedges.

Beat the egg white until frothy.  Paint it over the top of the dough and sprinkle top with 1 to 2 tablespoons of sugar.

Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown.