This Imbolc recipe might appear to be late (considering it is February 3rd) but I suggest it is right on time. After all, Imbolc or Imbolg, ( an ancient Celtic holiday welcoming the first stirrings spring) was originally a “moveable feast” determined not by fixed dates on the calendar but by shifting heavenly events, specifically the midpoint between the winter solstice and spring equinox. Which this year falls on February 3rd. And according to the Coligny Calendar (used by the continental Celts before being banned by the Romans), Brigit’s celebration was not only set by the moon – it occurred twice! The full moon was Brigit’s public holiday and the new moon was her “Holy Night”. This year the new moon occurs on Feb.11th – which means you’ve got nearly a week to make Magical Blackberry Scones for Brigit’s Holy Night.
Now I love the communal camaraderie of celebrating a sacred event together on one single date – not to mention the energy of blessing it conjures – but I can’t help wondering if we are missing something important when we no longer observe Imbolc by its original cosmological alignments? The current custom of celebrating Imbolc starting at sundown on February 1st and lasting till sundown on Feb 2nd began when the 12 month Roman calendar was enforced for the purpose of disconnecting the pagans from their old religious beliefs. Much of this was accomplished first by Caesar then the Church (the new arm of Rome) who finished the job by absorbing the old Celtic holidays into the fixed dates of the Roman Catholic liturgical year. Hence Brigit’’s holy day and feast became Candlemas and Feast Day of St. Brigid.
For the ancient Celts (and many ancient European and Indigenous peoples) timing was everything. Solstices, equinoxes, the changing moon phases were seen as shifts in the energetic cycles that shaped all life on the planet. As such, they were liminal thresholds of ‘betwixt and between’ moments of auspicious and propitious timing during which life-enhancing magic could be worked.
The Coligny Calendar is believed to be the oldest Celtic Calendar and one of the most accurate lunisolar calendars of the ancient world. So I’m highly simplifying the matter when I say the two major seasons were winter, the dark half the year, and the summer, the light half. The high points of the seasons were determined by solstices and equinoxes called “Quarter Days”. The mid-points between these were called “Cross-Quarter Days,” and marked the beginning and end of a season. Most generally agree Imbolc fell somewhere between the closest New or Full Moon as the Sun was reaching its first cross-quarter point and was considered the start of spring.
For me reclaiming the original timing Imbolc offers an opportunity to connect with the natural magic of our ancestors. Whether we light candles in honour of Brigit/Brigids light, craft sun wheels or bake special cakes, in her honour, we are reenacting rituals, prayers and feasts which once brought us into conscious harmony with the great energetic cycles of birth, growth, rest and regeneration that govern life itself. And isn’t that the only way to truly thrive?
Today in our technological world, awash in digital signals, we are no longer conscious of the magnetic rhythms and energies which flow through the earth during solar and lunar cycles creating real fluctuations in our bodies and brains, regulating physiological processes such as sleep-wake cycles, hormone release, body temperature, neurotransmitter activity and other important bodily functions.
Perhaps this is because our cells like plant cells contain cryptochromes (light-sensitive proteins) which respond to the rising and setting sun and changing moon phases. Plant geneticists and biologists speculate that cryptochromes are why the same cycles of time that regulate the growth, rest and reproduction of lettuce, trees and flowers, govern our metabolic processes as well.
I believe these old nature holidays were all about the ancient magic of timing, of harmonizing with the flow of the life-giving energy of the cosmos with our prayers, intentions, actions, even the food we ate. Seems to me that when the old holy days once tied to the shifting heavens, became fixed to dates on calendars, we were unhinged from the natural cosmic rhythms which had guided our lives – and our magic – for millennia.
So why not consider celebrating the Holy Night of Imbolc? According to the old lunar calendars (and magical traditions), each dark moon initiates a new cycle of potentiality, a time for releasing the old and nurturing the new. A time for lighting candles and planting seeds in the dark in the faith that new life begins again.
Plus, according to the old traditions of food magic, making these Blackberry Scones on the Brigit’s Holy Night will strengthen the powers of the sun, nourish the fertility of the earth, enhancing abundance, prosperity, healing, vibrancy and good health for all.
Being inspired by the old customs doesn’t preclude us from taking advantage of modern conveniences. So while blackberries are not seasonal at this time of the year, luckily we can find them fresh and frozen in the grocery stores. Blackberries were sacred to Brigid and today they are often included in modern Imbolc feasts to attract Brigid’s blessings of good fortune, fertility and healing.
Bay Laurel is an aromatic sun herb with a reputation for granting wishes, dispelling and protecting from negative energies, and attracting prosperity. Luckily it is evergreen and found easily in most gardens. It adds just the right touch of spicy redolence to the custard – which of course also features those important Imbolc foods, eggs and dairy! That’s a pretty powerful magical combo packed into these scrumptious scones!
Wishing you a most blessed Holy Night.
Brigid’s Magical Blackberry Scones w/ Bay Laurel Infused Custard Sauce
- 8 tbsp. butter, cubed and very cold
- 1½ cups blackberries
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the work surface
- ½ cup sugar & extra for sprinkling
- ½ cup buttermilk
- ½ cup sour cream
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- 2 tsp. baking powder
- ¼ tsp. baking soda
- ½ tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
- 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
Preheat oven to 425 F. Whisk together the buttermilk, sour cream, and heavy cream. Set aside.
Combine the flour, ½ cup sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and lemon zest in a medium mixing bowl. Whisk to combine. Add the cold cubed butter to the flour mixture and massage in with your fingers. Don’t overwork butter into flour. You want to see visible streaks/clumps of butter.
Add the milk mixture to the flour and fold with a spatula just until combined. Transfer the dough to a floured work surface. Dust the top of the dough with flour and form the dough into a ball. Add more flour if necessary.
Roll the dough into a 12-inch square and then fold it in half, and then in half once again. Roll out dough once more and sprinkle with blackberries. Gently press berries into the dough. Gently roll the dough up to form a tight log and flatten into a 12 by 4-inch rectangle. Using a biscuit cutter (or rim of a glass) cut our your scones. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Brush the tops of the scones with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar. Bake until the tops and bottoms are golden brown, 18-25 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool 10 minutes before serving with custard sauce.
Bay Laurel Custard Sauce
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 10 fresh bay laurel leaves, (not California bay or dried bay leaves)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 large eggs
- 3 large egg yolks
- 1/2 cup sugar
- Pinch salt
Pour the milk and cream into a saucepan and bring it to a gentle boil over medium-high heat. Add the bay leaves. Cover the pan, remove from heat and steep for 30 minutes. Strain the liquid through a sieve, pressing down firmly on the herbs to extract all the liquid. Add fresh milk if needed to measure 2 cups.
Allow to cool slightly before whisking in eggs, sugar, vanilla, infused cream mixture and corn starch. Place in a saucepan over medium-high heat and whisk until smooth. Continue whisking on the stovetop until the custard becomes thick and creamy. Remove from heat – and sieve off any lumps. Serve warm if you can!
P.S. This recipe is an excerpt from Winter Edition of the Gather Victoria E-Cookery Book, If you’re looking for another magical Imbolc recipe you can find this recipe for this Blackberry Pudding and Irish Whisky laced Custard at Gather Victoria Patreon). After all Irish Whiskey is practically a sacred foodstuff in itself!