A Wild Quiche to Celebrate Beltane and of course, the Coronation of Charles III
An Outer Hebridean Coronation Quiche
Beltane is a Gaelic celebration half way between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. I like to think of it as a time when blossom reaches its peak and summer is on its way. Beltane is one of the four major Celtic festivals. The date is approximate but it is usually celebrated on May 1st. The word Beltane translates as brightness or fire. In the Outer Hebrides cattle are still turned out to summer pastures on May 1st (or 15th dependant on the township / crofting scheme you are in). On Beltane, bonfires were lit to mark the growing strength of the sun. There was food too, celebratory bannocks were made on all of the Highland quarter days of which Beltane is one. The quarter days marked the changing of the seasons. The other three Lughnasadh (1st August), Samhain (October 31st / November 1st) and Imbolc (February 1st ) have Christian association: Lammas or Harvest, All Saints and all Souls Day and Candlemas respectively. A bannock eaten on May morning ensured good health for livestock and a decent harvest. Some traditions marked a quarter piece of a bannock with embers from the Beltane fire, and it was then popped in a bonnet. Whoever drew the charred bannock from the bonnet would be asked to jump over the fire thrice. The modern anthropologist, Sir James Frazer writes in The Golden Bough (1922) that on Uist, the Beltane bannock is smaller than the St Michael’s bannock (Michaelmas). The Michaelmas Struan is indeed large, I have been given a taste of that scone in texture bannock. Delicious. On Mull the bannock had a central hole and the cow’s milk was milked through the hole to ensure a high milk yield. This must have been a messy ritual to perform. Frazer notes that a cheese made on May Day was kept until the following Beltane to ensure a good milk supply. A sort of charm to protect dairy products
I have chosen St George’s Mushrooms for my Coronation Quiche; clinging on rather lamely, to a few sentences from Frazer’s book where he mentions that in Russia, on St George’s Day (23rd April), a youth is decked out in green. This is in common with the UK May Day, leaf clad, Jack in the Green. Tenuous, but I’m determined to squeeze St George’s fungi Calocybe gambosa into this seasonal celebratory quiche
I rather like the high dairy content of a quiche - simple ingredients - acknowledging hopefulness as cattle head out to pastures new. I’ve added Lady’s Smock or Cuckoo flower Cardamine pratensis, for colour and additional flavour. There would appear to be superstition associated with the picking of this pretty flower; from the threat of lightening to the picker being bitten by an adder. I love its mauve colour and the peppery taste of both flower and leaves. May was known as Mary’s month and many local flower names are associated with the Virgin Mary. Sprinkle Lady’s Smock in wild garlic soup or indeed, anything green, for stunning effect
There were rumblings of Protestant antipathy to May day celebrations, but it was not until the 17th century that the festival was outlawed by the Puritans, as a pagan celebration. Maypoles were banned by an 8th April 1644 Act of Parliament. The gaiety was reinstated when Charles II (sometimes referred to as the Merry Monarch) repealed the act. There are many pre Christian traditions celebrating the end of winter, all important in Pagan religion. If you want to read more about lighting Beltane fires, baking bannocks and other even more extraordinary ceremonies, read Sir James Frazer’s chapter on fires. A Modern Beltane festival was revived in Edinburgh in 1988 and takes place on Carlton Hill.
Some May Day Traditions:
May Birching. This is when branches of may, birch or beech are left on doorsteps. Each species had a hidden message.
May in – bringing the flowers of spring into the house. The American author, Louisa Alcott writes of May Day Baskets
May Dew – bathing in the dew was considered a beauty treatment. Samuel Pepys writes that he was woken by his wife and servants at 3.00 in the morning to collect May dew. The dew was collected throughout May but considered of greater beauty value on May 1st.
A May Queen was crowned and there was a King, closely associated with the Green Man, also known as Jack in the Green. (Many public house are still called The Green Man)
In Oxford, Te Deum Patrem Collimus, which dates back to 1660, is sung from the top of Magdalen Tower by choristers. This probably replaced a requiem for the soul of Henry VII but the tradition is still upheld.
There are many local traditions but for me, May 1st brings back student memories - a dip in the North Sea just below the castle in St Andrews. The sea was very cold
An Outer Hebridean Coronation Quiche.
This quiche is an adaptation of a wild mushroom recipe from The Forager’s Kitchen Handbook. My grandmother taught me to use 50:50 lard to butter when making pastry so I was chuffed to see lard and butter used in the offical coronation recipe. We have been given permission to tweak the recipe so here is my seasonal idea. All ingredients are easily available in the Outer Hebrides where supermarkets, can on occasion, be lacking in supplies. I dry my own seaweed, but the dulse can be omitted if it is difficult to find. I don’t always add cheese to quiches because I think it can detract from the Quiche star, in this cases stars: St George’s Mushrooms and Lady’s Smock. I lower the temperature to set what is to all intents and purposes, a savoury custard. Exact setting time depends on the depth of the quiche and size of the eggs. A quiche will always firm up a wee bit, after it’s taken out of the oven – if you prefer a wobbly quiche, bear this in mind.
Last but not least a recipe
Fiona’s Outer Hebridean Coronation Quiche
Makes one Quiche (23cm)
200g plain flour
2tsps of dried dulse
Approx 100ml iced water
3 large eggs
100 ml milk
200ml double cream
Salt & Pepper
25g butter for greasing & sautéing
150g wiped and roughly sliced St George’s Mushrooms
Few handfuls of Lady’s smock flowers
Preheat the oven to 200C Fan
in a bowl rub the flour, fats and seaweed together until it resembles breadcrumbs. A Magimix using the pulse button works well. Add water to make dough.
Lightly grease the flan dish
Roll the dulse pastry to line the quiche / flan dish. Prick the base haphazardly and line with baking paper and baking beans. Bake in the pre heated oven for 12-15 minutes until the sides are firm. Remove the baking paper and beans, and return to the oven. Bake for a further five minutes to cook the base. Lower the oven to 100C
Meanwhile sauté the mushrooms in melted butter briefly (3minutes).
Whisk the eggs, milk and cream in a measuring jug and season well.
Pour 1/3rd of the savoury custard into the baked pastry lined dish. Scatter half of the sautéed mushrooms on top and then add another third of the custard. Pop the quiche on a tray and put it in the oven. Add the remaining mushrooms and custard. Sprinkle the flowers on top and bake at 100C until set (about 30-35 minutes).