In the east of the City, alongside a stream that feeds into the Moway, once stood a chestnut mill. Chestnut flour was once considered a delicacy in the City, but now it is unfortunately seldom used. Yet it wasn’t economics that killed the mill, it was a fire. Now, where it stood is a small courtyard through which the stream flows in a gulley, paved all around. In the centre of the courtyard is a millstone. Today the inhabitants of the surrounding buildings will use the millstone to grind the flour to bake a cake for a ghost.
Why? Well, depending on which of the houses in the courtyard you go to for information on the festival, you will get various differing answers to that particular question. The Girosane family at number thirteen are very adamant that it is because today is the ghost’s birthday. ‘Everyone should get a cake on their birthday!’ says little Riamue. Across the way, the old man who always smokes a pipe on his balcony says that the ghost isn’t real, but that they need to grind a little flour every year to keep the courtyard officially listed as a mill. ‘It’s like in that old children’s book, about the little boy who lives in a mill and builds lots of clockwork toys and inventions. I always wanted to live in a mill.’ Travue Unirim, the oceanographer who lives in the basement flat, the one with the little street-level window that steam rises from whenever she’s home, says that ‘if we don’t make the ghost the cake it will try to do it itself and nobody wants that.’
The cake is made of chestnut flour, of course. Nobody has ever tried making it with wheat flour, but one thing they can all agree on is that the ghost wouldn’t like that. It wouldn’t be right. In the day today they place a selection of dried, shelled chestnuts in the well in the centre of the millstone, enough for a single cake. Every household has at least a jar tucked at the back of the larder somewhere. Then they go and get the mill arms from where they hang under the archway that leads into the courtyard. The proper mechanism that turned the top stone, or ‘runner stone’ was lost in the fire, so now it is operated by hand, changed to work more like a traditional quern. When the arms are attached to the runner stone, everyone begins to push them around, walking around the circumference of the stone as it turns. Before long flour starts appearing in the groove along the edge of the lower stone or ‘bedstone’.
A household in the courtyard is selected to do the actual baking of the cake, once the chestnut flour has been milled. The recipe usually involves a large quantity of dried fruit. When it is done baking, usually around three in the afternoon, it is left under a tea towel atop the millstone.
Nobody’s really sure when the festival first began, but presumably it was after the mill burned down (an event mentioned in the Buentoilliçan Record of the last week of March in 1478 as ‘A Terybl Chessednut Tradgydee’ that ‘has tayken three lyves.’). The first mention of the festival is in Thy Yeerlee Toame – An Acurat and Correkt Almanak of The Citee of Buentoille in Three Hondered and Syxtee Fyve Daylee Events and Tradiciones (1678) by Lucasz Flaum, when it is referred to as a ‘goodlee ritchural’ to ward away a ghost that kept turning the millstone at night and keeping folk awake. Back then, it seems that a chestnut loaf was baked instead, and the ghost in question was widely believed to be the miller’s wife who had been conducting an affair in the mill on the night it burned down (presumably with two suitors, if the initial report of three bodies is to be believed).
Tomorrow morning there will be great feigned surprise amongst the adults of the courtyard when the cake is revealed to be gone. ‘Well the ghost must be real, if he ate his cake,’ they will say to each other, loudly, knowing full well that you cannot leave cake unattended in the presence of children for long without ‘mysterious’ disappearances, ‘either that or someone else ate it, and the ghost won’t be very happy with them at all.’
At this point another adult voice might chime in. ‘I wouldn’t want to be that person tonight! Did you ever hear what happened to Clarissa back in 1965?’
Other festivals happening today:
- A Day to Raise Questions for the First Research Council
- The Festival of Unravelling
- Honk the Right Horn This Time Jack Festival