Hallowe’en Bannocks and Divining Dreams!

Amanda Edmiston, Botanica Fabula

The walls grow thin, cleansing, besom-clad birch offers up dancing leaves to a conjuring sky, we harken to tales of times passed and loved ones departed.

According to Scottish folk traditions Hallowe’en was celebrated on the night of the dark moon nearest to the end of October, a night when prophecies could be dreamt and our ancestors feasted.

A night to try Bannoch Sallain: said to give those that ate it prophetic dreams.

Oats bringing deep sleep, salt revealing the future.

This traditional bannock, recorded by Florence Marian McNeill in ‘A Scots Kitchen’ as being eaten at Samhain in the Highlands as a divining charm may well owe its powers to the combination of oats: which being high in potassium, magnesium, calcium and melatonin will increase relaxation, release serotonin and help bring sleep, and the kidney achingly high level of salt (this is not a snack for anyone with high blood pressure!), which along with the instruction not to drink water following consumption, will lead to mild dehydration which can induce wild dreams!

However, whilst I can explain the chemistry of this charm I cannot promise the accuracy of the forthcoming dreamt prophecies, for that element you’ll just have to trust the magic!

But if you do want to give them a try the recipe and method is thus:

1oz salt added to 4oz oatmeal, a teaspoon of butter dropped into a quarter pint of boiling water, the warm mixture kneaded, until a dough forms, then baked until golden.

I decided to try them myself one year, taking the ancient, family mixing bowl out and stirring the ingredients together. I felt the dough soften to cohesion, mould between my hands.

I remembered being in my grandmother’s kitchen in Aberdeen: the granite chill of the floor contrasting with the blast of cinnamon scented heat as she opened the oven to reveal autumn hewed gingerbread, ruby glace´cherries at my behest and crisp oatcakes begging for butter.

As I start to flatten the dough out and cut it into triangles, I suddenly hear her whisper not to eat the scraps that fray along the edges and turn to find myself alone in the kitchen. She has been gone nearly twenty years the voice must be a note of birdsong through the open window…

It is said that for the Samhain bannock to take effect no food or drink should pass your lips after its consumption, even a sip of water will hinder the arrival of dreams, nor should any word be spoken.

But I realise that just clasping the dough between my palms, engendered a glimpse through fluid walls of time, skin soft to memories.

I bake the bannocks to golden crispness and eat one before it’s cooled, packing the rest up to share as I tell Hallowe’en tales to a grown up audience later on that evening, assured that a little hint of traditional dream divination is magically held within their crumbs.