12 Days of Christmas

Day 6: The Staff of Life

Daily Bread

According to the traditional song, the sixth day should involve geese. At this time of year there can be anywhere between 6 and 150 or so Greylag Geese loafing around on the croft. We have plenty of grass, so I’m quite happy sharing as they do their share of grazing. That is all I am going to say about geese as it is a prickly subject with my crofting neighbours.
However, “6 geeses a laying” turned my thoughts to eggs. Unfortunately, all the hens and domestic ducks are confined indoors as a precaution again avian flu, so I could not produce a photograph of some happy hens in a field. From eggs it is a small step to baking, but then you are probably all replete with mince pies and Christmas cake.
Therefore, todays gift is a loaf of daily bread, an essential part of my well being. Homemade, of course, sourdough with a mix of organic strong white bread flour, spelt and rye. Fortunately, my Head Gardener, also doubles as a Master Baker, so making bread is not usuually one of my domestic chores.
The soils and climate of the west of Scotland are not suitable for growing cereals for flour. In Orkney, Shetland and the Outer Hebrides, traditional varieties of oats, barley and rye are grown mainly for livestock food. In the Hebrides we have our own variety of small or back oats (Avena strigosa) or, in Gaelic, Corce beag, which is suited to our very light, highly alkaline machair soils. These sandy soils are too poor for common or white oats (Avena sativa) which is grown on the mainland, mainly to produce rolled oats for porridge and oatmeal for oatcakes and biscuits. In the islands, small oats are grown with a mixture of Hebridean rye and bere (barley). This is an ancient six-rowed spring barley (modern barley has two rows of seeds), which was probably introduced by the Norse and is known to have been grown here since the 8th century. Although primarily used as cattle feed, it can be used for making bread and producing beer and whiskey. With hindsight I should probably have made some bere bannocks, but as these are unleaven, perhaps we’ll save that treat for Lent.

4 thoughts on “12 Days of Christmas”

  1. They look good. Love the local variations on crops to work with what soils and conditions you gave. Long may this variation exist! What a world it would be if we all ate the same, sanitised bread

  2. Loss of biodiversity is becoming more noticeable in the range of seeds we can buy and the standardisation of fruit and vegetables we can buy. Fortunately some of us are able to grow wholesome, tasty fruit and vegetables to accompany our daily bread. Not a luxury, just an essential part of a good life.

  3. The history of cereal crops is a fascinating subject – I remember Bill Bryson discussing it in one of his astonishingly detailed and readable books. Thank you for telling us about the Hebridean contribution and whetting my appetite for a sourdough loaf, something I have got out of the habit of making even though I bake bread regularly and still have my starter…

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