Being a kitchen witch has it’s benefits. There’s lots of great food, of course, and there’s something very tangible about the magic too. Dry ingredients are mixed with wet ingredients. Heat and time combine forces and make an alchemy all their own. Food is shared.
And then, then there are the stories. Sit with cooks for a meal and you’ll learn why they cook, and why food is such an important part of their magical practice. If you’re lucky, you’ll see the magic taking shape right in front of your eyes. Memories are spoken aloud and ancestors live again. My dear friend and mentor, Juniper, shared a story with me recently about their Granny’s house.
Granny’s House: Where It All Began.“My ancestors were poor. Granny lived in a house without running water or even a well. Rain was caught from the tin roof, filtered through charcoal, and hand-pumped from a concrete cistern several steps from the back door. Every drop of water was carried into the house in a metal bucket.
Her house had four bare rooms: kitchen, living room, two bedrooms. There was no bathroom, no closet, no hallway, no counter, no sink, no cabinets. There was electricity to run the refrigerator and turn maple spindles on the wringer washer. On wash day, the washer was pulled from a corner of the kitchen and carefully filled with hot water in a metal tub that straddle all four stove burners. On Saturday evenings family status determined our order into the more or less clean water in the same tub.
There was a pot-belly stove for heat, fired from a pile of coal in the side yard. With electricity, Granny no longer heated heavy irons on the stove top for smoothing wrinkles from our clothing. But they were still there, in case.”
Granny’s House: There Was Always Food“Despite being poor, there was always food. They harvested corn, beans, squash, tomatoes, and lettuce from the steep Appalachian Mountains; from land not flat enough, from soil too thin to be cultivated with machines. They had eggs from their chickens. When the chickens were too old to lay, they were slaughtered, fried, and served to the preacher for Sunday dinner.
My ancestors herded cows each evening from grassy hollers, rhythmically squeezed their udders for creamy milk. They raised fat hogs for bacon and pork.
My grandmother never owned or even imagined owning a car. She caught a ride on Saturday into town with a neighbor to pick up the welfare flour, sugar, and butter she was entitled to. Granny had a big garden, carefully watered with buckets carried from the cistern on hot, dry days. She saved every greasy spoonful of bacon fat to dress a salad, cook greens, or slather onto the raw dough of loaves or rolls, their tops crusty and brown when they came out of the oven.
On hot summer afternoons, cicadas screaming and not a breath of air, there was a plate of raw cucumber soaking in white vinegar on the kitchen table to grab as we ran through. Cucumbers were coolin’.”
Granny’s House: A Place of Belonging
What was less present, and therefore more precious in the history of my people, was belonging. My ancestors knew themselves as a people apart from the larger world. Tossed between the shores of Scotland and Ireland before immigrating to this continent, we survived on land that was never ours for long.
As the world rushed on, there were so many ways we didn’t fit. Our list of sins was long. Playing cards, dancing, drinking, smoking the tobacco that some of us raised because it was the only possible cash crop, watching movies or television. For women there were special prohibitions: cutting our hair, wearing pants, jewelry or makeup. And don’t even think about fornication or adultery.
What we had was each other. We belonged to tiny church congregations, to the people that we sang with, prayed with, who cared for our children and drove us to the doctor when we were sick. We tucked ourselves into the steep cracks of the Allegheny Mountains; into places so remote, that you can still sit at the restaurant table and feel like the first stranger people have seen in weeks. Places that no one goes to. Hearth was where we made belonging.”
Cooking For GrannyIf I could cook one dish for my ancestors, I would spend an afternoon on a sunny hillside, carefully reaching among thorns to collect wild blackberries. For every handful into the bucket, a few would land in my mouth, warm and sweet with the sun.
I’d come back to my grandmother’s kitchen and cut cold lard into white pastry flour with a dash of Celtic sea salt. I’d sprinkle the larded flour with a bit of water from the ladle in the metal bucket on a side table, kneed it gently and wrap it in wax paper. I’d toss the berries with sugar and cornstarch. Cornstarch thickens without making the filling opaque. I’d roll the dough between flour-dusted tea towels, carefully lift and drape it into a pie pan and crimp the edges. I’d fill the shell with berries, weave strips of dough across the top and sprinkle them with sugar; not so much for sweetness as for the glisten of crystals against the browned crust.
