Celtic Well

Holidays, Celebrations, & Food

Haggis Recipe
Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face, Great chieftain 0' the pudden race

Clean a sheep's pluck thoroughly. Make incisions in the heart and liver to allow the blood to flow out, and parboil them, letting the windpipe lie over the side of the pot to permit the phlegm and blood to disgorge from the lungs; change the water after a few minutes boiling for fresh water. Another half hour's boiling will be sufficient; but throw back the half of the liver to boil until it will grate easily. Take the heart, the half of the liver and the lungs, trimming away all skins and black looking parts, and mince them together along with a pound of good beef suet. Grate the other half of the liver. Have eight onions peeled and scalded in two waters, which chop and mix with this mince. Toast some oatmeal before the fire till it is of a light brown colour and perfectly dry. Less than two teaspoonfuls of meal will do for this quantity of meat. Spread the mince on a board and strew the meal lightly over it, with a high seasoning of pepper, salt, a little cayenne, and marjoram, well mixed. Have a sheep's stomach perfectly clean, and see that there is no thin part in it in case of its bursting. Put in the meat with a half-pint of good beef gravy, or as much strong broth and the juice of a lemon or a little good vinegar as will make a thick stew. Be careful not to fill the bag too full so as to allow the meat room to swell. Press out the air and sew up the bag; prick it with a large needle when it first swells in the pot, to prevent bursting; let it boil slowly for three hours if large.

ROBERT H. CHRISTIE, Banquets of the Nation

Recipe came from "A Book of Scotland."

From: "Stiof MacAmhalghaidh" calraige@eircom.net Date: Fri, 28 Oct 2005 13:29:36 +0100 Subject: RE: ~Celtic Well Re: [Celtic Well] Samhain food
Fergus Kelly, _Early Irish Farming_, DIAS 1997

Cooking of vegetables, p.339-40
Acorns as possible human food, p.307
Apples, sweet, p.259; in monastic diet, p.344
Barleymeal porridge, p.331-2
Broad bean, p.248-9
Blackberry, p.307
Nettle broth, p.340
Cabbage broth, p.340
Celery, p.253-4
Edible seaweed, p.305, 313
Garlic, p.253, 255
Hazel nuts, p.306
and on and on.

There's a whole bunch of vegetables and fruit and cereals mentioned in EIF, and many of these are specifically mentioned as foodstuffs (no surprise in that).Also, it is an established fact that a vegetable & herb garden was a standard part of the holdings of a prosperous farmer. Considering the relatively lower maintenance level for vegetables as opposed to livestock (they don't tend to wander off for a start), it seems reasonable to assume that lower social levels were equally associated with vegetable gardens. Notably, most of the fruits seem to be associated with Lugnasad, not Samhain, with apples and blackberries being obvious exceptions.

Regarding cereals, there's plenty of information, and as cereals are easily stored once dried through the winter, it seems likely that they would have had a role. The question is, What role? There's some useful detail on breads to be had, even to the weight of loaves suitable for eating by women as opposed to men. Bread was made with barley, wheat and oats, for sure, all cereals known to be in cultivation for many, many centuries.

Porridge (littiu) was also made, and is apparently particularly a food for children, made from any of the three grain types already noted. In all, there seem to be seveen cereals in use, as listed in the law text Bretha Déin Chécht, the English equivalent of which are not all certain: cruithnecht (bread-wheat), secal (rye), suillech (?spelt wheat), ibdach (?two-row barley), rúadán (?emmer wheat), éornae (six-row barley), corcae (common oat), given here in the relative order of value accorded them, thus a royal child would get wheat porridge, while a noble child would get barley porridge. Either way, it seems porridge was a common food for children of all ranks, presumably with oatmeal porridge being a common food for commoner children.

Onions seem to have been a well-established food, as was garlic and several other vegetables, some of which have uncertain identifications. Cainenn, identified by Kelly as onion, has also been identified as garlic or leek by others, though Kelly does argue that this may refer to all three Allium species, with fir cainnenn, ie 'true' cainnenn being a reference to the cultivated onion. In any event, this vegetable is by far the most commonly mentioned vegetable in early texts. Much discussion of the possibilities on p.251-3 of EIF. Imus is suggested as meaning celery, though he casts doubt on this and suggests instead alexanders. Borrlus seems to be leek, though braisech (cabbage) is, by contrast, not native to Ireland and though mentioned in monastic diets, may have arrived as a part of the influx of all sorts of goods, foods, technologies that followed on from contact with the Roman and the post-Roman Christian worlds. Chives are also listed. One last vegetable of interest is cerrbacán, which is generally identified with the carrot, though again Kelly makes a fine argument for a different identification, this time with skirret, a formerly popular vegetable now little used. His reason for this is that cerrbacán, as a name, suggests that it s a bent root, a feature not at all to be identified with carrots, cultivated or otherwise. I'll quickly mention also hazel nuts, which are known to have been popular foods, are often talked about and even made it into poetry.

