Everyone in Ireland loves a barmbrack - but where does its name originate from?
Wednesday Words: BARMBRACK, also BARNBRACK, BORREEN-BRACK, n. bread containing fruit, especially relished at Hallowe’en, when symbolic gifts (e.g. a ring to foretell marriage) are placed in the bread bairín breac, speckled loaf. ’What kind of barmbrack is that? - that doesn’t have a ring in it’ (KG, Kerry); ’Barm bread, made from yeast, butter-milk, flour, sugar, and luke-warm water - we’d eat barm bread in winter and soda bread in summer - they’d mix cream of tartar with the flour if they had nothing else’ (MOB, Mayo). Plunkett, Farewell Companions: "Hallowe’en, as usual, saw the tea table furnished with a large barmbrack which was flanked by plates of apples and oranges, grapes and nuts"; ’I read in Elizabeth David that barm is an English word for yeast; in Dublin we used to call it "branbrack"(EM, Dublin); ’a popular Irish fruitcake. "Bairín" means loaf and "breac" means speckled. Some people call it a barmbrack, which means "speckled yeast", an obvious mistranslation (PM, Leitrim).
Intrigued? Find this and more unusual words in ’A Dictionary of Hiberno-English’ by Terence Patrick Dolan.
Photo from ’Make, Bake, Love’ by Lilly Higgins.