Time for St Brigid to be as big as St Patrick, after all neither of their lineages stands up to real scrutiny so no grounds for nit picking there but if what we can gleam from folklore and much repeated hearsay is to be believed Brigid was a feisty spirited entrepreneur and quite the role model for modern women. She is purported to be the patron saint of the dairy.
St Brigid’s day is still celebrated in virtually every school in Ireland; many of our local national schools also teach the children how to make the Crois Bríde or St. Brigid’s cross.
So on February the 1st, the beginning of Spring, children’s nimble fingers wove green rushes into the little Brigid’s cross while they listen to the colourful story of Ireland’s female patron saint, Brigid, we are told, was born in 451 in Faughart, near Dundalk, County Louth. Her father, Dubhthach, was a pagan chieftain of Leinster and her mother, Broicsech, was a Christian. It was thought that Brigid’s mother was born in Portugal but was kidnapped by Irish pirates and brought to Ireland to work as a slave, just like St. Patrick was. The story goes that she converted a pagan chief in his last hours by explaining the story of Christianity as she wove a little cross from the reeds that were strewn on the bedroom floor (as was the custom circa 500A.D.).
The children’s St. Brigid’s crosses are stuffed into school bags and proudly brought home to bless the house and/or cow byre because this gentle saint was said to have loved her cows who gave a prodigious amount of milk which she distributed to the poor.
So this week, we will choose recipes made from milk, a magical ingredient with infinite possibilities found in everyone’s fridge. Milk be transformed into numerous products. Every country has its own traditions and Ireland was for ever famous for the quality and variety of its bán bia (or white meats, as dairy products are known in Gaelic) not surprising because in our climate we can grow rich nourishing grass pastures like virtually nowhere else in the world.
Chargrilled Lamb with Labneh, Pomegranate and Fresh Mint Leaves
1 slice of sourdough bread
50g (2oz) Labneh (110g, (4oz) natural yoghurt dripped overnight), seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper and freshly roasted cumin 1/4 teaspoon approximately.
110g (4oz) slice of leg of lamb or a lamb chop
1 generous tablespoon (1 American tablespoon + 1 teaspoon) of pomegranate seeds
fresh mint leaves, shredded
extra virgin olive oil
a few flakes of sea salt
Slice the lamb, Heat a frying pan or grill pan. Season the meat with salt and freshly ground black pepper and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Cook until well seared on both sides.
Chargrill the bread, spread a generous layer of well-seasoned labneh on top. Cover with slices of the warm lamb and a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds.
A little shredded mint, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a few flakes of sea salt complete the feast.
Chicken Poached in Milk
Cooking milk in milk produces the most delicious curdy liquid. There is honestly no point in attempting this recipe if you cannot find a really good free-range chicken. The lactic acid in milk has a tenderising and moistening effect on meat. This recipe is of Italian origin where they also cook pork, veal and lamb in milk on occasions.
1.8kg (4lb) chicken (free-range and organic if possible)
a dash of extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
600ml (20fl oz/1 pint) milk approximately
thinly sliced peel from 1 lemon, unwaxed
1 teaspoon of slightly crushed coriander seeds or a small handful of fresh sage leaves
4 cloves garlic, cut in half
sprig of marjoram
Season the chicken generously with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper. Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a casserole, large enough to fit the bird. Brown well on all sides, remove to a plate and pour off all the oil and fat. Add the lemon peel, coriander seeds and garlic. Return the chicken to the saucepan, add the milk, it should come about half way up the meat. Add a sprig of marjoram or sage and bring to the boil and simmer for 1 1/2-2 hours with the pan partially covered – after about an hour the milk will have formed a golden skin. Scrape all this and what has stuck to the sides back into the milk, continue to cook uncovered.
The liquid should simmer very gently all the time. The whole object of this exercise is to allow the milk to reduce and form delicious, pale coffee-coloured “curds” and a golden crust while the meat cooks. When the chicken is cooked slice the meat and carefully spoon the precious curds over the top.
Old-Fashioned Milk Rice Pudding
A creamy rice pudding is one of the greatest treats on a cold winter’s day. You need to use short-grain rice, which plumps up as it cooks. This is definitely a forgotten pudding and it’s unbelievable the reaction we get to it every time we make it at the Cookery School. It’s always the absolute favourite pudding at my evening courses.
100g (31⁄2oz) pearl rice (short-grain rice)
40g (1 1/2oz) sugar
small knob of butter
850ml (1 1/2 pints) milk
1 x 1. 2 litre (2 pint) capacity pie dish
Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/Gas Mark 4.
Put the rice, sugar and butter into a pie dish. Bring the milk to the boil and pour over. Bake for 1 1/4–1 1/2 hours approximately (usually the latter but keep checking). The skin should be golden, the rice underneath should be cooked through and have absorbed up the milk, but the rice pudding should still be soft and creamy. Calculate the time it so that it’s ready for pudding. If it has to wait in the oven for ages it will be dry and dull and you’ll wonder why you bothered.
