The Wedding Cogs
At an Orkney wedding feast, ale was consumed from wooden vessels
known as cogs.
These cogs were undoubtedly the most essential of
all the ingredients that made up an old island wedding.
The cog is simply a circular
drinking vessel. Hand-crafted from wood, it is formed from staves
held securely by wooden or metal hoops. Two or three long upright
handles rise from the brim of the vessel allowing the bride and
the groom to carry the cog around from guest to guest.
Traditionally the cogs at each wedding
feast were divided into two distinct types. These were the menye-cogs
and the cog-gilt-cogs.
The cog-gilt-cogs were confined to
each individual cog-gilt - a cog-gilt being the large table that
sat 24 guests. The menye-cogs, on the other hand, were passed throughout the
wedding hall and drunk from by the assembled guests. Menye-cogs
had a distinctive appearance, with every alternate stave made of
a dark wood, thus giving them a variegated appearance.
Of the menye-cogs, three types were
circulated at each wedding - the "geud-mans
cog" (the Best Mans Cog), the "priests cog"
and the "brides cog".
The tradition of the menye-cogs survives
today, although only the geud-mans cog and the brides
cog are found in common use.
Originally, the geud-mans cog
was the first to be passed around and began with the brides
father. The priests cog, or grace-cup as it was sometimes
known, followed the wedding meal. Once the priest had supped
from this cog, and toasted the married couple, it was handed to the
neighbour at his left hand side.
Like many aspects of Orcadian tradition,
it was always considered essential that the cog only move around the room "sunwise",
in accordance to the motion of the sun.
In bygone days, it was common for
a typical Orkney wedding to last all night, if not well into the
next day. The third menye-cog, the brides cog, was the last
to make an appearance and was brought out in the early hours of
Shortly after the late supper, preparations
were made for the brew that filled the brides cog. This concoction
was made up of a mixture of hot ale, gin, brandy and whisky which
was then mixed with some eggs.
The bride had to be the first to
drink from the brides cog, before it was passed to all present and replenished with the warm liquor as and when required.
Few of those still sober from the nights earlier drinking
were rarely able to consume much of the cog without becoming quickly
and completely drunk.
The exact mixture which now goes
into the cog varies with every wedding, as each family tends to have
its own views on the correct recipe. Despite the family variations,
the base ingredients of this potent alcoholic mixture are usually
hot ale, gin, brandy and whisky mixed with sugar and pepper.
For a cog recipe, click
Apart from the Grand March - a later
variant of the old Wedding Walk - the sharing of the Brides
Cog is the only one of the old ceremonies still found at Orcadian