This is one of the four Quarter Days spaced throughout the year when rent and debts were paid, loans and leases taken out and servants hired and fired. The others are Lady Day (25th March) Midsummer (24th June) and Christmas Day. Michaelmas is particularly associated with the legal profession and was the time when magistrates were elected.
All the harvest should be gathered in by Michaelmas, so it was traditional to have a feast at this time, and in England a goose would be eaten, which is why there are traditional Goose Fairs around this time. This is said to have originated with Queen Elizabeth who was eating goose when news of the defeat of the Spanish Armada was brought to her - but as this happened in June and Michaelmas is in September, the tradition is obviously far older.
In Scotland St Michael's Bannock or Struan Michel Cake was made. There is no recipe for this, it is a scone-like cake, made using all the different varieties of cereal grain grown on the farm and mixed together with sheep's milk. As the eldest daughter mixed the dough, she baked magic into it by chanting:
Progeny and Prosperity of Family,
Mystery of Michael,
Protection of the Trinity.All the members of the family should have a piece of the baked cake, and the whole cake should be eaten before the night was out.
In Ireland a special pie was made with a ring baked into it, and whoever found the ring would be the next person to marry. In Normandy a special Mere Poulard Omelet is made at Mont St Michel, using eight eggs and lots of butter, it is said that this can only be cooked properly over a wood fire.
St Michael the Archangel was the commander of the heavenly army in its battle against the rebel angels, led by Lucifer. It is said that today Michael triumphed and kicked Lucifer out of heaven. Lucifer fell to earth like a blazing star, and landed right in a prickly bramble bush, which he cursed as he crawled out of it. Because of this brambles should not be picked after today (or alternately after Old Michaelmas Day on the 11th October).
Michael is a magical protector and patron saint of mariners and of horses and horsemen, so horse racing was another traditional activity today, particularly in Scotland, where local men would race their horses and place small bets on the outcome. There is also another tradition that today it was legal to 'borrow' a neighbour's horse and ride it all day, as long as it was returned, unharmed, by night fall.
Crab apples are ripening now and it was the time to gather them. Girls would also use them to find out if their lover was true to them, by laying out the apples in a loft, in the shape of the initials of their boyfriends. When the apples were inspected again on Old Michaelmas Day, if the initials were still perfect, then you had a true love - but beware if any of the apples had gone mouldy!