Growing up we had a rule that we weren’t allowed to mention Christmas until Halloween was over. This was a way for my parents to maintain a little extra sanity even as the toy ads and shops’ Christmas decorations came out at the tail end of the summer holidays. We never needed a similar rule about Halloween, but if we had I imagine it would have been opposed to celebrating in September.
Nonetheless, partly inspired by a recent episode of the Great British Bake Off, and partly as a way to introduce my new bride to some more of her adopted Irish culture, I decided to make a barmbrack today. This dried-fruit–based teacake is closely associated with Halloween in Ireland. In my own experience a brack contains a ring that’s supposed to bring good luck to the person who finds it, but according to Wikipedia the tradition involves the brack containing a selection of objects which predict different types of future events for the finder, not all of them positive:
In the barnbrack were: a pea, a stick, a piece of cloth, a small coin (originally a silver sixpence) and a ring. Each item, when received in the slice, was supposed to carry a meaning to the person concerned: the pea, the person would not marry that year; the stick, would have an unhappy marriage or continually be in disputes; the cloth or rag, would have bad luck or be poor; the coin, would enjoy good fortune or be rich; and the ring, would be wed within the year. Other articles added to the brack include a medallion, usually of the Virgin Mary to symbolise going into the priesthood or to the Nuns, although this tradition is not widely continued in the present day.
I don’t much like the idea of an unhappy marriage or bad luck, and having spent a hefty amount on being wed this year I’m not about to jump at the chance of doing that again any time soon. I do happen to have a shiny sixpence, so after appropriate cleaning (and wrapping it in baking parchment) that went in the mix.
I got the recipe from Edible Ireland, though there are recipes all over the web. I chose that one because I liked the introduction that went with it:
I have a friend who used to work in the famous Bewley’s Café on Grafton Street in Dublin years ago. She told me once about about the letters they got around this time of year, usually from tourists who had bought a loaf of barmbrack in the store to take back home with them. The people writing the letters were concerned that they’d found a ring in their bread, with one person saying they’d had it appraised and another one joking that they were relieved they hadn’t also found the finger that came with the ring. Most people sent the ring back.