01st February is one of the four cross quarter days in the old Celtic calendar; Imbolc, and it marks the beginning of spring. The other quarter days are Beltane, Samhain, and Lughnasa, each with their own traditions.
Donkey’s years ago I used to work at the Ulster Folk Museum, and on 1st Feb – also known as St Bridget’s Day I would be up to my knees in reeds to make St Bridget’s crosses for our visitors.
The reeds, or ideally, rushes have to be pulled – not cut, preferably by the youngest girl in the family, before the sun rises. Traditionally these are made each year and hung up over a door as a protection against fire.
As it turns out, long before she was a Saint, Bridget was a Celtic goddess in her own right, and her reach extended from the north west of Ireland through Scotland, The Isle of Man, Wales, Cornwall and into France. protector of women, Bridget was the goddess of the Sun; fire and the forge, of children; of women, and childbirth.
Originally, the symbol that was woven was a form of triskele (meaning three legs) and this would be hung up in the barn. Variations on same symbol tuns up in all sorts of Celtic metalwork and embroidery, as to it’s meaning, there are many explanations for the three legs including the past, the present and the future; birth, death and rebirth, the spiritual world, our world and the celestial world and many more.
Over time, the symbol evolved to a four legged cross, which is said to represent the the North Star in the middle, and the course of the Big Dipper through as it charts it’s way through the seasons.
I don’t know how much stock to put in all of this, but this I can say for sure, good old Bridget got me off a parking ticket, so she has some modern day power. I had overstayed my welcome, as as I got back to my car a traffic warden was having a good look, at a left over cross I had on the parcel shelf, “You may thank her” he said, “only for that in the back, there and you would have got a ticket.” So, for that at least I give her a nod and a smile each year. on her feast day.
I don’t have any rushes so can’t take you through that, but instead, since she is goddess of the hearth, here is a recipe for some traditional Irish soda bread. It’s pretty easy, you don’t need much
If you can’t get soda bread flour, use plain flour and 1/2 tsp baking soda
280 – 300mls buttermilk (or you could use ordinary milk soured with lemon juice)
Turn this out onto a floured surface and form it into a round shape. Try to ignore the fact that it looks like cellulite, and definitely don’t make any comparison with your own (or your partner’s) thighs.
Cut this into four pieces, or farls.
Put your griddle on, if you don’t have a griddle, you can use a flat, heavy bottomed frying pan. After it has heated scatter some flour on top, if it starts to brown gently it’s ready, if it instantly goes brown, turn your heat down a bit.
Now eat them hot off the griddle and slarried in butter, delicious!
That is one version of traditional, comfort food, what is yours?