Celebrating Harvests — Sweet & Bitter

Lammas, on August 1 is a strangely secret holiday in the modern world, though our ancestors knew it well across many northern cultures. It lands at the mid-point between Summer Solstice & Fall Equinox, when the first grains of the field might be gathered. The Lammas Cake celebrates earth’s provision: thank God, it looks like there will be a harvest again this year. I first learned about Lammas when moving into a new home. My friend Amy brought a beautiful cornmeal loaf, decorated with flowers from her yard. “Plenty and abundance for your new home!” she announced with a beaming face. I was grateful for another treat to offer my friends, the moving team. When my agnostic husband offered to celebrate Lammas with me, I was surprised. He saw it as a practical expression of something we like to do together — cook. We would mindfully make a loaf of bread, each reflecting on the ingredients. The first year of observing Lammas together,  he wrote up a little text about each ingredient. My favorite bit was how his grandfather used to work at the Humboldt Dairy, making buttermilk. To his stories, I add the lore of my family and part of the country. Mom hated buttermilk, but bought it regularly so that her kids would learn to appreciate something she couldn’t. Lammas 2015This year — our fourth year of this ritual — had a twist. “That bread is bitter,” James announces. Our ritual loaf? Sweet little first-step into creating ritual together? Sour? It is likely one of the ingredients gone rancid, James points out. He suspects the cornmeal or wheatgerm. I resist that. Not my beloved corneal. Later I decide it’s most likely the powdered buttermilk. After all, what is more likely to go bad — grain or milk? Weird the things we take a stance on. Neither of us has hard data, just firm opinions. While James considers the problem to be solved, I ponder the spiritual implications. Is it a sign of a bad harvest? (This summer’s heat is indeed scorching crops locally.) Is it some symbol of imperiled personal prosperity, with another economic dive around the bend? Is it James rejecting the harvest at hand, unwilling to consider tastes or outcomes beyond his palate? Or is it the yield of my need for things to turn out well? It doesn’t take long to see the lie beneath each of these auguries. Each one a reflection of my own fears and sorrows — from climate change to success anxiety. That’s the danger of ritual-turned-fortune-telling. It finds the Bread Of Affliction in a simple baking problem. Sometimes you just bake the bread and taste the results.

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