Bealltainn's fast approaching and my thoughts are turning to what I'll be doing for it this year. Looking back on what I did last year, it all went pretty well so I'll be sticking to the same basic formula, I think. My only reservation was skimming the water from the tap last year; I knew of the practice of skimming the well in Ireland, but wasn't really sure if it was done in Scotland. I've since found mention of it in County Folklore Volume VII (page 16, if you have a burning desire to look it up yourself), with reference to Fife:
“In May, 1723, the minister informed the Session that Margaret Robertson in Byres of Balmerino had complained to him, that James Paton in Culter 'had scandalized her in her good name by saying that she went to Nine Wells on the Road-day [I.e. Rood Day, the Invention of the Cross, 3rd May] to take away her neighbour's milk,' or, as the charge was afterwards expressed, 'to get the cream of the water, and to take away her neighbours butter.' ”
Which seems to indicate the practice had shifted to a more acceptably Christian date, like various practices appear to have done in other places, too, and accords with the idea of collecting the first skim of the water in Ireland to ensure an abundant milk supply (and general abundance) in the coming year, as well as preventing others from stealing it from you.
So that's one thing I'm more certain of. I think I'm getting the hang of the bannocks as well, but I've still got a few recipes to try out. I made a shortbread-style bannock for Latha na Caillich a few weeks back, which were well-received as offerings along with the best bits of a lamb roast. I'm going to make a different type of bannock for Bealltainn, though (I stuck to a traditional oaty one last year, which came out well, but I'd like to find something the kids like so I can share it), and today I had a trial run at it.
This time I tried Yetholm bannocks, which are like a shortbread, with a layer of crystallised ginger in the middle. They're quite sweet and the ginger gives them a yummy festive kick, which suits my tastebuds just fine, and they have a very light and crumbly texture if you try them while they're still hot. And they're supposed to be glazed with a caudle of egg yolk and milk, which seems apt for Bealltainn. They turned out pretty tasty - the tastiest I've done yet, I think, although Tom and Rosie weren't too sure. Mr Seren enjoyed his after brushing off the flaked almond; he's not that keen on almonds.
The recipe dictates that the dough should be rolled out into rectangles with the ginger sandwiched between them and they're then cut into fingers once they're cooked, but once I'd trimmed the edges to neaten them off I had plenty of dough left to make a bonnach fallaid, which I shaped into a more traditional round. I've left it as an offering outside for the Good Folk. After we all had a good taster I was going to use any leftovers for offerings to my ancestors tomorrow, on the anniversary of my Grandpa's death, but there's only one piece left so I think I'll have to make some more (what a hardship!). It's my other granddad's birthday a few days later so it seems like a good time to give myself a kick up the arse and start focusing on my ancestors a little more. Hopefully it will give me a good opportunity to think about where I should be going with this side of things.