Beannachtaí lá le Bríde dhuit!
[The blessings of St. Brigid to you!]
February 1st is St. Brigid's Day* in Ireland. As she is the patroness of cattle, dairy work, and ale, her day is also New Year's Day for Farmers and the first day of Spring or Imbolc, a pagan celebration associated with fertility and weather divination.
The word, Imbolc [the season of light] is Gaelic, the language of the Celts. There is a strong association between Imbolc and Brigid, a Celtic fertility goddess also associated with fire, healing, and holy wells. When the pagan holidays were transformed into Christian equivalents, February 1st became St. Brigid's Day in honor of the Irish saint (named after the Celtic goddess) who was a contemporary of Saint Patrick's.
Paula Meehan,** the fine Irish poet, just wrote to say that Brigid "is also the patron saint of poets and 1 February is known as The Poet's Spring. As Brigde, she was the pan-northern European triple goddess - protector of poets, healing and smithy work; wells etc. came under her protection as she was in charge of fertility of the land and of the people. There are similarities in folkloric practices amongst the Sami of the Arctic Circle and local Irish practices -- crosses and Biddy's and other made things."
Here are some of the ways to celebrate the first of February -- Her Day!
1. Look for weather signs -- a hedgehog is a good weather sign if he stays out of his burrow. [In the U.S., this day is celebrated as Groundhog Day on February 2nd.]
2. Do only essential work on the day and go to the local shrine to pray.
3. Take stock of the household supplies -- will it last till harvest?
4. Clean the house!
5. Make a special dish for dinner for St. Brigid's Eve, such as Boxty Cakes or Colcannon (see recipes below).
6. Make a large oat bread cake, a Strone Strohn, or Brigid's bread in the shape of a wheat sheaf or cross and invite the neighbours in (see recipe below).
7. Because St. Brigid traveled the countryside, blessing households, with her white red-eared cow, show her welcome by placing bread and fresh butter on the window sill outside; also put out a sheaf of corn for the cow, put out rushes for her to kneel on to bless the household, set the table in the kitchen on the eve.
8. Leave a silk ribbon out for St. Brigid to bless; it is used to cure illness.
9. Because Brigid is closely associated with the farm, ale, butter, and cows, be sure to serve a good hand-crafted ale in quantity and never, never, forget to bring a few stories of the saint to the table!
10. Make the cros Bride or bogha Bride (St. Brigid's Cross). Though a Christian symbol, St. Brigid's Cross possibly derives from the pagan sunwheel. It is usually made from rushes or, less often, straw. It comprises a woven square in the centre and four radials tied at the ends. Many rituals are associated with the making of the crosses. It is traditionally believed that a Brigid's Cross protects the house from fire and evil.
Boxty Cakes: Boxty cakes are special. They are rich! Do not make them too big. They do not keep well so make them right before you eat them. Put homemade butter on them when hot. Boxty cakes have special ties to women. marriage and fertility. They are even immortalized in music -- the tune, Boxty on the Griddle! This recipe celebrates the product of the farm -- the wonderful potato and, of course, butter as well.
Ingredients: 1/2 pound hot, cooked potatoes, 1/2 pound grated raw potatoes, 2 cups flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, 1 1/2 cups buttermilk, butter for frying, salt and pepper.
1. Drain, peel and mash the hot potatoes (keep them hot).
2. Stir in the raw potatoes, flour and baking soda (do not over mix).
3. Ad salt and pepper to taste.
4. Mix well with enough buttermilk to make a stiff batter.
5. Shape into 3 inch patties about 1/4 inch thick.
6. Fry on hot greased griddle until crispy and golden on both sides. Makes 12.
Colcannon (for 6):
This recipe is here because it celebrates butter. When you had trouble extracting butter or had none, you could always call Brigid, and she would help. You must use real butter! You could make butter at home -- take heavy whipping cream and beat it quickly till the butter separates then strain the butter from the buttermilk pressing out the milk and refrigerate. A little salt can be added to taste. This is wonderful for the amazement of kids. Have them taste the cream when it is whipped.
Ingredients: 1 1/4 lbs. Kale or green Cabbage, 2 cups water, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 1/4 pounds peeled and quartered potatoes, 1 tablespoon chopped parsley, 1 cup cleaned and chopped leeks white part only, 1 cup milk, pinch of ground mace, salt and ground pepper to taste, 1/2 cup melted butter (use real butter)
1. Simmer kale or cabbage in 2 cups water and oil for 10 minutes, drain, and chop fine.
2. Boil potatoes and water, simmer till tender.
3. Simmer the leeks in milk for ten minutes till tender.
4.drain and puree the potatoes.
5. Add leeks and their milk and cooked kale.
6. Mix, add mace, salt and pepper.
7. Mound on a plate and pour on the melted butter. Garnish with parsley.
St. Brigid's Oaten Bread:
You will feel the influence of the saint in this wonderful bread. Rich! Great with homemade butter as well. Make this loaf into a strohn or wheat sheaf. Form the dough into three equal balls and one ball about 1/3 the size of the others. Form each large ball into a rectangular strip -- do not over work. Place all three strips next to one another. Bend the tops and bottoms of the outer strips slightly outward. Using a knife make indentations vertically in each strip. Not too deep -- enough to convey the image of wheat. Take the remaining smaller ball and make a narrow strip which is as long as the middle of the sheaf. Place that horizontally across the center as the binding of the sheaf it should stick to the sheaf. You can wrap the ends slightly over the sides. Using a knife lightly cut a herringbone texture into the binding strip.
In this form, you can leave the bread out for the saint on the eve of February 1st.
Ingredients: 1 cup flour, 1 tablespoon sugar, 3/4 teaspoons baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon baking soda, 1/4 teaspoon salt., 3 tablespoons butter in small pieces, 3/4 cup uncooked oatmeal flakes, 1 egg, 1/2 cup buttermilk
1. Heat oven to 425 degrees.
2. Grease baking sheet.
3. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in bowl and mix.
4. Add butter bits and cut in with knife until mixture is crumbly.
5. Add oats and toss to combine.
6. In other bowl, beat egg with buttermilk.
7. Make a well in the dry ingredients. Pour in the egg mixture and mix with a fork until crumbs hold together. Make dough into ball and transfer to floured surface. Knead only till it holds together. . Add flour but only if too sticky to work I like to simply coat the loaf with flour so it does not stick to the hands.
8. Pat dough into 8-inch round and transfer to baking sheet.
9. Score a deep cross into the bread but do not cut it through 10.bake 15-20 minutes till brown. (this bread tends to be done when browning is light to medium brown)
*Most of this information has been taken from the following website where you will find much more about St. Brigid and her day: http://mysite.verizon.net/cbladey/brigid/thesaint.html.
**Paula and Juliet Clancy are leading "The Poem and the Dream Workshop" at Anam Cara from 19-26 June 2010.