I feel like I’ve been waiting for Autumn all summer, but in truth, I’ve really been waiting since last Autumn ended. All of the time in between has just been counting down until this all too short season comes around again.
After the stifling heat of the summer, feeling the wind of Autumn rolling in feels like taking a sigh of relief. I can relax a little, knowing my favourite time is here, my favourite holiday (Halloween) is on the way, and iced lattes sipped outside to cool down can be replaced by hands clutching mugs of hot drinks to warm up.
If Autumn were a guest…
Watching the leaves on the trees turn red and orange through the balcony door of our apartment fills me with anticipation of what’s to come in the next few weeks. I feel like I need to prepare, to have my house in order to welcome in the new season. It’s like I have a guest coming to stay, and I need to get in some cakes and brew some tea. And if Autumn were a guest, the cake I would get is Barmbrack.
When I recently thought back to Autumn in my childhood, the first thing that came to my mind was Barmbrack (or bairín breac in Irish, which translates to speckled loaf). Barmbrack, also known as Tea Brack, is a traditional Irish fruit loaf that is eaten around Halloween. The version that I have always known is the commercial kind, the kind we would buy at the supermarket, almost as an afterthought. But if Autumn were a guest, then only the traditional Barmbrack would do.
Traditionally, Barmbrack was used as a way to predict the future of whoever was eating it. In the preparation, the cake was stuffed with charms, and whichever charm ended up in your slice told you something about the year ahead.
A cake to predict your future
There may have been some bairín breac with different charms inside, but there were a few charms that would have been staples in each cake: a pea, a piece of cloth, a small coin, a matchstick, and a ring.
Mannings Bakery explains what each of these means:
…to find a pea means you won’t marry over the next year, a small piece of cloth foretells poverty, a ring means one would be wed within the year, a matchstick to “beat your wife” warns of an unhappy marriage and a coin represents great wealth.
Other charms could include a thimble (a sign of spinsterhood) or a button (a sign of bachelorhood).
Anticipation must have hung in the air as the knife sliced through the cake. Who’s getting the pea? Who got the cloth? We’d better be nice to whoever got the coin. But I’m sure the most coveted of all had to be the ring.
Who’s going to get the ring?
These days, if you buy Barmbrack from an Irish bakery or supermarket, the only charm you’re likely to find inside is the ring. Truthfully, when it came to Barmbrack, all I cared about as a child was the ring. I can remember waiting excitedly as my mam expertly cut my slice of cake to reveal a ring inside, thinking that I must be the lucky one, because it seemed I always got the ring. In reality I’m sure she knew exactly where the ring was and where to cut to avoid disappointment. It would be proudly worn for a few days, then most likely lost or discarded until it was swept up in the dustpan or sucked up the hoover. We waited until the next year to do it all again.
Autumn brings with it Halloween, and Halloween brings tradition. So to welcome in this new season, a traditional Barmbrack must be on the table.
If Autumn were a guest, what would you serve them?
This post was inspired by this week’s writing prompt from Gin & Lemonade, which was to write on an autumnal food memory. Barmbrack came to mind almost immediately, so I took this as an opportunity to try something new on the blog. I hope you enjoyed it, and I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Images are my own unless otherwise stated.