Full up to the neck with bunloaf…….

20161230_194638_resized‘Full up to the neck with bunloaf’ is a quote from Ned Maddrell of Rushen, Isle of Man recalling when he was a young man and what he did for the Manx New Year’s custom of the Quaaltagh. The Quaaltagh is the first person to step over the threshold in the new year, ideally on the Isle of Man a dark haired man. As Ned said he was ‘full up to the neck with bunloaf’….. bunloaf was the common fare offered to the Quaaltagh and most people would have had some made for the Christmas and New Year. Tradtionally people would stay up all night to welcome their Quaaltagh into their home with a drink and a bite to eat.

As it is New Year’s eve I thought I would share a Manx recipe for bunloaf. I usually make up a batch of bunloaf for the relatives and close friends as presents and to have some in to offer any guests or my Quaaltagh. I prefer bunloaf to Christmas cake, no icing required and fairly simple to make. As far as I can tell baking bunloaf at around Christmas seems to be a Manx tradition. I have also found references to bunloaf being baked at Christmas in Liverpool and in the towns and villagers on the Cumberland coast. Interestingly bunloaf gets a mention in Swallows and Amazons…..as a favourite food of the Swallows. The Swallows on their many adventures  ate ‘the usual bunloaf and marmalade’. Interestingly in a 2008 Daily Mail article suggested bunloaf was ‘a recipe that dates back to the time when these places were the haunts of smugglers who brought in spices and spirits’. Not sure where the source of the information was originally from but an interesting idea nevertheless. I did a little reading and contacted a known expert on British smuggling history  to see if,  indeed there could be any foundation in this suggestion? Frances Wilkins said that within the goods regularly brought into the Isle of Man in the 1750s and 1760s there were spices, mace, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger; plus dried fruit (currants, raisins) and  sugar. When and where the recipe originates from I do not know but it is feasible that there could have been a connection with some of the exotic goods brought into the Island in the 18th century. Most of the other ingredients were more easily and available and already used such as buttermilk, butter, flour and bicarbonate of soda.

According to the Isle of Man Newspapers bunloaf seems to have been well a established Christmas fare by 1873, the bakers A & G Moore of Prospect Hill and George’s Street Douglas advertised as suppliers, large bunloaves also included in 10 shilling Christmas Hampers made up by H.W. Corrin. In December 1885 the orphans and destitute children of the Isle of Man Industrail Home received over 120 lbs in weight of bunloaves as donations…..possibly seen as good food with a bit of body in it for the needy children.

Every year I have a family tradition of making the bunloaves for Christmas. I intend to pass on the bunloaf tradition on to my grandchildren…..so they can keep it going for the future.

Bunloaf (Bwilleen Breck)


1 lb 8 oz Manx plain flour                             2lb  dried bag of mixed fruit                       2lb own mix of currants, sultanas, raisins, candied peel

1/2 teaspoon mixed spice

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg                                   10 oz  Manx whey butter

1 pint of Manx buttermilk

2 teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda

8 oz of sugar                                                    1 tablespoon of golden syrup

1/ Pre-heat oven on to a moderate heat

2/ Grease and line with greaseproof paper 2 x 2lb loaf tins

3/ Sieve all the dry ingedients together (flour and spices)

4/ Rub in butter into flour till looking like breadcrumbs

5/ Add sugar, dried fruit and mix well

6/ Put bicarbonate of soda in jug or basin with buttermilk and mix till smooth

7/ Make a well in centre and pour buttermilk mixture into dry ingredients add syrup and mix well till all ingredients combined.

8/ Put in loaf tins and bake for about two hours, test with skewer if cooked throughly


Ready for the oven

9/ Cool for about 10 minutes in tins and cool on wire rack

I buy a few Christmas cake decorations, wrap in greaseproof, tie with ribbon and Christmas stickers and give out as presents. Enjoy…..and they are nice any time of year with a cup of tea. Bunloaf can also be eaten with cheese or buttered


If you have any further information about bunloaves please add your information in the comments.

I have not written for a quite a while and my original 20161219_204920_resized-1plan was to write a regular blog on Manx recipes and food history. I intend to cook something up and write about any relevant stories, points of interest to that particular recipe or ingredients at least once a month over this coming year and will try and make it as seasonal as possible. The intention where possible will be to use Isle of Man sourced ingredients.


Source of 2008 Daily Mail article:


Bonnag Blog

Faillt Erriu dys Blog Bonnag

Welcome to Bonnag Blog….a blog mainly about the food and drink recipes from the Isle of Man, and the associated traditions, customs and folklore. By now you may well be asking yourself what exactly is a Bonnag and where is the Isle of Man. Bonnag is the national bread of the Isle of Man, a type of flat bread similar to a Scottish bannock and Irish soda bread. Bonnag contains no yeast and traditionally was baked on a griddle on the hearth. The Isle of Man is a smallish island in the middle of the Irish sea positioned between England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Cultural ingredient wise it  contains a large helping of Gaelic/Celtic traditions with a good dash of Scandinavian culture and some relatively recent garnishing of Victorian mass tourism, over a 100 years of motorbike road racing amongst many other interesting ingredients to create a unique fusion that makes the Isle of Man culturally what it is today.

