Instead of my usual annual homage to the seasonal batter, this year I felt that the Scottish traditional ’Bannock Night’; also recognised on the last Tuesday before Lent, represented a somewhat more interesting celebration of note. Sometimes called ‘Faster Even’, or ‘Beef Brose’ depending on the region this festive event; which is still honoured in Scotland, is far more complex and embedded in folk-lore than the simple tossing of a pancake.
Bannock Nights of old meant that everyone was encouraged to eat a beef dinner, or face the possibility of next year’s cattle failing. The most commonly eaten dish was Brose. Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management includes a recipe for Kale Brose:
KALE BROSE (a Scotch Recipe)
Ingredients – Half an ox head or cow heel, a teacupful of toasted oatmeal, salt to taste, 2 handfuls of greens, 3 quarts of water.
Mode – Make a broth of the ox head, or cow heel, and boil it till oil floats on the top of the liquor, then boil the greens, shred, in it. Put the oatmeal, with a little salt, into a basin, and mix with it quickly a teacupful of the fat broth: it should not run into one doughy mass, but form knots. Stir it into the whole, give one boil, and serve very hot.
Into this brose went a ring and sometimes a button. The ring symbolised marriage, the button single-life. Whoever got the ring had to keep it secret until the end of the meal and then wore the ring until the following morning. The dreams from the night before were then interpreted for the year ahead. The young people from the villages went from house to house with a cheeky spoon at the ready to obtain their brose.
But that’s not the end of it – Later in the evening bannocks were baked, made from eggs, oatmeal and milk then baked on a griddle. This was a team effort, with one person weighing and measuring, another stirring, another cooking etc. Finally the baking concluded with one last cake called a ‘sautie’ bannock with a ring placed inside. The baking of this cake had to be done in utter silence. Everyone in the kitchen was tasked with getting the cook to break their silence and forfeit their right to bake the final symbolic bannock. Once baked, every unmarried person present got a portion. And if theirs contained a ring they would be the first to head up the aisle!