In Ireland, February 1 is the feast day of Saint Brigid, a woman whom many believe should be granted equal billing with Saint Patrick as Ireland’s female patron saint and that her feast day should be declared a national holiday.
Saint Brigid’s Day also coincides with the start of the festival of “Imbolg,” one of the four major “fire” festivals celebrated by the ancient Celts. Saint Brigid is known to be the patron saint of cattle farmers, dairy maids, beekeepers, midwives, babies, blacksmiths, sailors, boatmen, fugitives, poets, poultry farmers, scholars and travelers. She’s also known as the founder of the first Irish monastery in Kildare in the fifth century.
One of the best-known traditions associated with her is the tradition of weaving St Brigid’s Crosses from reeds. According to the legend, she was called to the bedside of a dying pagan chieftain, and while she watched over him she bent down, picked up some rushes from the floor, and wove a cross to explain the Christian story. The chieftain was promptly converted to Christianity.
Optimists mark Lá Fhéile Bríde as the beginning of spring and the time when nature begins to “spring back” into life and hope is renewed. In some parts of Ireland, the first snowdrops have already appeared! For tea lovers, it’s the time to start planning springtime tea menus, especially those that include florals, fruits and chocolate.
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LEMON CREAM TARTLETS
These spring-like lemon tartlets, from my cookbook Teatime in Ireland, are topped with fresh berries. They’re a lovely addition to tea time and simple to make with a no-bake filling and ready-to-fill sweet butter tarts. The optional chocolate lining adds an element of surprise and the pistachio topping is the perfect counterpoint to the silkiness of the lemon cream.
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar, divided
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 cup heavy (whipping) cream
2 ounces dark chocolate, melted (optional)
2 packages (1 3/4-inch) butter tarts, such as Clearbrook Farms brand
Fresh berries and chopped pistachios, for topping
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
1. Make filling. In a medium bowl, beat egg yolks and 1/4 cup of sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until pale and thick. In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring milk, remaining 1/4 cup sugar and gelatin to a boil. Gradually whisk milk mixture into yolk mixture.
2. Return to saucepan and cook, stirring constantly, for 3 to 5 minutes, or until bubbles form around edges of pan. Strain mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, stir in lemon zest and juice, and press a piece of plastic wrap directly onto surface to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate for about 20 minutes, or until mixture thickens.
3. In a small bowl, whip cream with an electric mixer on high speed until soft peaks form; fold into lemon mixture.
4. With a pastry brush, coat inside of pastry shells with a thin layer of chocolate, if using; allow to cool and set. Spoon lemon cream into each tart shell and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes. Arrange berries on top and then sprinkle with pistachios; dust with confectioners’ sugar.