The question about all this, and lots more that EIF contains, is which of them would have been available at the appropriate time of year. I think it is pointless to simply say 'meat, beer and nuts' because you will get ill if you try and live off that mix, as nutritionists today constantly tell us: eat more fruit and veg. When you think about it, even today we tend to name meals by the meat used.

The fact that the meat will come with peas, potato, mint and spinach is not mentioned but taken for granted, even though they may constitute well over half the volume of the meal. So, vegetables are important to the early Irish diet, and as I'd mentioned previously, it'd be interesting to see what sort of vegetables, fruit and nuts would have been included in a Samhain feast, whether you go for a vegetarian or non-vegetarian option. Can we, today, recreate such a meal?

First off, to get the 'other stuff' out of the way, we know that beef and pork are on the menu, as is beer and probably mead. We could also include deer, salmon, trout, eel, duck, red grouse, woodcock, barnacle goose, whooper swan and pigeon as possible wild creatures available as food sources. Of these, eels seem a good choice as they are caught when migrating to sea to spawn, in the late autumn on moonless nights. Trout are available year-round, and Salmon are a problem, as they are caught in weirs at a time of year that pretty much discounts them. The Garavogue River in Sligo is known to be very early, with Salmon runs beginning in November. Perhaps best to leave out salmon in favor of cod and ballan wrasse, two sea fish the bones of which are known from earl medieval sites. You could throw in a bowl of oysters, cockles, periwinkles, limpets, mussels, crab and edible seaweeds if you're near the sea. May I suggest, though, that people refrain from trying swan and wild goose (and several other wild species) in favor of domesticated alternatives? You may end up in court if caught shooting some of these!

Bread, too, of types depending on social rank (wheat, barley, oats in descending order), as well as milk, buttermilk, soft cheeses (curds), and a several other cheeses of varying hardness (one so hard it could be used as a weapon!), for which I guess, failing any real evidence of type or flavor we can equate with modern cheeses, we could substitute a board of cheeses of our choice.

Taking cainnenn as meaning onions, they are easy to get, as are leeks and garlic (I suggest roasted in a pan of oil... yum). For most people, getting hold of skirret is probably an impossibility without great effort, so perhaps carrots can stand in as an acceptable alternative, or perhaps parsnip. Both of these were grown in Roman Britain, but are not native to Ireland. What else? It is known (from examination of fecal remains from pre-Norman sites... no, really!) that fat-hen played a significant role in the Irish diet. Other plants from the wild of importance include wild garlic (delicious), watercress, brooklime, nettle, sorrel, pignuts, silverweed and bitter vetch roots.

All in all, this seems like a decent range to construct a meal from. Several meals, in fact. Here's a suggestion for a meal:
  • fish broth made with cod, a scattering of shellfish and crabmeat with finely chopped hazel nuts and silverweed root
  • a plate of oysters, served with soda bread and a mug of buttermilk
  • beef steak with onions, carrots and wild garlic roasted in beef fat, washed down with a pint of real ale or mead
  • oatcakes soaked in honey, oatcakes with crushed berries mixed in
  • roasted crab apples with mature cheese, pignuts and hazels, and another pint of ale

The next question is, which of the foods above have some religious or spiritual significance? Hazelnuts are famous, not least from the tale of the salmon of knowledge, as it the salmon, which seems itself to have been reserved for nobility. Another angle on this might be to consider those foods prohibited for monastic either wholly or on certain days.

From: "Ellen Evert Hopman" Saille333@mindspring.com
Date: Tue, 31 Jan 2006 23:25:15 -0500
Subject: ~Celtic Well A Blessed Imbolc

This article appeared in Celtic Heritage some years ago. - Ellen


Imbolc ( Oimealg, La Fheile Bride) -- By Ellen Evert Hopman

Moch maduinn Bhride, thig an nimhir as an toll;
Cha bhoin mise ris an nimhir, Cha bhoin an nimhir rium.

Early on Bride's morn, the serpent will come from the hollow;
I will not molest the serpent, nor will the serpent molest me.