The Isle of Man has it’s own language Yn Ghaelg which is the Manx word for the Manx language. Manx is an Indo-European language and is a close relative to Scottish and Irish Gaelic and a more distant relative to Breton, Cornish and Welsh. The word Manx usually means anything or anyone belonging to the Isle of Man. For example I am Manx because I was born on the Isle of Man and I am from the Isle of Man, there are also Manx cats,Manx language, Manx National Heritage, Manx Telecom, Manx Rally as a few examples.

Back to Bonnag, so far my initial research suggests that it was usually known in the past as Soddag, and as things do over time, it is known as Bonnag these days. The word Bonnag does not appear in early Manx language dictionaries but Soddag does. Soddag is described as a thick clapped flat cake, a cake that is last baked on the hearth. These days Bonnag is very much part of the Manx national identity and there is not just one recipe but many variations…..almost as many as stars in the sky. Almost each recipe (usually if handed down in a family) is defended as an authentic traditional Manx recipe. Part of the reason why I am writing this blog is to find out what is considered and what exactly makes a good authentic traditional Manx Bonnag.

Each year the World Bonnag Championships take place in the small west coast village of Dalby, Isle of Man. The event is becoming increasing popular and competitive, read the recent report on the website of a Manx newspapers: http://www.iomtoday.co.im/news/isle-of-man-news/record-entry-in-world-bonnag-championships-1-7184454

The earliest Manx Bonnag recipe in print I have found so far is from the publication The Manx Cookery Book of Favourite Dishes issued in aid of the re-building of a church spire fund. It is a collection of Manx recipes from people all around the Isle of Man. It was published by Sherrat & Hughes, 1908.

I have tried this recipe on an open fire by creating an oven in a cauldron and putting a griddle on top with burning peat on that. I did this a few years back whilst I worked at Harry Kelly’s Cottage Cregneash, Rushen. I seem to recall it had a fairly substantial dense texture and that it took a bit of hunting round the shops for the barley meal. I will bake it with and without the barley meal over the coming week and post the pictures with the results….so here is the recipe for you to have a go yourself:

Barley Meal Bonnag 

recipe supplied by Miss M. Callow, Ramsey, Isle of Man

  • 3/4 lb (340 g) Barley Meal
  • 1/4 lb (113g) plain flour
  • 2 oz  (56 g) lard*
  • 1 small teaspoonful of soda
  • 1 small teaspoonful of cream of tartar
  • pick of salt
  • buttermilk to mix*

Mix the barley meal, soda, cream of tartar, and salt well together in a  bowl. Rub in the lard until as fine as oatmeal, then add sufficient buttermilk to make into a moderately soft dough. Form into 2 or 3 round or oblong shaped loaves. Bake in a moderately hot oven for about an hour. Flour Bonnags are made the same way by omitting the barley meal and adding the same weight of flour to the other ingredients.

Good Luck!

* if you are a vegetarian you could use pure vegetable fat as a replacement.

*if you cannot find any buttermilk….milk, sour milk will do. I have even used yoghurt and it works changes the texture slightly.

Ta shoh y oijys ‘sy Ghaelg neesht:

Bonnag Arran Oarn

  • 3/4 punt dy veein-oarn
  • 1/4 punt flooyr veein
  • 2 unns dy eeym ny blennick vuck
  • lane spain beg dy yastee-hollan
  • lane spain beg dy tartar
  • bainney-geayr
  • beggan sollan

Jean mastey dy cheilley gys teayst. Jean bonnaghyn jeu, as aarlee ayns oghe braew cheh son mysh oor. Ta bonnaghyn flooyr jeant yn aght cheddin.

Aigh Vie!

Feel free to post your results or ask questions.


Benvonnag (Bonnag Woman)

Ready for the oven flour bonnag without barley meal

Ready for the oven flour bonnag without barley meal


Cooked bonnag after 15 minutes in the oven should be golden brown (you can glaze with milk) and the base should sound hollow if tapped. I usually wrap them in a clean tea towel and leave them to cool on a rack. Nice to eat warm with butter and jam, best eaten fresh on the day…..as they go stale unless in an airtight container. They are nice toasted too.  

Presently having trouble sourcing Barley meal…..but came across some of the health benefits of Barley:

The Old English word for ‘barley’ was bære, which traces back to Proto-Indo-European and is cognate to the Latin word farina “flour”. The direct ancestor of modern English “barley” in Old English was the derived adjective bærlic, meaning “of barley”.[3] The first citation of the form bærlic in the Oxford English Dictionary dates to around 966 AD, in the compound word bærlic-croft.[4] The underived word bære survives in the north of Scotland as bere, and refers to a specific strain of six-row barley grown there.[5] The word barn, which originally meant “barley-house”, is also rooted in these words.[3] 

Extract from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barley 

Cultivated thousands of years ago, barley is one of the oldest known cereal grains. It is a hearty grain with a sweet nut-like flavor.

Barley is a good source of dietary fiber. Studies have shown that dietary fiber, specifically soluble fiber, can aid in the reduction of cholesterol. Barley contains a special type of fiber that is especially good for the reduction of cholesterol called beta-glucan. Beta-glucans also aid in the support of the immune system and can help regulate blood sugar.