This is an excerpt from the Winter Holiday Edition of the Gathery E-Cookery book on Gather Patreon
In a culinary fusion of western and eastern goddess traditions, this Golden Rice Pudding is made with primrose infused cream and spiced with saffron, cardamom, orange zest and a touch of candied ginger. It is my offering to the Hindu Goddess Saraswati, Goddess of Wisdom, Learning and Art and Brigid the Celtic Goddess of Illumination, Inspiration and Poetry. Both of these goddesses of early spring brought blessings of fertility, prosperity and good health and their feasts celebrated “the coming of the light”.
And I’m pretty sure this fragrant, spiced, golden rice pudding would please them both! I think it is a wonderful bit of food magic in the spirit of their upcoming festivals and feasts. Imbolc or Brigid’s Feast Day and Sarawati’s Birthday or Vasant Panchami or Basant Panchami were “holy days” that included not only plenty of golden sweet treats, lit candles and shining lamps but were preceded by ritual bathing and rigorous house cleaning.
Vasant Panchami or Basant Panchami is a Hindu festival and feast honouring the birthday of Saraswati. Celebrated the fifth day after the sun moved into the bright half of the year called Uttarayana which happens anytime during the end of January and the beginning of February according to our modern calendar. (This year February 16th) Saraswati is considered “the glow in a mesmerizing and radiant form” and this period of moving from the darkness into the light was considered extremely auspicious and marked with sacred ritual.
Imbolc or St. Brigid’s Feast Day is fixed to Feb. 1st but in the old Celtic Calendar it’s astronomically derived date falls at the first full or new moon at the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Brigid names comes from Celtic “brig-o > brígh”, meaning “exalted one, and is associated with light, fire and the sun. In her honour bonfires were burned to purify the fields, houses were cleaned from top to bottom, and purifying baths were taken.
A Bridey Doll (and an effigy of the Goddess) was created and adorned. Candles were lit in windows to show Brigid the way to their door and the Bridey Doll placed in a bed by the hearth. Food offerings of milk and grain were made. Then a feast of sacred foods symbolizing the power of the sun, golden foods such as egg yolks, honey, and butter were enjoyed in a communal feast.
Similarly, during Vasant Panchami, people worship Saraswati in a series of rituals called Saraswati Puja. They start the day with ceremonial bathing, clean their houses, then dress and adorn a statue of Saraswati. Ghee lamps are lit and special foods are laid out. Yellow is a symbol of wisdom and is Saraswati’s favourite colour, so yellow food and yellow flowers are offered. Yellow sweets were a favourite prasad (food offering). Often these consisted of sweetened rice dishes or rice puddings which featured saffron, dry fruits, ghee, sugar, syrups, milk and cream. Then devotions and prayers were made to the goddess to obtain her boons, prosperity, goodness, and wellbeing. Her puja ends with the food offerings being distributed and shared by everyone.
There are many more links between Brigit and Sarasvati. Both are midwives and healers, are connected with inspiration poetry and song, both are associated with cattle and sheep, and both are triple: The Three Sisters Brigid, and the three Saraswati’s. Goddess Saraswati’s mount is the swan and personifies knowledge. Interestingly the swan was also a sacred totem animal to Brigid. This may be because swans return from their winter habitats around the time of Imbolc.
The great river Ganges is named after the Goddess Ganga as is the Saraswati river named after Saraswati. In Sanskrit, her name means “possessing water” meaning “fluid, water, lake” and to “flow”. Brigid is also associated with sacred waters, many of her shrines were located at holy wells and springs. During Imbolc, women would make pilgrimages to these holy wells to pray for health while walking ‘sunwise’ around the well. Water from the wells was likely taken home and used for blessings.
The Goddess Ganga
Brigid and Saraswati are only two of the many goddesses whose worship, symbols and offerings repeat over and over again within different cultural contexts across the European landmass to India and beyond. I believe this suggests humanity’s earliest religion centred around a female divinity, a proto-mother goddess whose worship was suppressed with the coming of Christianity. But in India, the old Goddesses were retained in the Hindu religion – and it’s interesting to note that Ireland was never fully colonized by the Romans (which brought the official religion of Christianity) and so many traces of Goddess worship remain.
Thus, this Golden Rice Pudding. I make this food magic to honour the ancient great goddess – whatever her form. In tribute to Brigid, I infused the first spring flowers of the Gaelic countryside, (bright yellow cowslips and primrose) into milk. (More on primrose here and here). And for Saraswati, this milk was spiced with saffron and cardamom in the style of Firni or Phirni.
During this holy transition from the darkness into the light, I ask for these Goddesses gifts of inspiration and wisdom and for their blessings for all things green, growing, singing and alive. May she bring you prosperity and happiness!
Golden Spiced Rice Pudding
- 1 & ½ cup yellow Cowslips or Primroses (whole blossoms with green stems removed)
- 1/2 cup Basmati Rice ( or long-grained rice)
- 2 tablespoons Ghee (or butter)
- 1/3 cup Sugar
- 1/2 cup Cream
- 1 teaspoon of Saffron Strands (and few for garnishing)
- 1 teaspoon Cardamom Powder
- 1 tablespoon Candied Ginger, finely chopped (and little extra for garnish)
- 1 tablespoon chopped pistachio nuts(and little extra for garnish)
- 1 tablespoon orange zest (and little extra for garnish)
- 2 cups Milk
Place ½ cup of your cowslip or primrose blossoms in a bowl add cream. Add saffron powder and cardamom. In a large bowl infuse the rest of your blossom in milk with orange zest. Let infuse overnight or warm on the top of a double boiler at low for a few hours. Do not let boil! Sieve out blossoms and set your infused cream and milk aside.
Rinse basmati rice in water for 3-4 times and soak it in water for 20-minutes. Boil rice with 2 cups milk over medium heat until cooked. Approx.10-14 minutes. Transfer it to a colander, and set aside until required.
Add ghee (or butter) to a large saucepan at low heat. Add sugar and stir and cook for a minute. Add infused cream mixture. Stir and cook until sugar dissolves for approx. 1-2 minutes. Bring mixture to a boil over medium heat, when it starts boiling, add cooked rice. Mix gently until each rice grain is coated and there are no lumps of rice. Reduce flame to low and cover it with a lid (or a plate). Cook until almost all moisture is evaporated, for approx. 5-6 minutes.
Remove from heat and let it stand for 10 minutes. Transfer your rice pudding to a serving bowl. Top with chopped pistachio nuts, candied ginger and a sprinkle of orange zest and saffron. Garnish with yellow and golden flowers.
Offering saffron (above) to the Goddess Saraswati is often considered favourable for monetary gains.
Note: I usually research & write about traditional foods and dishes found in my ancestral heritage – and they literally stretch literally across the European Continent. So when it comes to telling stories or sharing traditions from other cultures, I always want to be sensitive about cultural appropriation. While my intention is to celebrate commonalities, I apologize in advance for any cultural insensitivity, colonial blunders or historical inaccuracies I have made – and am happy to be corrected.