St. Brigid’s oatcakes
February 1 – Happy spring! In the Gaelic world, St. Brighid’s Day (February 1) was the first day of spring. This day celebrated the successful passing of winter and the beginning of the agricultural year. The midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, it is a time when daylight noticeably increases and the first signs of new growth begin to appear on the land: buds on trees and crocuses in the garden. A time to celebrate new beginnings and rebirth and for farmers to prepare for the spring sowing. Taking advantage of the great spring tides, coastal farmers would gather seaweed to fertilize their crops.
As with the three other Gaelic fire festivals, St. Brighid’s Day was a time to pay rents and debts, take stock of provisions, and make sure the house was in order. It was an occasion to consider the future, finish up projects and envision new ones.
It was believed that Brighid traveled throughout the countryside on February Eve (Jan. 31) to bless the people, their homes, and their livestock. Brighid was associated with protection and healing and bringing fertility to women, crops, livestock, and the artistic imagination. According to Irish folk scholar Kevin Danaher, “Every manifestation of the cult of the saint…is closely bound up in some way with food-production.” This is a holiday I can get behind.
In preparation for Brighid’s visit, farmer’s wives made some kind of special dish: apple-cake, dumplings, colcannon, fruit cakes, or oat cakes. Brighid was the patroness of cattle and dairy work, so dairy products – in particular, butter – featured prominently. People left offerings of cake or bread and butter on the windowsill for refreshment during her visit. They often left a sheaf of corn as well, for the white cow who accompanied her on her rounds.
In celebration of the growing strength of the sun and the possibilities that a new year offers, let us eat cake.
Adapted from Nova Scotia Oatcakes
2 cups flour (I used white whole wheat)
½ tsp salt
½ c brown sugar
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp cinnamon (or to taste)
¾ c margarine, cold (I used Earth Balance to make it vegan; could use chilled canola or olive oil)
1½ c oats
½ c to ¾ c cold water or non-dairy milk (oat would be nice; I used almond)
Mix together the first 5 ingredients. Cut in the margarine/oil until the mixture is ‘pebbly’ and resembles large crumbs. This can be done with a food processor, knives, or your hands. Mix in the oats and add the liquid (water and/or milk) until a rough dough forms. Roll out to about ½” thick and cut into 2” squares, circles, or whatever shape you fancy. Bake on ungreased baking sheet at 400F for 15-18 minutes (a few minutes longer if at high altitude) or until light brown around edges. Yield: 24 2” squares.
Go rabh seacht fear i gcionn na bliana a bhéas muid, ins na grásta is mó agus ins na peacaidh is lú!
May we be seven times better off at the end of the year, in the greatest graces and the smallest sins!
– Irish blessing from St. Bridget celebration in County Tyrone, around 1900
 The Year in Ireland: Irish Calendar Customs, 1972