Come, ye thankful people, come, raise the song of harvest home;
All is safely gathered in, ere the winter storms begin.
Lyrics by Henry Alford 1810-1871
I’m not going to make any apology for repeating last year’s post about the fascinating tradition of 'Crying the Neck'. Feasts and festivals are all about making your own kitchen traditions and I haven’t made a poppy seed loaf since this time last year, so it’s time to make another. In any case you might only have just found this blog so it will be new to many of you.
In Cornwall the last sheaf cut at harvest time is called 'the neck' and in common with many other country districts in times past, when it was cut, the end of the harvest was celebrated by 'Crying the Neck'. In 'Cornish Feasts and Folk-Lore' published in 1890, Miss Courtney tells us that the oldest reaper called out 'I hav'et! I hav'et! I hav'et' and his companions replied 'What hav'ee? What hav'ee? What hav'ee?' He then shouted 'A Neck! A Neck! A Neck!' and they all replied 'Hurrah!'
The neck of corn was then been made into a miniature sheaf gaily decorated with flowers and ribbons. This was hung in the farmhouse until the next harvest or sometimes tossed between the reapers, the winner legitimately being able then to kiss the girl of his choice.
There were similar traditions in other parts of the country – in East Yorkshire for example the reapers cried 'We hev'er, We hev'er! A coo in a tether!' Then there would be then a general scramble for apples in the stack yard when the last load was brought in. In September the Old Cornwall Societies across the county will be celebrating 'Crying the Neck' as a way of keeping the old traditions alive - good for them.
After the harvest comes the Harvest Supper, sometimes called the 'Mell Supper'. The word 'mell' coming from the Old Norse 'mele' meaning grain. This was an occasion for general rejoicing and not a little relief that all was safely gathered in. Until the 1840s harvest festivals were a purely secular if not pagan celebrations, but enter onto the scene the Reverend Robert Stephen Hawker, Vicar of Morwenstow.
When Hawker became Vicar of Morwenstow in 1834 it had been neglected by the Church of England for years, as to be honest, had much of Cornwall - the Methodist tradition in the south west is a legacy of that. Morwenstow really was a wild west area but it suited the young cleric down to the ground and he ministered to all - sailors, fishermen, smugglers, wreckers and miners.
Hawker was a real eccentric. He married twice; firstly to his Godmother 22 years his senior, then to a young woman 40 years his junior, both marriages apparently happy and contented. He once dressed up as a mermaid, excommunicated his cat for mousing on Sundays and far from donning clerical garb he habitually wore a claret-coloured coat, blue fisherman's jersey, long sea-boots, a pink hat and a shawl made from a yellow horse blanket. He talked to the birds, invited his nine cats into church and kept a pet pig.
On September 13, 1843, Hawker put up a notice in the church for a new type of service:
'Let us gather together in the chancel of our church, and there receive, in the bread of the new corn, that blessed sacrament which was ordained to strengthen and refresh our souls.'
Harvest Festival was born.
Hawker built a little hut for himself on the cliffs near his home and it can still be seen, it belongs to the National Trust these days. He used it to commune with nature, write poetry and smoke a little opium.
Poppy Seed Roll
I've never quite managed to make a smaller quantity of this so, this recipe makes two rolls.
Make a sweet dough with 200ml milk, 120g melted butter, 2 eggs, 1/2tsp vanilla extract, 500g strong flour, 1.5 tsp salt, 60g sugar and 2 tsp easy blend yeast. Knead it until it is smooth and elastic then let it rise in a warm place for an hour. Now make the filling.
Put 100g sugar and 100ml milk in a pan, bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes.
Add 100g poppy seeds and 75g chopped sultanas or currants, 2 tablespoons of honey, a tablespoon of candied peel and the grated rind of one lemon.
Bring to the boil again and simmer for 5 more minutes, it will be quite thick and will thicken more as it cools. When it is cool add one egg white - keep the yolk for the glaze on the roll.
Roll the risen dough out into a rectangle about 2 centimetres thick and spread on the filling.
Roll up the dough into a big sausage with the seam underneath, tuck the ends under and allow to rise again for 30 -40 minutes. Brush with the yolk of egg. If you do this a couple of times it will be even more rich and shiny.
Bake at 190c for about 35 minutes. Keep an eye on it and if it's getting very brown cover lightly with foil. Cool, dribble over glace icing and sprinkle with poppy seeds.