St Pierre du Bois

The role of Vraic in our Islands'  history and culture cannot be overstated even though these days, with the decline in horticulture washed up Vraic is seen as more nuisance than benefit. 

A potted history of Vraic

Collecting seaweed with three-prong forks and a horse-drawn cart  was without doubt hard work, but it was also a sight which helped to define the nature of these islands.. A very informative article was put together by Nigel Baudins and published in the Guernsey Press link here http://guernseypress.com/news/2005/06/06/why-vraic-was-vital-to-the-island

Below we show the 'Island wiki' explanation of Vraic - Island wiki is a very good site \nd we commend you to have a look on other aspects of Guernsey society and culture - see link box  top left

 

Vraic in Guernsey culture

Now this story originated from Jersey but is typical of the same process and culture here in Guernsey

The article appears on the site of Ocean Products Jersey who have been very helpful but we reproduce it here as it conveys some of the fun of a vraicing event.

While researching the use of vraic in Jersey at the archive centre in St Helier, recently I came across a very interesting story regarding vraic buns. I was intrigued to learn more and hopefully find a recipe for these nourishing buns.

As it transpired and with further enquiries I discovered a story that must be shared.

The Donkey and the Vraic buns by Martin Little

Back in April 1933 a young lady by the name Celeste Le Brun was entrusted with the job of baking vraic buns for the vraiccers at La Pulente. Over the years her family gained a favourable reputation for making the best vraic buns and also the best cider from the family orchard in Trinity.

That spring her cousin Elise from Quimper came to stay with the family and the two young girls became best of friends working together on the farm and in the bakery.

Elise brought with her various recipes from Brittany including the merveilles a type of doughnut a bit like a Jersey wonder, maybe that is where the idea for the wonder originated. She also had a recipe for a type of rock cake or bun that she understood was a type of elixir d'amour because of the ingredient of a special seaweed added to the mix.

The two girls concocted a plan to use this new recipe for the Easter vraic buns which they were entrusted to bake. Both girls had taken a fancy to the two Le Marquand brothers of St Peter. They were fine strong fishermen from the parish and were called upon to help with the vraicing. They were named Jean Claude and his slightly older brother Phillipe.

The brothers were hard working at loading the vraic at La Pulente during the spring tide and as a cart load would be going to the Le Brun's at Trinity the refreshments and vraic buns would be provided and served to the vraicers by the girls. They rested the baskets full of the tasty buns and jugs of home-made cider just next to the donkey cart and called to the vraicers to down tools and enjoy a rest and some refreshments.

The girls shyly tried to make some conversation with the brothers and just as they did someone shouted out "The ass has got the basket and the jugs of cider have tumbled all over the buns and he's devouring the lot".

By the time they got to the donkey there was only a few soggy buns left and Phillipe let the donkey finish them off not knowing the consequences.

With the tide starting to turn the brothers had to get back to there work and Celeste and Elise headed back to the slipway embarrassed at what had happened and none the wiser at what was about to happen.

From the slipway they watched as the vraicers tried to load the donkey cart but the donkey kept making strange advances and braying like a demented foghorn toward a large mare shire horse owned by the Constable of St Brelade, Gilles De Gruchy. The donkey kept biting and pulling the feather hairs of the regal workhorse.

The donkey was out of control with the Constable shouting obscenities at the Le Marquand brothers and ordering them to take control of the over excited donkey. This caused a ruckus on the beach the likes that no one had seen before. Celeste and Elise soon stopped the laughter after seeing the mare give a double wallop of a kick that knocked out cold the poor donkey.

By this time onlookers and young ones on the shore were gathering in masses to witness the events unfolding before them. Now with the tide turning and the donkey laid out flat the vraicers had to cast off the vraic from their carts and with the help of onlookers including the Le Brun girls help to load the poor donkey on to the cart.

It took over a dozen onlookers and vraicers to then pull the cart up the slipway with the drooling and slobbering donkey on board and safely above the high-tide mark.

Constable De Grouchy was waiting and was not amused as he had lost most of his cart load of vraic when his mare bolted up the slipway to escape the randy donkey.

The States Vet had to be called to tend to the Le Marquand's donkey and was of the opinion that the poor creature was concussed but would recover in time. He did however make note of the smell of cider coming from the donkey's breath.

The Constable then ordered the brothers to appear at the parish hall the next morning.

Celeste and Elise quickly biked home to Trinity never mentioning a thing about what had happened until a week later when Mr Le Brun, Celeste's father, realised that his cart of St Ouen's vraic had not arrived.

They told him it was the fault of the constable of St Brelade and his beautiful shire mare. The recipe for vraic buns was kept secret until now and combined with Jersey's finest cider marks the start of the joys of Spring.

