So all of the above mentioned celebrations take place on February 1st or 2nd and have associations with fertility, fire, purification and weather prognostication. Imbolc is an old, pagan Celtic festival which marks the first day of Spring and a re-awakening of the earth. It falls halfway between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. The festival was later adopted by the Catholic church and re-named St. Brigid’s Day. St. Brigid is one of Ireland’s patron saints who lived in the early 6th Century and is associated with fire. In other parts of Europe, the Catholic Church declared this day Candlemas or the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin. It seems Jewish women went through a purification ceremony 40 days after giving birth to a male child (80 days after if the child was female…) February 2nd is 39 days after Christmas. People mark this day by both lighting candles and bringing candles to the church for the priest to bless. They are then kept in the home to be lit in times of need. When European settlers came to the America, they brought their along their own traditions for this day. All included some forms of weather divination based on the behaviour of various animals-snakes, badgers or hedgehogs. Not finding a lot of badgers or hedgehogs here, they substituted our native groundhog as the new oracle. Hence, we celebrate Groundhog Day. I must admit though, I really like hedgehogs, so Hedgehog Day would be pretty cool. Badger Day, on the other hand could be downright dangerous! A traditional poem states:
If Candlemas be bright and fair
Winter will have another year
But if it be dark with clouds and rain
Winter is gone, and will not come again.
Sounds a lot like the criteria for Groundhog Day here, but without mentioning the animal. If good ole Punxsutawney Phil comes out of his comfy den into bright and fair weather and sees his shadow, he’ll run back in thus predicting that we will have six more weeks of winter weather.
I certainly don’t know what will happen tomorrow, but I think Pennsylvania is currently suffering a big winter storm and is unlikely to experience any sunshine.
I looked around for a recipe that would be good for marking the above mentioned holidays. Milk, cheese and dairy products are associated with Imbolc and St. Brigid’s Day, so I made Cream Tea Scones with Currants. These scones are really great. They aren’t super sweet, which is how scones are usually made here in the US, but are more the traditional type scone you’d have with tea.
Cream Tea Scones with Currants
- 2 cups all-purpose four, plus extra for sprinkling
- 1 Tbsp granulated sugar
- 2 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 4 Tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 2 large eggs
- 2/3 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 cup dried currants
- 1 heaping Tbsp raw sugar
Preheat the oven to 400° F (200° C) Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a bowl, stir together the flour, granulated sugar, baking power and salt. Add the butter to the flour mixture. Using a pastry blender or 2 knives, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and cream. Add all but 2 Tbsp of the egg mixture to the flour mixture all at once and stir until a sticky dough forms. Quickly stir in the currants, just until evenly distributed.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead gently until the dough holds together, about 6 times. The dough should be soft; do not overknead. Divide into 2 equal portions and pat each portion into a round about 1 inch thick and 6 inches in diameter. Cut each round into 4 equal wedges.
Place the wedges 2 inches apart on the prepared sheet. Brush each wedge with the reserved egg mixture and sprinkle with the raw sugar. Bake the scones until golden brown, about 15 minutes.
Makes 8 scones. Recipe from The Williams-Sonoma Baking Book.
I topped my scones with fresh strawberries and Devonshire Double Cream (clotted cream).
Actual clotted cream is difficult to find in the US. However, you can find jars of Double Devon Cream which is very similar to the fresh clotted cream.
Its a bit pricey, but really worth it! Devon cream is the creamiest of cream. It is the consistency of butter or sour cream and tastes amazing spread on scones. Jay had his first taste of a scone with clotted cream on the last day of our honeymoon in Ireland and he absolutely loved it! Whipped cream on scones is nice, but if you haven’t tried clotted cream, go out and spring for some of this goodness.