Imbolc has never really been one of my BIG holidays. Usually I note it with leaving out some milk and honey, lighting a candle, saying a prayer and so on. It just always seemed to get overshadowed by Beltane, Lughnasadh, and Samhain. Bride, or Brighid, while someone I acknowledge and pay respect to, never was a deity I had much contact with. There seems to be much…conflicting information about the “date” of Imbolc. I’ve always gone with the information that I found early in my studies of Irish Folk Traditions which coincides with this lovely site: Là Fhèill Brìghde which states that her Saint day is Feb 1st, with traditional celebrations being on the Eve or the 31st. Now…apparently in other paths and traditions Imbolc is set for the 2nd or today. Frankly I don’t give much credence to our calendar anyway, at least not spiritually.
So I celebrated yesterday, and in much greater style than ever before. You see Bride had done me a great service and honor last year, and continues to do so. If you follow my tumblr you may remember me saying, I”m a plant killer, and the poor little rosemary bush that was not looking so good. Well the refugees didn’t make it very long, but the rosemary bush survived. I prayed, I watered that little beauty with Bride’s well water, fed it eggshells and coffee. Half of it died, may that half rest in peace, but the other lived on. So it’s a little mangled but ALIVE. And lo what did I spy not but a few days ago?…
It’s blooming!! Two beautiful little periwinkle flowers! Oh I was so happy. I was so happy and I knew. “It’s Imbolc.” And so it was that on Feb 1st, I gathered the supplies and went about having a grand feast for the Fiery Arrow who saved my little plant. Well it’s her little plant now, I hope to keep it growing into a large plant. And from hence forth I shall celebrate Imbolc and Bride at the first blooms of her rosemary bush. I’m quite thrilled about it all.
So first up, I went and walked my ass down to the local store to pick up some milk and supplies for the evening. Traditionally Imbolc was about the “milking”, the time with the cattle and sheep came back into their milk from the dry winter. As I have no cows, sheeps, or goats, and we’ve just established up above that for now Imbolc shall be at the first rosemary bloom, the fact that traditionally people wouldn’t have had enough milk to make fresh cheese at this time isn’t going to get in my way of making fresh cheese. If you have never made fresh cheese I HIGHLY suggest you try it out. It’s wonderful, and easy. Well farmer’s cheese is. I have my lovely friend and high priestess Yeshe Rabbit to thank for introducing me to the wonderful practice of farmer’s cheese for Imbolc. It’s a memory that I cherish.
Here is the recipe for the nuts and bolts of what I make.
You start with a pot o’ milk. I bought a full gallon and used about 3/4 of it here in my favorite pot. If you can get your hands on raw milk all the better, sadly that was not going to happen today. Turn the stove on high and wait for that delicious pot of white to start to boil, stirring occasionally. You have to WATCH it. It’s very hard for people like me with no patience. But the reality is that you don’t want you’re milk to scorch or get to a full boil. You just want it to start to bubble a little. It’s gotten to the point where I can hear it. There is a energetic change in the calm cool milk when it’s just about to start boiling. Around the edges is usually where it starts to show first. Just as the tension is high, the bubble beginning to make their way to burst through the surface, some big thing is just around the bend, you can feel it, an explosion, power, something just a bit longer….turn OFF the stove!
And now you add your acid. Could be the juice of a whole lemon, could be apple cider vinegar, could be wine. I’ve done it with all of them. This time I used lemon and apple cider vinegar because my little lemon didn’ t give me enough juice. Stir it around in your warm vat of milk and you should immediately start to see a chemical reaction. Suddenly there will be swaths of yellow watery liquid amoungst clumps of white milk. Keep stirring all is well. Let it sit a bit if needed tell you can clearly see a separation.
At this point you should have a vat of curds and whey. Yep this is the stuff the Little Miss Muffet ate. Looks tasty no? But wait we aren’t Muffets sitting on our tuffets. We’re here to honor Bride, to offer her some delicious salty creamy white cheese that is flavored with her rosemary and made with love and adoration. So we continue onwards!
Straining the whey from the curd. Now you can use store bought cheesecloth, which…is…well crap to be honest. You’ll have to triple it up if not more to make sure the poorly woven fabric doesn’t lose some precious curd. I’ve heard of people buying the cheapo cloth diapers and using them. I may look into that my self. But for the time being I use a thin loose woven handkerchief that was my grandmothers. I imagine if you could get your hands on handkerchief weight linen or cotton it would be wonderful too. OR if you are a fancy person with lovely different size mesh sieves that works too lol.
Now, I have my colander and such in a bowl, to save the whey. Whey is packed with the nutritional minerals and vitamins, double points for raw milk. I wanted to save it to use in place of the water for my bread recipe and in my cooking, and for an purification bath (it’s great for the skin). Up to you really. I will say that you should not use this whey to water your plants, because it is acid whey (we used acid to separate the milk instead of rennet) and will burn them. If you do want to save it, let me tell you there will be a lot of it!
Ok so, our curds and whey are separated, now what? Now we season! Basically if you want your cheese to be flavored now would be the time.
I chopped up some of that lovely rosemary, and salted to taste. Mmmm looking mighty good. Stir it up. Now take the ends of your cloth and pull them together and start twisting the lovely little hobo bag, squeezing out the excess whey. At this point you have options. You can start eating it now. Leave it as is, and refrigerate it. Or put it in a mold and apply pressure to further solidify the cheese. I went with the latter. Lathered up a regular bowl with a thin coating of lard (you heard that right) and squished that white cheesey goodness in. Covered it with the hanky and weighted it down with the bowl of whey. Put in fridge and by dinner, ta da!
With that setting, I moved on to making bread, cleaning the house, cleaning the altars, sweeping the porches, anointing the doors. Then back into the kitchen for more cooking! It was stewed chipotle beef, mashed taters, and cabbage for the feast. Light the candles, say a petitioning prayer, make offering to the rosemary bush, make offering to Bride, and then sup.
All and all it was a lovely day. I felt quite content, and went to bed happy that Bride’s candle would burn throughout the night. Winter barely touched us this year, but I’m hoping Spring will linger and bless us with prosperity. Bright blessings to all!