Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Feasts and Festivals: St. Brigid's Day/Candlemas/Imbolc

Boxty Pancakes

1 lb potatoes, divided
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 to 1 1/2 cups yogurt
up to 1/4 cup butter

Boil 1/2 lb of potatoes until very soft. Peel under cool running water then place in a large mixing bowl. Mash. Wash and peel the other 1/2 lb of potatoes and, using the large side of a box grater, grate into the mashed potatoes. Stir.

Stir in the flour, baking soda and salt. Add the yogurt a bit at a time until dough is soft and thinner than biscuits, but a bit thicker than regular pancake batter.

Melt one tablespoon of the butter over medium-high heat in a large skillet or on a griddle.When the foam has subsided and the butter is hot, fry the boxty pancakes, using 1/12 of the batter per cake. You'll need to work in batches. Flatten each cake with a spatula and cook around three minutes per side, or until nicely browned. Add more butter to the pan, as needed.

Serves 6

Adapted from "Boxty Pancakes" in Darina Allen, The Festive Food of Ireland (Schull: Roberts Rinehart, 1992), 10.

St. Brigid (Wikipedia)

Boxty pancakes are so amazing delectable. They're thicker than ordinary pancakes, but have a similar taste, and they're very buttery. Yum! They're great as a side dish (instead of another method of preparing potatoes, for example), as a teatime treat or as breakfast (with bacon, of course!).

February 1st and 2nd have been important calendar days since before the arrival of Christianity to the British isles. The festival of Imbolc was one of the pagan cross-quarter days (along with Beltane, Lammas, and Samhain).1 It marked the beginning of the lambing season and celebrated Bride, the Celtic goddess of youth and fertility. The Catholic church merely shifted the celebration of the goddess Bride to a feast for St. Brigid on February 1st.2 Definitely convenient! February 2nd is the holiday Candlemas, which marks the purification of the Virgin Mary and the presentation of Jesus at the Temple. Taking their cue from Simeon, who described Jesus as "a light to lighten the world," members of the early church began lighting candles to commemorate the presentation at the Temple, thus giving rise to "Candlemas."3 Both The Festive Food of Ireland and Cattern Cakes and Lace suggest making Boxty for St. Brigid's Day/Candlemas, so that's what I've done! Be sure to fry them in butter, because St. Brigid is the patron saint of cattle and dairy work.4 Consider taking the time to track down a butter from pastured cows. It will be golden and more flavorful because the cream will have been from cows grazing on grass.5

Also check out the Kerry Apple Cake that I made for St. Brigid's Day/Candlemas/Imbolc in 2010. 

1. "Imbolc" Wikipedia article
2. "Candlemas" in Cattern Cakes and Lace
3. Ibid.
4. "St. Bridget's Day" in The Feasts and Festivals of Ireland
5. The most readily-available grass-fed butters in the U.S. (or at least around here) are Organic Valley Pasture Butter (has to say "pasture" on the package) and Kerrygold. Just don't get Kerrygold's "Reduced Fat Irish Butter." First off, if it's reduced-fat it's not really butter and secondly, you need that fat for frying. Stick to the stick, not the tub!


  1. I am so going to make these for St Patricks Day.

    Sorry for not commenting much recnelty, busy with packing stuff for our move. Moving officially next week from Scotand to Wales - pretty excited.

    1. I'm so happy for you--I know you've been wanting to move back to Wales for a long time.

  2. Oh, boy, would I get raves if I made these! I need to pick up some yogurt and I'm set to go. Delicious idea, Lauren~

    1. Thanks, Lizzy! You could also use a full-fat buttermilk if you have that.

  3. I have never had boxty pancakes, I can imagine how yummy they are.

  4. This is a new recipe for me. They look so tasty. Love it.

  5. I KNEW you would cover Candlemas, I am so behind with my feasts and festivals posts, the new blog dashboard takes some getting used to! Fabulous post as always and also great Boxty Cakes too!

  6. How fun! I got that Cattern Cakes book for christmas this year! Thank you, Santa :) I just love learning about all these festivals and the foods that go with them. Really creates a connection to the past.

  7. Loved all the information and those boxty cakes look pretty good, too!

  8. Those look beautiful! (as does your platter) I really like the idea of yogurt and the consistency its inclusion in the recipe no doubt brings. Will try!

  9. I love the combination of mashed potatoes with grated potatoes. Boxty pancakes will be a hit here for sure! Thanks for sharing about the festival, too. I love all I learn from you. :)

  10. First thing on the radio when I woke up in London was a mention that it was Candlemas. I immediately thought, "I wonder what Lauren will be having for her tea!"


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