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Slàinte Mhath! A Celtic Winter Feast

Na Déithe libh mo chairde,

The Winter holidays all share at least this one great hallmark: feasting! The agricultural year is completed, and while the land slumbers our communities rejoice in celebration of a previous year well-lived (hopefully!). This is a time for revelry with loved ones as we enjoy the fruits of hard won labor.

Our merriment also holds a sacred quality as we embrace the mysteries of the longest night and rebirth of light at the Winter Solstice. In the midst of deep inner reflection we also include rounds of communal merriment and feasting, much of which is faithful to long standing traditions and nostalgia especially associated with this time of year.

For your feasting pleasure, I have curated a menu of quintessentially classic Celtic recipes, both food and drink, whether you observe the Winter holidays as Yule, Christmas, or Solstice. I have included cookbook references and my own recipe for Scottish Cider Punch. Comment below if you try any of these and let us know how they turned out for you! I wish you much deliciousness and a joyful “Holly Days”.


~ Reverend Erika Rivertree

Scottish Cider Punch: I prefer this chilled, but tis likewise dutifully delicious warm!

1 gallon apple cider

½ gallon orange juice

1 litre ginger ale

½ lemon, sliced into thin rounds

4 cinnamon sticks

Drambuie to taste

Mix all ingredients together in a punch bowl, chill and serve.

Whipkull recipe, from “The Scots Cellar”, by F. Marian McNeill

Yulebread recipe, from “The Scots Kitchen”, by F. Marian McNeill

Spiced Beef: beef dishes are traditionally associated with Celtic Winter holidays.

3 lbs beef flank

1 ½ cups demerara sugar

1 ½ cups Celtic sea salt

½ cup whole black peppercorns

½ cup whole allspice

¼ cup brown mustard seeds

½ cup whole juniper berries

  1. Grind spices together until fine and then rub thoroughly over every part of the beef.

  2. Place beef in a covered dish and leave to cure in the refrigerator for 3 days to a week, turning once daily. The longer it cures, the stronger the spice flavor.

  3. When ready to cook, neatly roll and tie the beef, add water just to cover, and simmer for 2 hours or until fork tender.

  4. Can be sliced thin and served hot like a roast, as cold cuts for sandwiches, or potted to spread on oatcakes, bread, or tea sandwiches.

Creamed Turnips: a classic Irish side dish, the way my Grammy made ‘em!

2 ½ lbs turnips (aka “white turnips”, not rutabagas/swedes)

4 tablespoons butter

½ cup cream

Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

Salt and white pepper to taste

Wash, peel, and dice turnips. Toss ‘em in a pot with enough water to cover, then boil gently until fork tender. Drain, lightly mash, stir in cream, butter, salt, pepper, nutmeg. Serve hot.

Skirle: a deeply traditional Scottish dish that is sort of like an oats risotto.

1 cup Scottish oatmeal (I customarily use Hamlyn’s)

2 tablespoons butter

1 medium white onion, diced

Salt and white pepper to taste

Melt butter in a saucepan, then add diced onions. Saute until translucent, then add oats, stir to combine thoroughly, continuing to stir frequently for approx. 5 minutes or until cooked through. Serve hot.

Roast Parsnips: a classic and delicious alternative to glazed carrots

3 lbs parsnips

4 tablespoons butter

½ cup chicken stock

Salt and white pepper to taste

Peel parsnips and slice in half lengthwise.

Place parsnips in a baking dish, add stock, butter, salt and pepper.

Roast @ 350F for approx 40 minutes until fork tender.

Buttered Cabbage: savoy cabbage is the traditional variety of choice, but regular “green cabbage” will suffice if you cannot source savoy.

1 small cabbage, ribbon cut

1 small white onion, diced

6 tablespoons butter

¼ cup minced curly parsley

Salt and white pepper to taste

Melt butter in a saucepan, then add diced onions and cook until translucent. Add the thin sliced cabbage, salt and pepper. Stir to thoroughly combine, and saute until cabbage is desired tenderness. Turn off heat, stir in minced parsley. Serve hot.

Gingerbread recipe, from “The Festive Food of Ireland” by Darina Allen

Dundee Cake Recipe, from “From Celtic Hearths”, by Deborah Krasner

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