Lammas or as it is known in Celtic Britain, Lughnasadh is a Northern European celebration of the “first fruits of the harvest” or beginning of the harvest season. It is still observed in England, Ireland and Scotland today, usually on August 1st. In modern times it is reserved for family reunions, bonfires and dancing. The Christian church has also established a ritual of blessing the fields on this day. In the past it was mainly a grain harvest festival, the name being translated to “loaf-mass” after the festival was co-opted by the Christians, but the festival also includes the harvest of berries. I decided to celebrate by bringing the two meanings of the festival together for this holiday and make a blueberry (berry) sweet breakfast bread (grain) to celebrate. As with most celebrations, even if it is celebrated one day, there are preparations to be made in the week or so leading up to it.
Since this is a harvest festival, we needed to harvest our berries first, something I have been looking forward to all summer. Now that we live in Vermont, and have very obvious changing seasons, it is much easier to recognize and connect with the celebrations that were important to our ancestors. They lived more in tune with nature, marking the seasons by what was in bloom, and other events such as various livestock cycles. In our attempts to become more sustainable, and more in touch with natural cycles, we decided this year, to go berry picking. This way we are getting the freshest fruits, at their prime in our location, and then preserving those berries for fall and winter eating. We went to Fruitlands in Marshfield, Vermont to pick blueberries and raspberries. We picked 6 pints of raspberries and 12 pints of blueberries. We probably should have gotten more. We ended up freezing 4 pints of each, and the rest I canned in syrup.
*tip* to freeze berries, do not wash them (if they are organic and you know they are not sprayed with pesticides). Place them on cookie sheets in a single layer, not touching, and place in the freezer for an hour. Then you can bag them – this extra step prevents them from sticking together and freezing in one big mass.
We left 1 ½ pints of blueberries fresh – half a pint we ate on the car ride home, and the rest, we used in smoothies and to make this Lammas Day bread.
We had a great adventure at Fruitlands – not only was it a beautiful and sunny day but it was picturesque – on the grounds of a quaint bed and breakfast, covered in various gardens. But we weren’t alone in our picking adventures, we were accompanied by some guinea fowl (which I thought were wild turkeys – thank you Darlene, for letting me know – I am still working on becoming a country girl)! They weren’t too happy about me taking their picture and were screaming bloody murder, the whole time, but surprisingly didn’t run away! The lady doth protest? Methinks, not.
We brought with us a small cooler with ice packs to keep the berries nice and cool on the drive home. This is an important step during hot summer days.
I raw packed the berries in order to retain the most freshness. I will try preserving other fruits in honey or maple, but for my first time using this recipe, I made the syrup according to the directions, and used organic cane sugar. I normally don’t use cane sugar, but canning is more of a science than an art – there is acidity and pH levels to consider. All of these factors directly affect the ability of the jar to seal properly and prevent harmful elements from spoiling all your hard work.
As my friend Amber, from Adventures in the Pioneer Valley pointed out in the comments, here is a great resource. She says: “there are some helpful guides out there that can help you figure it out. If anyone’s interested, I think the National Center for Home Food Preservation has some of the best resources. They give details on what you can adjust in a recipe vs. what you can’t, amongst other helpful tips. The link: http://www.uga.edu/nchfp/publications/publications_usda.html”
*tip* after jars have cooled and before storing, rub your finger over the lid to see if the seal is down. For added security, I always remove the bands from the lids, and shake the jar upside down over a large bowl, to make sure they have sealed properly. If the contents fall out, then the jar is not sealed. If they have not sealed, you can try re-processing, or just storing in cold storage for more immediate use.
Why can, when you can freeze? Sometimes in the country, and elsewhere, power can go out. If you have all your winter storage in the freezer, or fridge you could lose it all in a matter of hours. Which is why I chose to freeze some, but can the majority. Yes, you do lose some nutrients in the process of canning, but at least you are not in danger of loosing your entire food storage due to a power outage. There are other options such as dehydration, but that still requires the use of electricity. There is also sun-drying (not so useful during a rain spell – and berries are quick to spoil). I am certainly open to these other wonderful methods, but canning is still a good option in my book.
The blueberry breakfast bread was delicious. I am still trying new sourdough recipes and some have been delicious, while others have been dismal failures. This bread was an exception – sweet, and crumbly. It is wonderful served for breakfast or tea. Delicious with an ice cold glass of milk too as a quick snack!
Blueberry Breakfast Bread (Sourdough) – adapted from Baking with Sourdough by Sara Pitzer
1 cup sourdough starter
1 cup whole wheat flour
¼ cup soft butter
1/3 cup date sugar
½ cup whole milk
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp coconut lime salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 TBS vanilla extract
1 cup fresh (or frozen) blueberries
Bring the starter to room temperature in a large bowl. Add the flour and mix together. Let sit over night. Next day, cream the butter and sugar together in a separate bowl, then beat in the egg and milk. Turn this mixture into the bowl with the sourdough starter and flour. Add the salt and soda, mix together well. Gently fold in the blueberries. Pour batter into a well greased square baking pan and allow to stand for at least 20 minutes. Preheat oven to 375F. Meanwhile, prepare the topping:
1/3 cup rapadura sugar
1/3 cup spelt flour
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ cup soft butter
Stir all the ingredients together with a fork, until the mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle half the topping over the bread, and with a knife swirl into the batter. Then evenly pour the other half on top. Bake in oven for 45 to 50 minutes. Although it may be tempting to eat this bread hot out of the oven, it will be sticky and gummy, due to the nature of sourdough. So let it cool completely before serving. Then cut into squares and enjoy!
Raw Packed Berries in Syrup – makes eight pint (500 ML) jars
from Ball’s Complete Book of Home Preserving by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine
6-12 lbs of fresh berries, stemmed or capped if necessary
1 batch of Ultra-light syrup: ½ cup of sugar dissolved (by heat) in 5 cups of water
1) Prepare canner, jars and lids (see books or websites on canning for more info)
2) Ladle ½ cup of hot syrup into hot jar, fill jar with raw berries within a generous ½ inch of top of jar.
3) Add hot syrup to cover berries., leaving ½ inch headspace
4) Wipe rim, center lid on jar, screw band down until resistance is met, and then increase until finger tip tight.
5) Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 15 minutes. Remove canner lid, wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool and store