Struan: The Harvest Bread of Michaelmas

Updated: May. 16, 2017 at 11:46 AM EDT
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Presented by Chef Peter Reinhart, Johnson & Wales University

On the eve of the Feast of Saint Michael The Archangel (Sept. 29), a wonderful custom used to take place in Western Scotland. Each family member baked breads called Struan Micheil, which were made of all the various grains harvested during the year. Usually, the eldest daughter, under the watchful eye of her mother, baked the breads. Large Struans were made for the community and small ones for each family member. In remembrance of absent friends or those who had died, special Struans, blessed at an early morning Mass, were given to the poor in their names. Everyone then chanted an invocation to Saint Michael, the guardian of the harvest, and in praise to God for His ever present blessing.

Brother Juniper's Struan is made from wheat, corn, oats, brown rice, and bran. It is moistened with buttermilk and sweetened with brown sugar and honey and, as far I know, we are the only bakers still making it. Susan and I went to Scotland and could find no sign of Struan. We then went to the National Library in Edinburgh. Some research uncovered that it originated in the Hebrides, probably on the Isle of Skye (there is a place there called Struanmoor). It worked its way to the outer island of Lewis where the Michaelmas tradition probably survived the longest. Struan dropped out of sight in the early part of this century.

It is a shame that nobody makes it because it is an exquisitely beautiful bread.  From our research, though, it seems that Struan was not always light and pretty. The original formula, according to an old hymn, "The Blessing of The Struan," seems to include a number of wild and crazy ingredients such as dandelion, smooth garlic, carle-doddies, and cail peach, foxglove, and marigold. There was a stiff penalty if a young lass's loaf fell during baking: one year of bad luck. That could be pretty discouraging.

The greatest loss is of the ritual itself, the consecrating of such a concise symbol of the harvest, of the diverse growth of a fertile land during an entire year, the loss of offering this symbol for a blessing, which is another symbol in the great chain of symbols that ends only in the numinous. Struan is not merely bread--it is bread that represents the essence of bread, which is one of the great analogies of life itself.

                From Brother Juniper's Bread Book: Slow Rise As Method and Metaphor, by Peter Reinhart, Addison-Wesley Publishers, pp.47-48.


Makes One Large loaf or a dozen dinner rolls


2 1/2 cups bread flour (high-gluten)

3 tablespoons uncooked polenta (coarse corn meal)

3 tablespoons rolled oats

3 tablespoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons wheat bran

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon instant yeast (or 1 1/4 tablespoons active dry yeast, dissolved in 3 tablespoons

warm water)

3 tablespoons cooked brown rice

1 1/2 tablespoons honey

1/3 cup buttermilk

Approximately 1 cup water

1 tablespoon poppy seeds (for top)


                        In a bowl mix all the dry ingredients, including the salt and yeast. Add the cooked rice, honey, and buttermilk, and mix. Then add 1/2 cup of water, reserving the rest for adjustments during kneading. With your hands squeeze the ingredients together until they make a ball. Sprinkle some flour on the counter and turn the ball out of the bowl and begin kneading. Add water as needed.


            It will take about fifteen minutes to knead by hand. The dough will change before your eyes, lightening in color, becoming gradually more elastic and evenly grained. The finished dough should be tacky but not sticky, lightly golden, stretchy and elastic rather than porridge-like. When you push the heels of your hands into the dough, it should give way but not tear. If it flakes or crumbles, add a little more water.


            Clean and dry the mixing bowl. Put in the dough and cover with a damp towel or plastic wrap or place the bowl inside a plastic bag. Allow the dough to rise in a warm place for about one hour, until it has roughly doubled in size (it may take longer, depending on the temperature).


            This recipe makes one regular size loaf of bread (about 1 1/2 pounds finished weight) or about 15 dinner rolls.

            Roll into a loaf by pressing on the center with the heels of the hands and rolling the dough back over itself until a seam is formed. Tuck all the pieces of dough or end flaps into the seam, keeping only one seam in the dough. Pinch off the seam, sealing it as best you can, and put the loaf, seam side down, in a greased bread pan. Spray the top with water and sprinkle on the poppy seeds.  Cover and allow the dough to rise till it crests over the top of the pan.


            Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven (300 if convection), for approximately 45 minutes. The loaf should dome nicely and be dark gold. The sides and bottom should be a uniform medium gold and there should be an audible thwack (or thunk), when you tap the bottom of the loaf.

            If the bread comes out of the pan dark on top but too light or soft on the sides or bottom, take the loaf out of the pan, return it to the oven, and finish baking until it is twackable. Bear in mind that the bread will cook much faster once it is removed from the pan, so keep a close eye on it.

            Allow the bread to cool thoroughly for at least 40 minutes before slicing it.

*From Brother Juniper's Bread Book: Slow Rise as Method and Metaphor, by Peter Reinhart, Addison-Wesley Publishers, 1991