Lughnasadh is a ancient Gaelic festival marking the beginning of the harvest season originally held on the first of August in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man. This marked a cross quarter day about halfway between the summer solstice and the autumnal equinox.
After the advent of Christianity the Saxons renamed the festival “hlaf-maesse” meaning “loaf mass,” which evolved into Lammas, as it’s known on church calendars today. It begins the period of Lammastide. Traditionally, the wheat harvest was the first of the harvest season to formally start it, the first new grain was milled and baked into small loaves of bread. These were brought to the church and presented on the altar as thanks for the bountiful harvest. The loaves were blessed and then taken home.
Before mechanization the harvest was very labor intensive and it was important to get the grain in quickly and keep it dry to prevent mold and spoilage. As a result it became a community event. All that has been lost in the modern world. Now we are even losing the enjoyment of bread. Rare is the home where grain is ground into flour and bread baked fresh, filling the house with a wonderful odor. And now even eating bread is becoming problematic.
In any food store you see a section for gluten free products. Celiac disease was first identified by the Greek physician Aretaeus of Cappadocia in the first century AD and is not a 20th century development. Many aspects of the disease have been known for a very long time. It tends to run in families and breast-feeding has a protective role in the development and severity of of it, which recent research has formally documented. It appears to be on the rise, but whether this is due to better diagnostics and awareness or changes in the growing and processing of wheat and other grain products or other factors has not been determined.
Now we are also seeing a rise in the number of people with “gluten sensitivity”. These people don’t fall under the criteria for diagnosis with Celiac disease but they see health improvements when gluten is eliminated from their diet. When I started working with a clinical nutritionist to regain my own health one of the first things she did was try me on a diet eliminating gluten. Thankfully I am not sensitive. I have to admit though that I have never liked commercial bread and even as a child I hated sandwiches and took hot dogs and hamburgers out of their buns to eat. I remember my grandmother showing me what what white bread was good for. She rolled it into a tiny ball and gave it to me to erase pencil without tearing or abrading the paper! It worked really well and it made me highly suspicious (as was my grandmother) of the standard American loaf of bread.. This surely influenced my view that an overindulgence in a chemically altered and overly processed product is responsible for much of the trouble.
I still don’t eat that much bread and I never buy regular white bread, only muti and whole grain artisan breads. So I can still have my favorite late night snack of buttered toast and tea without worry and I can still have a nice loaf of bread on table at Lammas, which I did yesterday. I got a lovely sourdough from the ladies at the farmer;s market just for that purpose and gave thanks I can still eat real bread.