Saint Brighid is one of the best known and most venerated Celtic saints. She has been given many titles; The Lady of the Isles, Bride of the Mantle, Gentle Shepherdess, Guardian of the Cattle, Protector of the Newborn, Nursemaid to the Sick, Midwife of Mary and Mary of the Gael. But long before Brighid the saint there was another Brighid, one whose identity and feast day (February 2) were gradually subsumed by the later historical figure.

The ancient progenitor of the saint is a Goddess who was known as Brighid or Bride in Scotland, Brid, Brigit, Bridget and Brigantia in England, Brigan or Brigindo in Gaul, Berecyntia and Brigandu in France, Bride, Brigdu, Brig, Breed and Bridh in Ireland and other Celtic areas. She is a Triple Goddess, said to always appear as three sisters, each named Brighid. Her spheres of influence are poetry, smithcraft and healing. She is the Patroness of the Druids and Bards.

Brighid's sacred bird is the Oystercatcher, "giolla Bride" (Irish, Brighid's servant) and "Brideun" (Scots Gaelic, Brighid's bird) which is said to guide people who are under her protection. Her mother is Boann, Cow Goddess of the White Moon and Goddess of the Boyne river in Ireland, making cows her sacred animals. She is also associated with the white mare, the serpent, and red eared, white bodied hounds who guide travellers to the Otherworld. Imbolc is Brighid's own festival, one of the four great Celtic Fire Festivals along with Samhain (summers end), Beltaine (Fires of Bel, summers beginning) and Lughnasad (the first fruits festival inaugurated by the God Lugh in honor of his foster mother at her funeral games). It marks the midpoint of the dark half of the year.

It also marks the beginning of the lactation of the ewes, an all-important milk festival of the ancients. Along with the streams of new milk Imbolc marks the time when other fires of life are re-kindled in the land - forest animals begin their mating rituals and serpents begin to stir in their lairs. Farmers test the soil to see if it is thawed enough for the first plowings and snowdrops spring up in the spots where Brighid's feet have trod.

At this time the Hag of Winter, the Cailleach, who has ruled since Samhain, visits the Well of Youth. At dawn on the day of the festival she drinks from the Well of Youth and her face is transformed from haggard old age to the serene and youthful face of Brighid. For this reason Brighid is sometimes called The Maiden of the Rising Sun.

It is said that where Brighid walks over the waters or touches them with her finger the ice melts. And that the land turns green where she spreads her mantle upon it, or when she breathes upon the hills.

The Cailleach carries a Druid Wand of great power, a white rod or "slachdan" made of birch, willow, bramble, or broom. With its magic powers she can control the elements and the weather. Brighid carries a white rod too but where the Cailleach's wand brings storms and harshness Brighid's rod brings warm winds and new life.

Imbolc is the traditional day to re-consecrate farmyard tools. Equal armed solar crosses (a design that long predates Christianity) are plaited from rushes to bring luck to the home. In the Western Isles of Scotland the women dress a doll, name her Brighid, and place her in a reed basket. On Imbolc Eve, at sunset, they circle the house three times sunwise carrying the basket and then move from house to house carrying Brighid's crosses and lit candles to greet the Bride doll in each home. The festival of Imbolc marks the true origins of Groundhog Day. Brighid's snake is said to emerge from its mound, its motions and behavior determining the remaining days of frost. The serpent is an ancient symbol of the powers of the earth and of the spirit that motivates the forces of growth, decay and transformation. As a serpent sheds its skin it illustrates the eternal powers of renewal inherent in the land and portends the miracle of spring about to unfold.

Tig an Geimhreadh dian dubh Coming of severe black winter
A' gearradh lena ghe/ire o cutting with keenness
Ach ar La/ 'le Bri/de but on the Day of Bri/de
Gar du/in earrach E/ireann. near to spring is Ireland.
Ellen Evert Hopman, herbalist, author and Druid Priestess
See her books, videos and audio tapes at her webpage.

From: Marchogwr@aol.com
Date: Wed, 07 Jun 2006 10:07:30 -0400
Subject: Re: ~Celtic Well Winter Celebrations

Well, if you wanna go all out, consider holding a "Gwylfa" - a traditional welsh "holy vigil" in which people stay up all night for the longest night of the winter solstice, telling stories and making music - all while keeping a single small candle flame burning for light, as a guard to pass the sun through its darkest most fragile time. In the pre-dawn hours they would then climb a hill and begin making lots of noise: stomping on the ground, shouting, and banging whatever they had handy (pots, trash can lids, etc) to wake up the new Sun. When the Sun did rise there would be cheers and hugs... and then I imagine they'd all go off to bed exhausted.

