Corn and Its Preparations

From A Smaller Social History of Ancient Ireland 1906

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CHAPTER XVII....continued

6. Corn and its preparations.

It will be seen in chapter xix., sect. 2, of this book, that all the various kinds of grain cultivated at the present day were in use in ancient Ireland. Corn was ground and sifted into coarse and fine, i.e. into meal and flour, which were commonly kept in chests. The staple food of the great mass of the people was porridge or, as it is now called in Ireland, stirabout, made of meal (Irish min), generally oatmeal. It was eaten with honey, butter, or milk, as an annlann or condiment. The common Irish word for stirabout was, and still is, leite, gen. leitenn [letthe, letthen]; but in the Brehon Laws and elsewhere it is often called gruss. The Senchus Mór annotator, laying down the regulations for the food of children in fosterage, mentions three kinds of leite or stirabout: —of oatmeal, wheatmeal, and barleymeal: that made from oatmeal being the most general. Wheat-meal stirabout was considered the best: that of barleymeal was inferior to the others. For the rich classes, stirabout was often made on new milk: if sheep's milk, so much the better, as this was looked upon as a delicacy: it was eaten with honey, fresh butter, or new milk. For the poorer classes stirabout was made on water or buttermilk, and eaten with sour milk or salt butter.

All the various kinds of meal and flour were baked into cakes or loaves of different shapes. The usual word for a cake was bairgen, now pronounced borreen: hence borreen-brack, 'speckled cake' (speckled with currants and raisins), eaten on November eve, now often written barn-brack. Flour was usually mixed with water to make dough: but bread made of flour and milk was also much in use. Honey was often kneaded up with cakes as a delicacy: and occasionally the roe of a salmon was similarly used. Wheaten bread was considered the best, as at present: barley-bread was poor. Yeast, or barm, or leaven was used both in baking and in brewing.

The several utensils used in making and baking bread are set forth in the Senchus Mór; and baking and the implements employed therein are always spoken of as specially pertaining to women. The woman had a criathar [criher] or sieve for separating the fine part of the flour from the coarse, which was done on each particular occasion just before baking. Having made the flour into dough (Irish taos), she worked it into cakes on a losat [losset] or kneading-trough, a shallow wooden trough, such as we see used for making cakes at the present day.

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