taking our culture forward

Blasstal: A podcast series about Manx food & folklore

Mon, 28 Nov 2022

A series of three podcasts exploring food and folklore have been released online.

‘Blasstal’ is a series of three 35–45 minute episodes created by Lucy Dearlove & Katie Callin of Lecker.

The third and final episode has just been released online.

The full series is supported by a Culture Vannin grant.

It is hosted and produced by Lucy Dearlove and Katie Callin; theme music by Mera Royle; artwork by Vicky Webb.

Lucy Dearlove’s explanation of the series, its genesis, creation and subjects is as follows:

Katie and I met through mutual radio producer friends in London a few years ago and almost immediately decided that we would go to the Isle of Man together (Katie’s homeland) and record an episode for my food podcast, Lecker, about the World Bonnag Championships.

What we ended up making was what one reviewer called an “atmospheric documentary” chronicling the process of Katie learning to make the bonnag from their mum Vanessa Callin, a champion bonnag baker herself, and us attending the event and speaking to attendees and judges. Although Katie’s gluten free bonnag entry was unfortunately overlooked on the podium (robbed!), we felt like we’d touched on something really interesting and so decided to return with our microphones to make something more ambitious.

One thing which listeners really seemed to enjoy about the Bonnag podcast episode was the discussion of how seamlessly food and folklore co-exist on the Isle of Man. When you’re making a bonnag, it would be unthinkable to skip the step where you press the cross into the top with a knife, so that the Mooinjer Veggey can’t touch it due to its contact with metal.

And so we wondered: what other Manx foods are intrinsically connected with the island’s folklore?

After much discussion both amongst ourselves and with Culture Vannin, we settled on three episodes: Moots, Skeddan, Loaghtan. And so, Blasstal was born.

With every episode we wanted to capture some of the atmosphere around how that particular food is consumed or talked about on the island.

With the Moots episode, attending the 2021 Hop-tu-Naa celebrations at Cregneash provided the perfect opportunity for us to meet Pete, who grows the turnips to be carved there, and also meet Lindsay, who was dressed as Jinny the Witch and gave us a real insight into the misunderstood character of the songs.

For Skeddan, Nicky Beavis at the House of Manannan gave us a bespoke tour to help us understand why herring - and fishing in general - play such significant roles in Manx folktales and superstitions, and Dr Fiona Gell shared the unique insight she has as both a marine conservationist, and someone who's spent much of her life in the sea around the island.

And for Loaghtan, Jenny at Ballacosnahan spoke with us at length about the great joys - and challenges - of farming this heritage breed of sheep.

The (herring’s) backbone of the entire series was former Manx bard Annie Kissack; we were lucky enough to spend a few hours with Annie at her beautiful farmhouse and record all sorts of things. She read one of her own poems, and also provided beautiful renditions of herring and loaghtan related folktales from Sophia Morrison. Annie talked at length about the people whose careful collection and documentation has allowed us to know so much about Manx history and culture; as a continuation of this tradition we were really proud to be able to include her in the series.

It was really important to us as part of the series to work with artists who would fully understand the culture and the nuance of what we were trying to communicate. Award-winning Manx harpist and composer Mera Royle produced a beautiful bespoke theme tune for the series, and Isle of Man based illustrator Vicky Webb provided our series artwork. Katie introduced me to Vicky’s illustration project centred around Manx vocabulary and we love that each episode features an illustration by Vicky of the food in question.

We wanted listeners to learn something from each episode, but also to hear from lots of different Manx people about their stories and experiences, and to capture some of the atmosphere around each particular theme. As well as numerous interviews, we’ve used field recordings collected on the island and hope it resonates with people familiar with the island, and also maybe tempts those who’ve never visited to come and experience it for themselves.

The podcasts can be found leckerpodcast.com, or via the Culture Vannin website.