I read about it in Michael Dames "Merlin and Wales" which is full or wonderful Welsh folk traditions. I held one last year and it was a blast. It goes back to a time when may have held that if they didn't keep watch on this night, the sun might in fact not return from the underworld. -Allen

From: Alan Leddon keltillos@yahoo.com
Date: Fri, 9 Jun 2006 09:14:53 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Re: ~Celtic Well Winter Celebrations

You can make a tasty faux mead. Slice some lemons and put them in 6 liters water, with one half kilo of honey. Bring to a boil, and continually remove the scum that rises to the top. When no more scum rises, remove from heat, cool, then chill. You can replace 1 liter of water with fruit juice in this recipe to make flavored faux meads. I like apple with cinnamon flavoring.

Also, the game Fox and Geese would be an ideal addition to the night. Also, a storytelling competition. Hnefatafl is a Norse game, but shouldn't detract from the flavor you are seeking. If you have room, an outdoor game of hurley might be welcomed. For foods...roast pork would be popular among Celts, but beef, mutton, and goat would be more likely. The Hero's portion might be the prize for a competition...on a ham, it is the darker red portion under the bone, and tastes better than the rest of the meat. Apples, cherries, pears, oranges, and sloe berries were known, but only apples were cultivated by the Gauls. The Gauls raided the Greeks for olives, wine, and lemons. Cheeses were popular, but little is known about the specific types....try goat or Swiss types. Remember that the wines and beers known to them were much different than those we know today...wines needed to be strained and diluted...beers needed to be drunk with a straw (it was more an intoxicating bread than a beverage).

From: 'vickicohen.shaw' vickicohen.shaw@verizon.net
Sent: Fri Nov 10 2006
Subject: Re: FW: [nature-irl] herbs

In response to "Can anyone on the list refer me to someone who would be familiar with native Irish medicinal herbs? (Specifically I'd like info on herbs that would have been in use around the 11th-12th centuries)."

Here is a tiny tidbit I found in www.regia.org/flora.htm

Almost every plant was used for some purpose. Crab apples were used as were sloes, rose hips and rowan berries. Bilberries, blackberries and strawberries were also eaten when available. Fungi not just eaten but used also for medicine, and probably for dyeing. The open moors and heaths were another source for other varieties of plants, especially berries, as well as providing areas for sheep and goat grazing. Heather from the moors was used for bedding, roofing, making brooms and for dyeing wool, just as much as for the sweet fragrance it gave off when crushed.

From the marshes, fens and river-banks, rushes and reeds were harvested for use in thatching, with tons needed just for one dwelling. The rushes were employed in making woven baskets and mats. Reed tips provided good tinder and the hollow stems were cut to make musical whistles. Boggy areas also provided many medicinal herbs as did the roots of plants such as iris and flag that grew in the ponds and lakes.

Many plants were used in medicine, in salves or balms, sometimes as infusions and poultices, or taken by mouth. These included; eyebright for eye infections, comfrey for healing broken bones, chamomile for digestive illnesses, and the humble onion for making into a soup to be eaten by the hapless warrior for deep wounds to the stomach. This was really a simple test in as much that if you could smell the onions in the wound, then the wall of the stomach was cut, indicating that death was soon to follow. not a great deal of use really, but perhaps one that meant that remedies weren't wasted on the mortally wounded.

Lots of leaves, roots, berries, bark and lichens were used for dying. 70% of all plants provide a yellow dye when boiled, although most were next to useless to actually dye with. The most well known and reliable of these is Weld, that grows best in disturbed ground. It is quite common to see it on the roadside today. Other specific plants will yield other colors. Woad being the most famous and was often cultivated for it's blue dye. Madder-root for the various reds (the leaves were also a useful abrasive), walnut hulls give a brown dye and alkanet shades of lilac, and these are only a few of the best examples. - Vicki

From: simon O Faolain siofaolain@hotmail.com
Sent: Fri Nov 10, 2006
Subject: Re: FW: [nature-irl] herbs

In response to "Can anyone on the list refer me to someone who would be familiar with native Irish medicinal herbs? (Specifically I'd like info on herbs that would have been in use around the 11th-12th centuries)."

The book Flóra Chorca Dhuibhne (publishers Oidhreacht Chorca Dhuibhne) gives a lot of information of the medicinal uses for various plants in west Kerry, but mainly from folklore sources of 19th and 20th century date. Though the book is bilingual the Irish text is more detailed and contains most of the medicinal information, so a decent proficiency in Irish would be necessary. There is also a small Irish book called luibh-seanchas (plant lore) which I recall seeing once, but which was of mid-20th century date and surely out of print. The national library of Ireland probably have a copy.