Posts Tagged ‘Manx’

Manx Herb Beer



The herb vervain, known as ‘vervine’ or ‘yn lhus‘ in the Isle of Man, has always been credited with magical properties by the Manx people. A tall plant with spiky leaves and small mauve flowers, it has been said to cure eye, throat and respiratory diseases, liver complaints and feverish conditions.

When the fishing industry ran up against hard times, a “Fairy Doctor” was sometimes called in. One of his remedies was to take a bunch of vervain, boil it in a little water in a boat’s cooking pot and sprinkle the water on each net as it was cast.

This apparently, was sure to bring up the nets brimful of herring. In the same belief, vervain was sometimes put in the buoys which floated the nets.

Take one handful each of Vervain, Nettles, Yarrow, Wild Carrot, St. John’s Wort, Centaury, Marsh Mallow and either Horehound or Hops. Boil together in two gallons of water for half an hour.

Strain off the liquid and add to it one pound of sugar. Let it stand until lukewarm.

Then add two ounces of fresh yeast, or one ounce of dried yeast, cover and let the mixture “work”.

Skim and bottle.

Leave for three days or more.

from As Manx As The Hills, Facebook
recipe compiled by Suzanne Wooley in her book – “My Grandmother’s Cookery Book”

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[excerpt from Folklore Research list]
*Bonnag Recipes*


Whenever a recipe for some ‘Manx’ foodstuff is required, Bonnag is usually offered. Originally I think this was just a large flat unleavened loaf cooked on the griddle (rather like oatcake) but over the years it appears to have become a much richer cake-like fruit bread or in later recipes a fairly rich fruit cake. The word does not occur in Cregeen’s Max dictionary of 1835 – in Clague’s *Manx Reminiscences* (1911) it is given as the ‘English’ for *Soddag Verreen* (defined by Cregeen as a thick clapped cake ; generally understood as the last of a baking and left longer on the griddle to harden (ref to 1 Kings xvii. 13) which ties in with its colloquial use in Anglo Manx  – “He’s like barley bonnag =E2=80=94 hard in the cruss”). Though Kelly’s dictionary (Manx Soc vol 13) gives ‘bonnag’ as a translation of cake, the word is not included in the Manx-English section. Roeder quotes O’Reilly’s Irish Dictionary simply giving bonnag as “cake”; the Scotch ‘bannock’ is probably from the same root. Elizabeth David in her section on Bakestone Cakes or Breads indicates that the words ‘Bread’ and ‘Cake’ could be used interchangeably in this context and that cake did not have today’s meaning of something sweet – Marie Antoinette’s misquote ‘Let them eat cake’ likewise refers to the use of a different grain than wheat.

Barley Bonnag

Hall Caine describes his Manx Grandmother in the 1860’s, as laying out on the kitchen table “a crock of fresh water, with perhaps a bowl of new milk, and a plate of ‘bonnag,’ which was barley bread. – no mention of dried fruit etc. in the bonnag.

Bonnag made to a late 19th century recipe originating from an isolated farm, produces a breakfast plate sized, about an inch or slightly more tall, bonnag. It has some fruit in it, but it needs to be spread with butter.

Wheat was not the common grain on the Island – these were usually Oats and
Barley. Oats do not contain gluten which is needed to give bread,
especially leavened bread, its characteristic texture – oatcakes were long
noted as the staple diet of the Manx and probably differed little from the
surrounding lands where a wide variety of such cakes were also made.
Elizabeth David quotes a 1629 recipe for paper thin Kendal Oatcakes as well
as the more common Scots variety which add a little fat to what is
basically a flour and water mix. Skim (or whey) milk could be used instead
of water. Roeder who spent much time with the older families in the south of the Island in the 1890’s pines for the loss of “the crisp, thin-leaved, tasty bonnags=E2=80=94where are *they ? *Banished, too, from the Isle?”.

Barley contains gluten though not as much as wheat – it could be used in
place of the oats – as Elizabeth David says Oats and Barley produce the
tastiest cakes but because of the gluten it can produce breads with a
lighter aerated texture.

She dates the introduction of bicarbonate of soda and tartaric acid (cream
of tartar) to the late 1840’s and 1850’s though only reaching popularity in
the 1860’s. This mixture of an acid acting on a the alkali liberates carbon
dioxide, CO2 which aerates the bread during its baking – the gluten
allowing the trapped bubbles to expand and then, as baking alters the
gluten, to lock in the texture – a ratio of 3:2 soda:acid is recommended by
Ms. David (Self-raising flour already contains these ingredients – baking
power is also the same but with the addition of rice-flour to absorb
moisture during storage). Buttermilk (soured milk) can replace the tartaric
acid as well as adding extra taste. One key requirement is to evenly
distribute the soda throughout the mixture otherwise a bitter taste can

It is possible that buttermilk on its own can provide a wild yeast that can
effectively leaven the bread – when used as an acid to liberate the CO2 it
must be added immediately before baking – as a source of yeast it of course
needs considerable ‘proving’ time to allow the yeast to grow.

The ready availability of dried fruit again dates from the mid 19th
century, Kelly’s dictionary gives the ‘englished’ Manx for currant as
‘french berry’, the adjective French usually meaning exotic, unusual or
outlandish. Thus all the ‘classic’ Manx Bonnag’ recipes are probably no
more than 150 years old (and probably younger) though the use of flat
griddle cakes probably dates back millennia.

In all the modern Bonnag recipes white wheat flour is used.