 

 

Vraic history

The Societe Guernesiase and the Priaulx Library 

have a great resource of books, articles and information

they can be contacted here 

+44 1481 721998
Priaulx Library
Candie Road
St Peter Port
Guernsey
GY1 1UG

 

As a sample we have lifted this extract (with apologies and all credit to Priaulx library) 

Vraicing, 1852, Illustrated London News, Priaulx Library Collection

From Redstone's Royal Guide to Guernsey, written by Louisa Lane Clarke, who produced a new edition in 1856 following Queen Victoria's visit to Guernsey. A rather rosy description of vraicing—the gathering of wrack seaweed—which was in fact a highly competitive scramble for a valuable and free commodity, much prized by the islanders.

All around the coast, the marine herb or algae called vraic is very plentiful. This sea-weed, which is used both as fuel and manure, is of the greatest value to the farmers, and of the utmost importance to the poor fishermen, who, being unable to afford coal or wood for the winter, depend upon this for firing, and sell the ashes for manure; about twenty bushels are required for one vergee of land.

There are two kinds of vraic; the vraic scié, so called from being cut from the rock with a small reaping-hook; and the vraic venant, being washed on the coast and gathered after every spring-tide, particularly if the weather be stormy. So important is this article in the island, that certain restrictions specified in the ordinances of the Court are laid upon the time and manner of its appropriation.

Poor persons who possess neither horse nor cart are allowed to cut it during the first eight days of the spring tide after Easter, provided they carry it on their backs to the beach.

The manner of cutting and gathering this product is worth noticing. On the morning of the appointed days hundreds of countrypeople asssemble from all parts, two or three families joining company, some with carts and some with horses, having panniers slung each side of them; they proceed to the beach, and as the tide ebbs, they scatter themselves over the bays, the most active on foot, or on horseback, wading to the rocks as far out as possible—some going in boats to detached rocks, even at a great distance, and being all armed with small billhooks, they cut away as fast as possible, sending it off in boat-loads to the beach, where it is deposited in heaps, upon which a smooth stone is laid, having the initials of the owner chalked upon it.

Vraicing, 1852, Illustrated News (France)

The scene is such a merry one that the stranger will be repaid for a walk or a ride to either of these bays on a vraicing day: the odd costumes of both men and women, with trousers and petticoats tucked up for greater freedom of limb; the varied dress of the younger ones, who turn out on this occasion with as much delight as on a holiday; those who cannot cut vraic being employed in carrying it; whilst most of the women gather ormers, crabs, and limpets in such prodigious quantities that the market is always overstocked with them on these occasions. It is most amusing to watch these vraicers—the gallantry of the young farmers, who pause in their labour to assist some favourite maiden in turning over a large stone, under which she is sure that there must be a quantity of ormers—the scrambling in shallow pools for some unlucky crab, who has incautiously left his hiding place—the many falls over slippery seaweed, and the peals of laughter which resound on all sides. Here a group of merry children with their broken knives hitting off the limpets (called in their Guernsey dialect, 'des flies'), and filling the basket slung across their shoulders, each one trying to collect the greatest number, and every now and then tempted to give chase to a fine loach orcabot, which darts across the pond in utter dismay at the commotion in his quiet home. There a still noisier group of grown-up children, hindering one another with rustic coquetry, and called to order by some gruff voice in the distance, which sets them all at work again in a minute.

At the close of the day, when the tide has risen to its height, and the retreating labourers are fairly beaten back to the sandy beach, the younger ones conclude the business by a general bathing; and a whole string of twenty or more, men and women alternately, each securing the hand he loves best, march into the water as far as they can, and duck each other heartily; splashing, tumbling, screaming, laughing, and then go home thoroughly soaked, but as light-hearted as they are heavy-footed, to enjoy a plentiful supper of shell-fish, fried ormers and boiled limpets, which are very excellent eating for those who have good digestions.

The 'vraic venant' is not gathered in the same manner; it is mostly done in rough weather, when the boisterous waves having torn it from the rocks, it is cast upon the beach, and the men send out immense rakes, with which they drag the vraic on shore, beyond the reach of the sea. This employment is the most laborious, from the weight and strain of heavy rakes; and not without some danger, as they are often wrenched from their hands, and brought violently back against the legs of the men, who thus risk broken limbs as the shingles, dragged by the tide from beneath their feet, cause many tumbles and drenchings.

It has been ascertained that nearly 24,000 loads of vraic venant, each worth two shillings, when taken at the beach, and about 1200 loads of vraic scié, each worth twelve shillings, are yearly collected on this coast, the value of which may be stated in round numbers at about £3000 sterling. This vraic is the chief manure used in the island, except at St Sampson's, where they import chalk for the low marshy grounds.

Both in Alderney, and on some parts of this coast, a sea-weed is collected, which is equal in virtue to the celebrated Icelandic moss, and used in the same manner for invalids. The algae of Sark afford a substitute for horse-hair of the finest quality.


See Quarterly Review of the Guernsey Society, Summer 1948, 'Vraicing in Guernsey' by Basil de Guérin and Herm carrageen 1865.

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