How to Celebrate like a Celt! Lughnasadh (and Blaeberry Pie!)

Lughnasadh, pronounced lunasa, is a traditional Gaelic harvest festival celebrated on 1 August. In Scotland it is known as Lùnastal, which is also the Gaelic name for the month of August.

The holiday is named after the Celtic god Lugh, the bringer of storms and lightning, and especially the storms of late summer. A gentle rain on the day of the festival is seen as his blessing. [He must really love it here in the Pacific Northwest…LOL!] Today, the festival is celebrated as Blaeberry Sunday in Scotland and Fraughan Sunday in Ireland. As with most Celtic holidays, Lughnasadh was ‘adopted’ by the Christian church and is known as Lammas Sunday.

A few customs that Lughnasadh shares with the other Celtic festivals are those of lighting bonfires and visiting of holy wells. The ashes from Lughnasadh bonfires are used to bless fields, cattle, and people. Visitors to a holy well pray for health and a good harvest while walking sunwise around the well and usually leave an offering of coins or clooties (a tasy sweet dumpling). Another custom from the past that is becoming popular again is that of handfasting — a trial marriage that lasted a year and a day. Children often made and played with harvest corn dollies.

Lughnasadh celebrations are commonly held on hilltops where the wild blaeberries grow. The people gather the berries as they climb, taking only a part of what is available and leaving some for the local fauna and some to go seed to allow the plants to regenerate. The crop of berries was said to indicate how well the rest of the crops would fare in their harvests later in the year. The juicy berries were either eaten fresh or saved to make medicinal remedies, fabric dye, wine, and tasty pies (there’s a recipe coming up…). Today, they are also recognized as a good source of antioxidants.

blaeberry bush

The blaeberry is also known as bilberry, wimberry, hurtleberry, and myrtille. Although they resemble small, cultivated blueberries, blaeberries are a different species. The wild plants are found in very acidic, nutrient-poor soils throughout the temperate and subarctic regions of the world such as Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. They are also related to the huckleberries found in the Pacific Northwest.

Unlike blueberries that are a yellowish green inside with a mild flavor, blaeberries are dark throughout with a distinctive, winey taste. Because they are so small, the almost black berries are easiest to harvest with a scoop-like tool similar to those used by commercial blueberry growers.

A Simple Blaeberry Pie Recipeblaeberry pie

You never know how many berries you’ll end up with, so the following recipe is easily adjusted to make anything from a tasty wee tart for one to a full-sized pie for the whole family.

1. Mix 4 tbsp caster (fine granulated) sugar for each cup of fruit with 1 tbsp cornflour (corstarch). Add more or less sugar depending on the tartness of the berries.

2. Add the zest of 1 lemon and mix well (optional).

3. In a deep pie dish, alternate layers of blaeberries with the sugar mix.

4. Cover the dish with sweet shortcrust pastry* [http://www.celtnet.org.uk/recipes/miscellaneous/fetch-recipe.php?rid=misc-sweet-pie-dough]. Any favorite home-made recipe or store bought will do.

5. For a golden sweet crust, beat the white of an egg, brush it on the top of the pastry, and dust with caster sugar.

6. Bake in a pre-heated 400F/200C oven for 15 minutes.

7. Reduce the oven temperature to 170°C and continue baking for about 25 minutes more. If the edges of the crust appear to be browning too quickly, cover them with baking parchment or foil.

Change it up!
Subtitute wild huckleberries or blackberries.
Add some grated apple to the berries.
Use mint leaves instead of lemon zest.

* For a gluten-free recipe for the piecrust, click here or here. You can also use a boxed GF piecrust mix and add a bit more sugar.

Here are some other things you can make with your Lughnasadh berry harvest.

Blaeberry jam http://www.ancientsites.com/aw/Post/1078134
Wild Blaeberry Muffins http://ribbonsandkittens.wordpress.com/2011/07/08/wild-blaeberry-muffins/

Send in your favorite recipes!

 

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