Celebrate an abundant harvest with a sourdough braided bread loaf, enriched with vibrant calendula and rich sunflowers. This Lammas bread is perfect for a summer celebration or to be enjoyed anytime of year. Learn about how to braid bread and take a peek into Lammas tradition.
I live along the edges of a fertile river valley. The countryside is painted in broad swaths of grain – wheat, barley, rye, and corn. Each summer, around the first of August, the wheat fields mature to a rich golden tone, signalling the harvest.
Living in this valley, and having spent most of my life at least on the peripheral, if not completely immersed in the agricultural community, I have always been incredibly aware of the how our lives are lived in concert with nature. We work when nature allows, we harvest if nature allows, and we celebrate when nature provides. Despite farming advances, we are still very much at nature’s mercy. I have never known a farmer to got give thanks and celebrate his or her harvest.
Just like the Celtic people of bygone days (or less bygone if your culture guides you to it), we may all find ourselves celebrating Lammas, the ancient celebration of the first grain harvest of the year. Perhaps our Lammas celebrations look more like backyard BBQs and potlucks, but we are celebrating the height of summer. I say this not to oversimplify Lammas, but rather to illustrate the point that we do celebrate the seasons, albeit less intentionally than our ancestors and pagan kin and neighbors. During the summer months, we are celebrating abundance grown from the earth by eating vine ripened tomatoes, still warm from the sun, and corn on the cob, slathered with butter. We celebrate in those moments when we are keenly aware of bounty that nature offers.
I am not pagan, but I value the celebrations that punctuate the wheel of the year. I see the vast similarities in modern culture. We carve faces into pumpkins,once turnips, in October, we light candles to light the darkness in February (Imbolc), and even my Christian Nebraskan grandmother was proclaimed May Queen in her youth (Beltane). I am finding that here in early “mid-life” I greatly desire to slow down and appreciate the world around me right as it is, right now. I feel called to understand the culture of my ancestors and live more closely in tune with the cycles of the earth.
Moved by the concepts within the ancient calendar that guide us to be more in tune with the cycles of the earth, I created this loaf of Lammas bread to connect me with this Old World tradition.
What is Lammas?
Lammas, also referred to as Lughnasadh, is the first of three celebrations that focus on the harvest. Translating literally to “loaf-mass”, Lammas celebrates that harvest of grain, and as such tradition calls for a Lammas bread (which for me will be a braided bread). More than a celebration of grain, Lammas represents the seed cycle, a highlights that efforts put forth by the farmers to feed their family and community throughout the year. In older days, the first sheath of wheat would be cut at dawn on the morning of Lammas, winnowed, ground and baked into a loaf on the first day of harvest (and the last sheath would be hung in the home to welcome future harvest). Lammas not only celebrates the current year’s harvest, but blesses the future crops to be grown from the collected seed.
Other symbols of Lammas:
- braids and bundles of grain sheaths
- items in colors of green, yellow, gold, and orange
What is the Significance of a Lammas Bread?
While my Lammas bread will not be created with the first grains of the season, this breaded bread was made in honor the tradition and abundance of the season. Your Lammas bread should be representative of your harvest – so while the list mentioned above provides suggestions, a modern Lammas loaf may look different for you and the your regional herbs, flowers, seeds, and grains. I encourage you to enrich your bread with what feels celebratory and in season to you each year. My braided bread is enriched with vibrant calendula petals from my herb garden and oil rich sunflowers (both atop and in the loaf). I chose the braided bread design to resemble the seed head that tops each sheath of wheat and to pay homage to braided strands of wheat.
While the base recipe for this Lammas bread is a simple everyday ingredients, it is form and the added ingredients that turn this braided bread into something festive.
How to Make Sourdough Braided Bread
Like a great many others, I too have found that a true, homemade sourdough bread, made with a traditional starter culture, to be a far more digestible compared to supermarket breads. After a baking “dry spell”, I created my own starter culture using the methods explained by my friend Courtney Queen of ButterforAll.com in this post. I most certainly could have detailed my methods in this post, but when somebody like Courtney goes in to the depth and detail — I would rather send you to the master for your sourdough training. 🙂
What is impressive on the plate, is surprisingly easy to create. If you know who to braid, you can craft a braided bread loaf. The only major difference being that you don’t braid from one end to the other. Instead you start at a center point and braid to one end, then braid from the center out to the other end, then tuck under the ends when placing in its buttered baking dish for a second rise. It is far easier than it sounds, and even this uncoordinated baker made a lovely braided bread upon her first attempt — I have faith in you!
I hope you have enjoyed this peak into the traditions of Lammas and will create your own bread in its honor!
Sourdough Braided Bread for Lammas with Calendula & Sunflowers
- 1/4 cup well fed, active sourdough starter
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk warmed to 100-110 degrees F
- 1/2 cup whole wheat flower
- 2 tablespoons raw honey
- 1/4 teaspoon active dried yeast optional
- 2 tablespoons butter softened
- 2 1/2 cups bread flour
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 cup dried calendula petals
- 1/4 cup sunflower seeds divided
- In a large bowl or in a stand mixer, add the sourdough starter, whole milk, whole wheat flour, honey. Stir well to combine. If you are not confident your starters ability to "lift" your loaf (perhaps it is still young and hasn't fully developed), sprinkle the yeast over this mixture to hydrate. Let this mixture sit for approximately 20 minutes, after which you should see some bubbles forming.
- Remove 2 tablespoons of sunflowers from the called for amount and set aside. Coarsely chop the remaining seeds.
- Add softened butter, salt, calendula flowers, and sunflower seeds to the starter mixture. Mix and add bread flour in batches until the dough is cohesive and slightly sticky.
- Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead, adding flour, until the dough forms a smooth elastic ball -- about five minutes. The dough should be very soft, but not sticky.
- Place dough in a buttered or oiled bowl and cover with plastic film or a towel. Let rise for about 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in volume.
- Turn dough out onto a floured surface and pat into a 12"x6" rectangle, approximately. Cut dough lengthwise into three logs. Separate the dough logs slightly and select a center point. From the center of the dough logs, braid dough from the center to the end, repeating on on the other side.
- Transfer braided dough loaf, to a parchment lined or buttered baking pan, tucking the ends under, I prefer a ceramic baking dish with sides, just slightly bigger than the dough braid itself to discourage spread in the next steps. Cover with plastic film or a towel and let rise until doubled in size, about an hour.
- Remove plastic film or towel and brush loaf with an egg wash created from one egg beaten with a small bit of water. Sprinkle the top of the loaf with the reserved sunflower seeds. Bake in a preheated 375 degree F oven for 25-32 minutes, until the top is evenly golden and the loaf sounds hollow if tapped (I suggest rotating at least once while cooking).
- After baking, remove from oven and cool completely before slicing.