The Celtic Diet – Part 6 – Imbolg/ Imbolc

In our ongoing series of articles about ancient celebrations we recently discussed Imbolc. Imbolc festivities and celebrations (including food) vary between regions and countries, but these are some of the more common things eaten on Imbolc’s Eve and Imbolc: –

  • Butter – a traditional food to celebrate the lactation of the ewes. Cake, bread, butter, or porridge are placed in the window as an offering to Brigid’s White Cow. The next morning these blessed foods can be eaten by the family. Butter or oil left out on Imbolc Eve is used to make healing salves and ointments throughout the year.
  • Blackberries – blackberry pies, jams, jellies and wines are eaten in honour of Brigid.
  • Bannock Bride – a Scottish cake with hidden fruit and nuts. A large cake was made for the family and a small cake made for each member of the family. The family would eat the cakes in the field and throw a piece over each shoulder as an offering to spirits who might harm the fields and the flocks.
  • Crepe (French pancake) – in Brittany the crepe is a traditional festival dish (you could serve this with blackberries).
  • Colcannon- was also served. See recipe in our earlier article.

Blackberry Pie

Preparation time:40 minutes, Cooking time:40 minutes Serves 8

Ingredients

  • 4 cups fresh blackberries
  • ½ cup white sugar
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 recipe pastry for a 9 inch double crust pie (suggest sweet short pastry recipe below)
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • ¼ cup white sugar

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 220 degrees C (fan oven 200 degrees).
  2. Combine 3 1/2 cups berries with the sugar and flour. Spoon the mixture into an unbaked pie shell. Spread the remaining 1/2 cup berries on top of the sweetened berries, and cover with the top crust. Seal and crimp the edges, and cut vents in the top crust for steam to escape.
  3. Brush the top crust with milk, and sprinkle with 1/4 cup sugar.
  4. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Reduce the temperature of the oven to 190 degrees C (170 fan oven), and bake for an additional 20 to 25 minutes, or until the filling is bubbly and the crust is golden brown. Cool on wire rack.
  5. Traditionally serve with cream, but really nice with a bit of vanilla ice cream or custard.

Sweet Short Pastry Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ cup unsalted butter, chilled
  • 4 tablespoons shortening, chilled
  • 5 tablespoons chilled water

Method

  1. Place flour in a bowl with the sugar and salt.
  2. Cut the butter and shortening into pieces, and cut into the flour until crumbly.
  3. Mix in vanilla.
  4. Add just enough water to form a ball: it should not be sticky.
  5. Knead quickly into a smooth ball.
  6. Wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for 1 hour.
  7. When ready to make pie, roll dough out and use as per recipe above.

Bannock Bride

Bannocks are well-known across Scotland, but it’s hard to find a traditional bannocks recipe because everyone has their own version. “Bannock” is thought to originate from the Old Celtic English “bannuc” meaning “bread” or “anything baked”. Made from oatmeal and flour, the earliest citing of a bannock or bannuc recipe in Scotland was in the 8th Century. On the eve of St Brìde’s day (more commonly known as St Brigid’s Day) it was customary for mothers to give out gifts of bannocks, cheese or butter to the girls who visited each house in the area with the brideog, the Brìde’s doll. Their gifts would then be taken to a house where the girls would make a feast of it all, with boys arriving shortly after and asking politely for admission. Once they been allowed in their would be feasting, merriment and dancing.

Preparation

  • A flat Griddle or cast iron Skillet is traditional. You can also use a frying pan or even bake in the oven
  • Large mixing bowl
  • Teaspoon
  • Wooden Spoon
  • Scales
  • This recipe makes 8 individual bannock

Ingredients

  • 330g Oatmeal (2 5/8 Cups) – also known as ground oats
  • 265g Plain flour (2 1/8 Cups
  • 2 tsp Baking soda
  • 1.5 tsp Salt
  • 1.5 Cups Buttermilk (375ml) – Not everyone has buttermilk available, but all you need to do is stir lemon juice into full-fat milk and then leave it to settle. For every 1 cup of milk (250ml) you need to add 2 tbsps of lemon juice. Mix well and leave it to settle for 30 minutes and it will thicken and curdle slightly

Method

Make sure your skillet or griddle is in good condition and nicely pre-greased to avoid your bannock sticking.

  1. Mix the oatmeal and flour together in your bowl and add salt.
  2. Turn the heat on low to start heating your griddle/skillet. A slow consistent heat is better than heating it on a high burn then turning it down, it allows for a nice even cook.
  3. Add your buttermilk mixture to your bowl with the flour, salt and oatmeal bringing it together with a spoon to form a dough. It can get sticky and wet, so don’t feel you have to use it all. If your mix does get too wet just keep adding a little flour at a time until you have a workable dough.
  4. Take your mix out of the bowl and place it on a floured surface. Split the dough into two. Manipulate the dough into a flat circle about one inch in thickness and the right diameter to suit your griddle, skillet or frying pan.
  5. Gently knead and adding a bit of flour at this stage to create a less sticky mix but be careful not to handle the mixture too much to avoid taking any air the baking soda has added from it.
  6. Indent your dough to provide 4 quarters then gently add the dough to your griddle/skillet making sure the heat is focused in the centre of the pan.
  7. You only turn your bannock once, leaving it longer on the first side to do the majority of cooking then turning it over to lightly brown the top. Don’t be afraid to give it a shake while cooking to ensure it does not stick to the bottom, but allow it to cook a little first.
  8. Your bannock should rise a little from 3/4 of an inch to 1.5-2 inches once fully cooked. If your bannock is too thick cook for a bit longer on the second side to ensure the middle is cooked. This will depend on your griddle/skillet size.
Indent bannock prior to cooking

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