When I woke up this morning, I noticed right away the that light was a bit different. A little more slanted, shining a bit more from the south.
Today is Lughnasadh, the day that marks the end of the summer and the beginning of a new season. The light is indeed beginning to change. Soon the streets will be covered in yellow leaves, the sky will turn a deep cobalt October blue, and wood smoke will drift through the chilly mountain air.
Also known as Lammas, (old anglo-saxon for “loaf-mass”), Lughnasadh is a feast day, a celebration of the ripe fruits of summer and of the first harvest. It’s a day to pay homage to the sun god, Lugh, and the bounties brought by his bright summer light.
But now, it’s time to start contemplating the coming darkness, the approach of winter. It’s a time to be thankful for the long languid days we have left and to make plans for the dark months ahead. Just thinking of winter makes me that much more grateful for the sultry, warm, green summer life I’m currently living.
In many old Celtic and English traditions, a bread was baked on Lughnasadh to celebrate the grains of the first harvest. My interpretation of that tradition is to make honey cakes, or what I like to call Mooncakes.
My sister and I first started making these when we were but wee young druids; I’m not even sure where the original recipe came from, to be honest. We used to whip them up on full moons during the summer, or sometimes on Halloween.
These little cakes have a sweet, earthy flavor and a hearty texture. Really, they have quite an eldritch feel about them; whenever I make them, the rich scents of honey and cinnamon fill the kitchen and I like to imagine that this same recipe was once cooked up in a much older kitchen, in a time long, long ago. A little clay-walled kitchen, with all kinds of herbs drying and medicines brewing on little wooden shelves. Sigh. I need to make my kitchen more like that. Life goals!
Anyway, here is how to make these wonderful special enchanting cakes:
2 cups flour (I use whole wheat but white is just fine too)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup milk
A little white sugar, for topping
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a muffin tin.
Mix the flour, cinnamon, and baking soda together in a medium bowl; set aside.
Cream together the butter and brown sugar. Separate the egg, reserving the white in a small bowl, and mix the yolk into the butter and sugar mixture.
Gradually add the honey to the sugar mixture until well combined and smooth.
Slowly add the flour mixture to the butter mixture, alternating with a little milk, until everything is well combined.
Whisk the egg white into a stiff foam (it should hold soft peaks). Pro tip: this can be done by hand, but it takes approximately 37 years. Using an electric mixer will only take liiiike a minute. So I recommend putting on whisk attachments and doing that.
When the egg white has reached the desired consistency, gently fold it into the batter with a wooden spoon or spatula.
Spoon the batter into the muffin tins and sprinkle with a bit of white sugar.
Bake for 30 minutes until golden brown. Of course, if you have some kind of excellent awesome outdoor cooking situation, do that 100%. I feel like these won’t be at their full potential unless they are cooked on a flat rock or in some sort of super-rustic stone oven. They need to be slightly charred to feel really authentic, I think. Someday I’m going to achieve this. Sigh. More life goals!
Anyway, once the cakes are out of the oven, give them a few minutes to cool down.
Now all you have to do is take your bounty to a lovey spot, relax, and contemplate the blessings of summer while stuffing your face.
Oh, and these are great plain, but adding a little butter and jam is fantastic too!