The practice of the “teethin’ bannock”. To cure a child of teething troubles, it would be given a bannock - a flat, round loaf of bread - to play with until a piece broke off, which would then be fed to them (others present in the room would eat a piece, too). This practice was written about in F Marian McNeill’s The Scots Kitchen, published in 1929.
Irelands St Columcille
On one occasion, is it said, Columcille, weary and hungry, came into a house where a bannock of bread was being baked before the fire. Columcille asked for some of the bread. The woman replied she could not give it, as only one side was baked. Thereupon the saint left his curse with anyone who should ever again bake a cake in this manner. So the God-fearing housewife thence-forth regularly turned the bannock giving each side alternately to the fire. But the truth is that this is the only scientific way to do it. If one side is kept all the time to the fire until it is fully baked it contracts so much that the bannock becomes concave, like a deep saucer, and the other side can never be fully or uniformly baked: indeed the bannock is apt to break into pieces. Whereas if the two sides are turned alternately they contract equally, the bannock retains its flat shape, and can be perfectly and uniformly baked. All this argument, however, would be wasted on a rough or careless woman or servant, but Columcille’s curse made the worst of them attentive.
Bannocks were an essential part of everyday life, and especially to any Highland festivities particularly in the celebration of the Quarter Days. The bannocks were each given a special name according to the festival they were made for – the bonnach Brìde for Imbolc, bonnach Bealltain for Bealltainn, bonnach Lunastain for Lùnastal, and bonnach Samhthain for Samhainn. On St Michael’s day, a special bannock was made called struthan Mhìcheil (or struan Micheil), and other festivals and special occasions also had bannocks specially baked for them.
The festival bannocks were made to attract health and prosperity for the coming year and a complex body of lore is associated with the making and consumption of bannocks in general, as well as for the festival bannocks themselves.
The bonnach lurgainn, or ‘leg cake’ was given to the herd or dairymaid when they brought news of calving or foaling, since naturally a safe delivery would mean extra livestock and a fresh, abundant supply of milk in the case of cows.Horses seem to have been a sign of prestige, and of course, the more a family owned, the better off they were considered to be.Such bannocks were often coated in a thin batter of eggs, milk and butter in later times, just like at certain festivals
On a bride’s wedding day the bonnach bainnse (wedding bannock) was made by a ‘wise matron’ who then broke the bannock over the bride’s head as she came into the house upon her return from church to ensure a prosperous marriage and lots of children
On Hogmanay evening, children were washed before going to bed. An oat bannock was baked for each child: it was nipped round the edge, had a hole in the centre, and was flavoured with carvey (caraway) seed. Great care was taken that none of these bannocks should break in the firing, as such occurrence was regarded as a very unlucky omen for the child whose bannock was thus damaged. It denoted illness or death during the year…In the morning we children got our bannocks to breakfast. They were small, and it was unlucky to leave any portion of them, although this was frequently done.”
One way to cure a cow that was believed to have been bewitched or was suffering from the effects of the Evil Eye was to milk her through the hole in a bannock specially made for the occasion. Bannocks (the oatcake variety) were also used to avert the Evil Eye in the home, and in this case it was supposed to be toasted until it was burnt and smoking.
(the smoke presumably clearing the house of evil spirits).