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Bannocks and Brose


Pancake Day

Feb 13

Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day

Today's Musings, History & Folklore

“He had a can o' the guid sweet milk an' a basketfu' o' bannocks."

~ The Raiders, Samuel Rutherford Crockett, 1894

Time to bake those bannocks, even a basketful! And while you're at it, time to make a fortune-telling bannock! Shrove Tuesday (also referred to as Pancake Day or Pancake Tuesday) is known in Scotland as Bannock Night, a moveable feast day preceding Ash Wednesday (the first day of Lent), and often celebrated by consuming pancakes, griddle cakes, and bannocks! Shrove Tuesday was the last opportunity to use up eggs and fats before embarking on the Lenten fast, The Scots version of Lenten bannocks is made with oatmeal, eggs, milk or beef stock and cooked on a girdle (griddle). Milk-brose or gruel was often served to eat with the bannocks, leading to other names for this day such as Brose Day (Brosie), or Milk-Gruel Night! For fortune-telling fun, family members would participate in making a special "sooty bannock". Ritual batter pouring involved one person to pour the batter onto the griddle, another to turn the pancake, and a third to remove it when it was cooked, handing them round the assembled company. When the bowl of batter was almost empty, a small quantity of soot was aded to the mixture to make a large dark bannock, also known as the "dreaming bannock." The sooty bannock would fill the whole girdle and symbolic charms could be dropped into it: a button (bachelor); a ring (married); thimble (old maid); farthing (widow); scrap of material (tailor); straw (farmer). Once turned and cooked through, the sooty bannock was cut into bits and put into the baker's apron for everyone to draw a piece to learn their fortune! At the end of the evening, a piece of the sooty bannock could be put inside a sock and placed under pillows where the dreamer hoped to dream of their future partner! This tasty jig contains plenty of turns and circles reminiscent of batter mixing and sizziling girdles! 🥞 🥞 🥞

Bannocks and Brose

In some places, Pancake races form an important part of the Shrove Tuesday celebrations – an opportunity for large numbers of people, often in fancy dress, to race down streets tossing pancakes! The object of the race is to get to the finishing line first, carrying a frying pan with a cooked pancake in it and flipping the pancake as you run.  

The most famous of pancake races takes place at Olney in Buckinghamshire. According to tradition, in 1445 a woman of Olney heard the shriving bell while she was making pancakes and ran to the church in her apron, still clutching her frying pan. The Olney pancake race is now world famous. Competitors have to be local housewives and they must wear an apron and a hat or scarf. 🥞


Bannock varieties can be named or differentiated according to various characteristics: the flour or meal from which they are made, whether they are leavened or not, whether they have certain special ingredients, how they are baked or cooked, and the names of rituals or festivals in which they are used. Historically, specially made bannocks were used in rituals marking the changing of the Gaelic seasons: St Bride's bannock for spring (February 1), Bealtaine bannock for summer (May 1), Lughnasadh or Lammas bannock for autumn harvests (August 1), and Samhain bannock for winter (end of October). Other special bannocks include beremeal bannock, bride's bannock, cod liver bannock, cryin' bannock, fallaid bannock, fife bannock, Hogmanay bannock, Marymas bannock, mashlum bannock, Michaelmas bannock, pease bannock, Pitcaithly bannock, salt bannock, sautie bannock, Silverweed bannock, St Columba's bannock, teethin' bannock, Yetholm bannock, and Yule bannock.  Manx bonnag probably comes from the same root form as bannock and is made using similar ingredients.   In the north of England, bannocks are often made using pastry rather than a bread dough.

Selkirk bannock from Scotland is well-known and named after the town in the Scottish borders where it is traditionally made. It is a spongy, buttery variety, sometimes compared to a fruitcake, made from wheat flour and containing a very large quantity of raisins. The first known maker of this variety was a baker named Robbie Douglas, who opened his shop in Selkirk in 1859. When Queen Victoria visited Sir Walter Scott's granddaughter at Abbotsford she is reputed to have taken her tea with a slice of Selkirk bannock, thus ensuring that its reputation was enshrined forever.  Today, Selkirk bannocks are popular throughout Great Britain, and can be found at most large supermarkets.


And for a modern recipe for Border (Selkirk) Bannocks, click the picture of "The Pancake Cook," by Adriaan de Lelie dating from 1790 - 1810.


This particular recipe is said to be that of the first Selkirk bannock ever made by bakery owner Robbie Douglas in 1859, and that Queen Victoria would have nothing else with her tea.

Bannocks and Brose

Click the dance cribs or description below to link to a printable version of the dance!

Bannocks and Brose

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