The Lammas Loaf was the first loaf of bread made with the grain from the new harvest. Used for communion in the medieval church, it was believed to have magical properties. In reality, this was probably true. Famine could strike at any moment. Crops often failed to thrive and starvation would be the result. Even if the crop was productive, it could be lost if weather or the constant threat of disease prevented the harvesting of the grain. To know you had a secure source of food for the coming year must have been a magical feeling worthy of celebrating. After the formalities of presenting the loaves, the festivities would begin with gift giving, processions and feasting.
It wasn't all celebration and feasting. Known as one of the 'Quarter Days', rents and taxes were collected on Lammas Day. Tenants paid the required portion of their harvest to their landlords. Then, as now, paying taxes would take the gloss off most celebrations.
Exeter still celebrates it's ancient Lammas Fair with parades, pomp and ceremony. Granted to the City of Exeter by Edward III in 1330, the King's protection of the peace is symbolised by a white glove, decorated with ribbons and garlands of flowers. It is displayed on the Guildhall for the duration of the fair.
So when you have a slice of bread today, think of it as your Lammas Loaf. Be grateful for the harvest and thankful that we have come through the lean days of the year to a time of bounty. Remember, there are still parts of the world who live in fear of crop failure and famine. The life sustaining Lammas Loaf is truly magical!