Elizabeth David *English Bread and Yeast Cookery* London: Allen Lane 1977
(ISBN 0-7139-1026-7)


For all these recipes I am thankful to Suzanne Daugherty for extracting
them from her collection.

Measures or equivalents

– 1 tsp =3D 5g or 1/8 oz;
– 1 tbsp =3D 15g or =C2=BDoz
– 4oz =3D 100g =3D =C2=BDcup (flour)

*’Basic’ Bonnag*

– 1 lb flour
– 1 oz fat (or 2 oz)
– pinch salt
– 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
– fruit and sugar if liked
– 1 tsp cream of tartar rubbed in with flour and fat

Dissolve soda in sour milk Then mix and bake in moderate oven.

*’Fruit’ Bonnag*

– 2 1/2 cups flour
– 1 cup sugar
– 1 cup currants
– 1 tbsp margarine
– 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
– 1 large tsp mixed spice
– few drops vanilla essence
– cup or more buttermilk

Rub butter into flour. Add other dry ingredients. When will mixed, mix with

Bake about 1 hour in moderate oven.

A common recipe is

– 1 lb plain flour
– 4 oz margarine
– 1 tsp salt
– 1 tsp baking soda
– 1 tsp cream of tartar
– 4 oz sugar
– 4 oz currants

Bake in moderate oven 3/4 hour

A much richer cake-like recipe is ‘Mrs. Kerruish’s Manx Bunloaf’ – note the
addition of eggs which is not mentioned in any earlier recipe.

– 18 oz plain flour
– 2 oz margarine
– 2 oz lard
– 2 oz brown sugar
– 2 oz white sugar
– 2 eggs
– 18 oz currants
– 5 oz sultanas
– 2=C2=BD oz peel
– =C2=BD level tsp Cream of Tartar
– =C2=BD level tsp Carbonate of Soda
– 1 teaspoon spice
– Buttermilk to mix

No method given but judging from the ingredients rather like a rich fruit
cake :beat fats and sugar, add eggs; sift flour spice and raising
ingredients, then add with fruit and cook in a slow oven (150C – probably
around 2 hours but needs experimentation). Alternatively possibly rub fats
into sifted flour/spice mix and then add eggs, fruit and buttermilk to
produce the required dropping consistency


– 1 lb Plain Flour
– 8 oz lard
– 8 oz brown sugar
– 8 oz currants
– 8 oz sultanas
– 4 oz mixed peel
– 8 oz raisins
– 1 teaspoon mixed spice
– 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
– 2 cups of milk
– 2 tablespoons of black treacle

Method: Sieve dry ingredients, rub fat into flour, add fruit, mix treacle
with milk, mix to a soft consistency. Turn into greased tin, bake in
moderate oven.

Other variations are

*Bunloaf (Special)*

– 1 lb flour,
– 4 oz margarine
– 2 lb mixed fruit
– 8 oz sugar
– 2 tablespoons syrup
– 2 teaspoons spice
– candied peel or marmalade
– 1 dessert bicarbonate of soda

mix with sour milk or buttermilk (dissolve bicarbonate of soda in milk and
add to dry ingredients)

Bake 2 hours in slow oven

These last two have a different method, and are good and moist. They were
attributed to May Green, who used to demonstrate cookery, and s connected
to Creer and Creer Ltd.,the Grocers of Buck’s Road, Douglas.

*Bunloaf (I)*

– 4 oz margarine
– 4 cups fruit
– 2 cups sugar
– 2 cups water

Put in pan and boil for 3 minutes. Allow to go cold and add:

– 4 cups SR flour
– 2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
– 2 teaspoons vinegar

Dissolve bicarbonate in the vinegar . Stir together

Bake at 300 deg F for 10 minutes then reduce to 275 deg F for 50 minutes.

Variation: As I, but add 2 tsp treacle and 2 tsp mixed spice in flour

*BONAG (The Sunrise Way)*

– 12 oz Plain Flour
– 4 oz Sugar
– 4 oz Butter or Margarine
– 1 teaspoonful Bi-Carb. Of Soda
– About 4 oz Dried Fruit
– Sour Milk to mix to fairly soft dough (about a good teacupful)

Method. Rub fat into flour, add the sugar, then the fruit, add some of the
milk in which the Bi-Carbonate of Soda has been mixed. Then add the rest
until required consistency is obtained. Put in greased Baking tin and
sprinkle sugar on top. Bake in a moderate oven about 45 minutes.

* Rich bonnag*

Here is a recipe for Manx Bunloaf, which incidentally came from the 1971
Kathie Webber’s International Star Cook Book (TV Times Extra) 1971. It
measures up to the hand-down recipes which I have.

– 8 oz plain flour
– pinch of salt
– pinch of mixed spice
– pinch of nutmeg
– 3/4 level teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
– 4 oz butter
– 4 oz soft brown sugar
– 1/2 lb sultanas
– 1/2 lb currants
– 1/4 lb stoned raisins
– 1 oz chopped mixed peel
– 1/2 level tablespoon black treacle
– buttermilk or milk to mix

Method: Sift the flour, salt, mixed spice, nutmeg and bicarbonate of soda
into a bowl. Rub in the butter until mixture looks like fine bread crumbs.
Stir in the sugar, fruit and peel. Add the treacle and mix to a fairly
stiff dropping consistency with buttermilk or milk.

Turn mixture into a well greased 1 lb loaf tin and bake for 2 1/2 hours in
centre of oven, pre-heated to 325 deg.F or Mark 3. Test with a skewer to
see if cooked.

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