Now that the festival of Lammas is here, we can plan a Bread & Salt rite which you can integrate into any picnic or summer social gathering to celebrate the harvest with your friends and family.
This is the traditional time to make and eat Lammas Loaves which represent the body of the earth Goddess and the spirit of the harvest – I am combining that tradition here with the Russian one of Bread & Salt as a welcome, to create a syncretic ritual.
Worshipping the spirit of the grain is an ancient global phenomenon detailed by Sir James Frasier in his book “The Golden Bough”. The methods of using the harvest grains to pay tribute to supernatural beings are almost unchanged by time. People still bake and eat celebration loaves and weave effigies from the corn during the summer, as they have done for centuries.
Bread & salt are used as a greeting in many European cultures by presenting guests with a loaf and salt grains, the salt cellar sometimes secured in a slot in the bread. The guest must dip a piece of bread into the salt and eat it as a gesture of accepting hospitality.
The tradition is even used in space, with crackers and salt tablets provided by the Soviet space program as a welcome for astronauts when they reached a new space station.
“Lammas” derives from the Old English phrase hlaf-maesse which translates as “loaf-mass”, so it’s time to fling yourself into dough and wield the Staff of Life.
2lb (1 kilo) strong white flour
Dried packet yeast ½ oz (15g)
Salt ½ oz (15g)
Trex or lard ¼ oz (8g)
Cold water 1 pint
This mixture has less yeast than usual bread, and uses cold rather than warm water. This is to keep the dough from rising too high and the form created becoming unrecognisable.
Mix the flour, yeast and salt carefully, while considering the more positive aspects of your life and relationships. Feel appreciative that you are in this moment in a safe place, creating something to share with others. Burn a yellow candle to represent the harvest goddess. Rub in the fat.
Add the water gradually, and work it through the mixture with your fingers. Knead it into a stiff dough, and don’t feel the need to add all the water, just stop when it becomes a smooth, warm yeasty mass that lends itself easily to modelling.
When your dough is prepared, let it sit covered with a damp cloth for 30 minutes. When you uncover it, you will note that it has swollen and increased in size (I know, I know- “That’s what she said”). Knead it down again until it feels firm.
Grease or line a baking tray with paper and start to form your effigy. It should have a meaningful appearance, typical choices being a wheatsheaf, a female form (harvest deities are usually female, in keeping with Mother Nature), fruit and flowers.
Use half the dough to form a base for your loaf, then the other half to add the detail, as you see in the photographs.
You can leave this to rise overnight, then bake it on the morning you intend to carry out your celebration. Freeze/defrost the unbaked version during the interim if that helps your timing. There isn’t always time to create elaborate bread effigies on a weeknight, I get that.
Before baking, brush it all over with beaten egg to form a glossy coating. Use milk if you wish an eggshell effect.
Bake for approximately 30 minutes on a moderate heat, depending on how hot your oven is. Just keep an eye on it, and take it out when it is golden-brown. If you tap the back of the loaf, it will sound hollow if it is fully baked.
I made a wheatsheaf (with the traditional mouse on the stalks), a harvest goddess, and an owl with flowers (for added wisdom and beauty), and used old Nesspresso capsules sunk into the dough and removed after baking to create a tiny salt bowl within the loaf. You could use any small ramekin for this. I used pink rock salt because I’m fancy, but you can use any kind of salt.
The Bread & Salt Lammas ritual has multiple meanings and effects, which is generally the case when you are dealing with ancient methods. Like the old gods, they take on different identities, blend, and combine over time.
It acts as a welcoming and embracing of family, or the people who represent family and love to you. It pays tribute to the gifts provided in life, and encourages fertility and abundance of material things.
If you are at home, dress your sideboard or table for the event with yellow candles and ears of wheat or corn. Scatter some grain across the surface, too. If you cannot source ears of grain, a bag of dried kernels will suffice.
Each person as they arrive should be offered a portion of bread which they should dip in salt and eat. Rather like a loving cup, it should be passed from person to person until everybody has had a share.
After the bread & salt are eaten, kiss the person on both cheeks, and let them kiss you back. This should bring everybody there together for an occasion which will be the best thing since sliced bread.
Love loaves, love life 🙂