Three good things to serve with rice pudding:
- Softly whipped cream and soft brown sugar
- Compote of Apricots and Cardamom (see recipe)
- Compote of Sweet Apples and Rose Geranium (see recipe)
- Spiced Fruit (see recipe)
Melktert (Milk Tart)
Alicia Wilkinson from the famous Silwood Cooking School in Capetown generously shared this recipe with us.
For the crust:
125g (4 1/2oz) butter
2 tablespoons sugar
185g (6 1/2oz) flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon vanilla essence
For the filling:
35g (1 1/2oz) flour
3 tablespoons cornflour
2 tablespoons custard powder
1.2 litres (2 pints) milk
150g (5oz) white granulated sugar
2 eggs, separated
1 vanilla bean, split in half
2 teaspoons butter
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons caster sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
28cm (11 inch) fluted tart tin
To make the crust, beat the butter and sugar together until light and creamy.
Add the egg, flour, baking powder and vanilla and mix until combined.
Press the pastry into the tart tin and chill for 45 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4.
Lay a sheet of greaseproof paper inside the pastry case so that the edges come over the rim and fill with the baking beans.
Bake the pastry case for 15 minutes or until the sides begin to colour.
Remove the baking beans and greaseproof paper and continue cooking the pastry case for 5 minutes to dry out the base.
To make the filling, mix together the flour, cornflour and custard powder, adding a little of the milk to form a smooth paste.
Place the remaining milk in a saucepan with the sugar, egg yolks, vanilla bean and the cornflour paste. Bring to a boil, stirring continuously, and simmer for 3 minutes.
Remove from the heat, stir in the butter and baking powder and set aside. Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Fold the whites into the custard mixture, then spoon into the pastry case, discarding the vanilla bean.
In a small bowl, stir together the caster sugar and cinnamon then sprinkle the mixture over the custard filling.
Place the tart in the refrigerator to set.
St Brigid’s Day Cake
We love this super delicious cake which we created especially for St Brigid’s day, green white and gold – how naff.
175g (6oz) soft butter
150g (5oz) castor sugar
3 eggs, preferably free range
175g (6oz) self-raising flour
lemon glace icing
wood sorrel leaves
1 x 20.5cm (8 inch) sandwich tin, buttered and floured. Line the base of the tin with parchment paper.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4.
First make the kumquat compote, see below.
Put the soft butter, castor sugar, eggs and self-raising flour into the bowl of a food processor. Whizz for a few seconds to amalgamate and turn into the prepared tin – make a dip in the centre so it rises evenly. Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes approx. or until golden brown and well risen.
Cool in the tin for a few minutes, remove and cool on a wire rack.
Meanwhile make the icing, once the cake is cool, pour the icing over the cake and spread gently over the sides with a palette knife.
Decorate with the candied kumquats and wood sorrel leaves.
Serve on a pretty plate.
Serves 8 to 10
440g (15 3/4oz) caster sugar
500ml (18fl oz) orange juice or water
1kg (2 1/4lb) kumquats
We are big fans of kumquats, and when Maggie Beer was with us for the Ballymaloe Literary Festival in 2014 she demonstrated this delicious recipe.
To prepare the kumquats, bring the caster sugar and orange juice to the boil in a stainless steel saucepan. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Add the kumquats and bring back to the boil. Simmer until the syrup is thick and the kumquats have collapsed and appear slightly translucent. Store in glass jars in the fridge they should keep for a month or so and you’ll find lots of delicious ways to use them.
Lemon Glacé Icing
160g (6oz) icing sugar
finely grated rind of 1/2 lemon
2-3tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl. Add the lemon rind and enough lemon juice to make a softish icing.
Buttermilk Pots with Primroses
from Darina’s new book Grow Cook Nourish
These buttermilk creams are also delicious with roast peaches, apricots, nectarines, or rhubarb in season.
2 sheets of gelatine (use 3 sheets of gelatine if you plan to unmould each one)
350ml organic buttermilk
60g caster sugar
1/2 vanilla pod
Fresh mint leaves
6 x 110ml glasses or white china pots
Soak the sheets of gelatine in cold water.
In a heavy bottomed saucepan, bring 100ml of the buttermilk to the boil with the sugar and a vanilla pod.
Drain the softened gelatine sheets and discard the water.
Remove the saucepan from the heat, add the gelatine to the buttermilk and stir until dissolved. Leave to cool and whisk in the remaining buttermilk and cream.
Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod and add to the cream. Mix well. Pour into 6 small pots or moulds. Cover and refrigerate until set.
Sprinkle each little pot with primroses and a few fresh mint leaves. Alternatively, unmould into a deep soup plate and garnish as above.