Michaelmas

Michaelmas  is one of the more celebrated feast days of the Christian year. On this day, September 29th, St. Michael is celebrated in particular, the archangels as a group, or all angels in general.  What seems to make it culturally significant is that it is the liturgical marker for the autumnal equinox, beginning early Fall. This is one of the eight days that mark the season. It has also shaped the academic calendar with many schools having a Michaelmas semester beginning today.  

Michael is the chief archangel mentioned only a few times in the Bible. However, he is mighty.   The Book of Revelation(12:7-8) says it is/was Michael who led the spiritual fight against the dragon/devil and won. Michael therefore is the patron saint of soldiers and police officers.

Most of the culinary traditions for this day are centered on harvest. In Scotland and Ireland, a harvest bread called struan is made with multiple grains. Some traditions say that goose should be served like on St. Martin’s day. Others eat berries. Tradition says that this is the last day to collect blackberries, afterward they are cursed (or worse, the devil might have fallen from heaven and spit or urinated on them!)

For this day we have chosen a well known recipe for struan bread from the book Bread Upon the Waters – A Pilgrimage Toward Self-Discovery and Spiritual Truth by Peter Reinhart. We are serving ours with some blackberry jam!

Pictured Above: St. Michael Vanquishing Satan by Raphael (1483 – 1520); 1518; oil transferred from wood to canvas; Height: 268 cm (105.5 in); Width: 160 cm (62.9 in); Housed at the Louvre Museum in Paris, France.


Struan

Makes 1 loaf.

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups bread flour
3 tablespoons uncooked polenta (course cornmeal)
3 tablespoons rolled oats
3 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons wheat bran
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon instant yeast
3 tablespoons cooked brown rice
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
1/3 cup buttermilk
Approximately 3/4 cup room temperature water
1 tablespoon poppy or sesame seeds (for top of loaf)

Instructions

  1. Mix all the dry ingredients (flour, polenta, oats, brown sugar, wheat bran, salt, and yeast) in a large bowl.
  2. Add 1/2 cup of the water, reserving the rest of the water for adjustments during kneading. With your hands squeeze the ingredients together to make a ball, adding water as needed, until all the ingredients are nicely incorporated.
  3. Once a rough ball has been formed, move the ball to a floured counter space and knead for 10 – 15 minutes by hand. After about 10 minutes the dough should become well incorporated, slightly elastic, and evenly grained. It will be tacky but not overly sticky.
  4. Wipe the inside of a bowl with a little oil and place the kneaded dough in the bowl and cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rise in a warm place for 90 minutes or until doubled in size.
  5. After 90 minutes, gently remove the dough from the bowl and place on a counter. Gently press down on the loaf and shape into a rough rectangle. Roll up the dough into shape roughly the size of your bread pan, tucking the end flaps underneath the dough.
  6. Place the shaped dough into the greased bread pan (ideally around 9” x 4 1/2”) seam side down. 
  7. Spray the top with water and cover with poppy or sesame seeds.
  8. Cover and let the dough rise for another 90 minutes.
  9. After the dough has risen again, preheat the oven to 350F and bake for approximate 45 – 55 minutes. The loaf should dome nicely and be golden brown.
  10. Remove the loaf from the pan and allow to completely cool on rack for about 2 hours before slicing.