Yesterday morning, Malcolm sat musing on the day ahead, munching toast and marmalade.
The bread wrapper caught his eye. It boasts:
“This loaf is made to the same recipe my father created 40 years ago. With 100% wholemeal flour, it’s not only full of goodness, it tastes great too.”
Isn’t tradition a wonderful thing!
Except forty years takes us back to the 1970s, to Wonderloaf and Mother’s Pride, hardly the acme of British bread-making.
When Malcolm mentioned just that to the Lady in his Life, she capped it with a thought of her own, all the way from a Portadown playground:
If you eat Jim Davison’s bread
It sticks to your belly like lead
So it’s not a bit of wonder
That you fart like thunder
When you eat Jim Davison’s bread.
That’s pushing tradition back even further. The Davison Brothers had a bakery on the corner of Obins Street and Park Road, and were delivering locally with horse-drawn vans down to the 1930s. By then the big Belfast bakers were muscling in with advertising and mass-production (and, just possibly, a bit of black propaganda through skipping games).
The present big name in Portadown baking is Irwin’s, which started as a small craft bakery behind the grocery shop in Woodhouse Street. It has now expanded and taken over the old William Clow Mill, with its products a regular feature in supermarkets across Britain.
What Malcolm cannot get through his local supermarket is a decent potato farl, by Irwin’s or anyone else. Such an item may not appear on a healthy English breakfast table. For, as Malcolm’s good-living, jogging, cycling son-in-law described an Ulster fry breakfast: death by cholesterol.
Time, once more, to educate the ignorant Saxons.
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life …
At this stage in the post, you may well appreciate how the automatic spellcheck messes with Malcolm’s erudition.
Nookes, yards and mutchkins
Still, sticking with fardels, they were also a land measure.
Back around 1624, Charles I’s Attorney General, William Noye told us, in his Complete Lawyer (that such a wonder should exist!):
Two Fardells of Land make a Nooke of Land, and two Nookes make halfe a Yard of Land.
Noye was a Cornishman, made good, and this fardel/farl usage seems to have persisted mainly in the remoter fastnesses of Britain, well beyond where the M25 girdles decent society, sophistication, and civilisation.
We might, in passing, acknowledge Robert Wodrow, in The history of the sufferings of the Church of Scotland, from the Restauration to the Revolution, reporting William Sutherland buying himself:
… a Farthel of Bread and a Mutckin of Ale.
Mutchkin? Another word that deserves revival: “a measure equal to an English pint” say some. The OED is magisterial:
A measure of capacity for liquids and for dry substances of a powdery or granular nature, such as salt, equal to a quarter of a Scottish pint or roughly three quarters of an imperial pint (0.43 litres); a vessel containing this amount. Occas.: an imperial pint, esp. as a measure for spirits.
More to the point, in days when beer most usually came in quarts, and a three-bottle-man was not unduly remarkable, the term implies “a small amount”.
The common farl makes a couple of appearances in the canon. Malcolm checks them off:
- Robert Burns has this in The Holy Fair:
Here farmers gash, in ridin graith,
Gaed hoddin by their cotters;
There swankies young, in braw braid-claith,
Are springing owre the gutters.
The lasses, skelpin barefit, thrang,
In silks an’ scarlets glitter;
Wi’ sweet-milk cheese, in mony a whang,
An’ farls, bak’d wi’ butter,
Fu’ crump that day.
Don’t expect a full exegesis if that now: suffice it to say that Burns is in full-on irony mode. His sub-title was Hypocrisy-a-la-mode, and he contrasts the holy-day gathering, with its parade of eminent preachers, and folk out on a Bacchanalian, anything-goes, over-the-top, indulgent holiday outing. Somewhat closer to William Hogarth than Billy Graham. The vocabulary, and much of the imagery, precludes the ballad from a school-text book.
- Walter Scott’s The Bride of Lammermoor and its contemporary popularity was the basis for Donizetti’s now-better known opera. It was one of two Scott novels published together in 1819 as the third instalment of Tales of My Landlord. This other episode is the story of a love triangle, set in Montrose’s campaign against the Covenanters and Civil War period, A Legend of Montrose. Sadly, Scott is out of fashion; but — should one wish — there, at the end of Chapter III we find our farl:
“Do so, Captain,” said Lord Menteith; “you will have the night to think of it, for we are now near the house, where I hope to ensure you a hospitable reception.”
“And that is what will be very welcome,” said the Captain, “for I have tasted no food since daybreak but a farl of oatcake, which I divided with my horse. So I have been fain to draw my sword-belt three bores tighter for very extenuation, lest hunger and heavy iron should make the gird slip.”