As the kitchen heated from the oven, I’d sit in the shade on wooden back stoop, hope for a breeze, and wait for the smell of warm pie and tangy berries to waft through open windows.
When the pie was cool enough to eat, I’d have to choose. Granny would have punched holes in each side of the top of a can of evaporated milk and poured that over a piece of the pie, thick and creamy. Dark berry juice would blend with the milk to make swirls ranging from deep purple to pink. But if there was a cow anywhere around, I’d use cold raw cream.”
Cooking TogetherJuniper’s story reminds me so much of my own grandmothers. Although the locations couldn’t be more dissimilar, I grew up in London, the circumstances are eerily familiar. In a few short months, I’ll be working in a kitchen with Juniper and four other cooks, serving a magical community for a week. The menu hasn’t been determined yet, but I hope Granny’s Blackberry pie makes an appearance.
Some friends and I were chatting about the different ways we do magic. We came to the conclusion that although we may have a primary magical style, we’re all witchery generalists.
For instance, storytelling is a big part of magic for me. So is music, singing, drumming, and energy raising. I’m partial to ancestor veneration and dream work. And what encapsulates virtually all of those things into one tidy magical system for me, is Kitchen Witchery.
There’s a lot that goes into kitchen witchery as a practice. Cooking, growing, mindfulness, hospitality, and food spells are some aspects to be sure. As I’ve built my kitchen witchery practice over the years, I’ve come to realize it rests on five distinct pillars.
Kitchen Witchery Starts With Gratitude
I know, I know. Gratitude blah, blah, blah. But it’s true. The work I do in my kitchen, or any kitchens I find myself in, begins and ends with gratitude. I’m grateful for the ingredients I’m cooking with and for those that grew them, picked them, bought them, raised them, and brought them to the kitchen. One might begin with an empty pot, but kitchen witchery does sort of require food and someone, even if that’s me, has to provide it.
Gratitude goes far beyond the procurement of provisions though. I express gratitude to my teachers and my teacher’s teachers frequently. Some of those teachers taught me to cook, shared recipes with me, and imparted crucial kitchen knowledge along the way.
My family has endured all sorts of concoctions over the years, occasionally finding a family favourite is lovely, but I’ve put up some terrible meals in my time as well. (note: Ask me about the pork loin & marmalade debacle one of these days).
I’m grateful they give me feedback, tell me what works, and trust me to create foods that nourish their bodies, minds, and souls.
I’m grateful that I have food and ingredients and a little skill. There have been times in my life when there wasn’t much in the fridge or cupboards and payday was many days off. Being hungry, truly hungry is no joke. Having regular access to food is something I’m grateful for.
Witchery Includes Intention
Why am I making this meal? What purpose does it serve? Who will eat this meal and when? What do I know about their dietary needs? What magic are they looking to cultivate? How will this meal serve the magic? The questions could go on and on, but you probably get the point. The more I know before I start cooking, the stronger the magic will be.
Intention is important. If I want to make apple pie but only have the ingredients for Yorkshire pudding, all the intention in the world ain’t gonna make an apple pie magically appear. And that’s where attention comes into play.
Attention Beats Intention Every Time
In my upcoming book, The Magick of Food: Rituals, Offerings, & Why We Eat Together, I share part of a conversation I had with an amazing chef and kitchen witch. We talk about the differences between intention and attention, especially when it comes to the kitchen. Intention is “I’d like to make you some cookies”. Attention is making sure those cookies aren’t burnt or made with salt instead of sugar.
You know the expression “it’s the thought that counts”? In kitchen witchery, the thought is important but the execution of the dish is crucial. If I’m making you a healing meal, I should probably definitely avoid ingredients you’re allergic too.
Nourishment Is Key
Nourishment can mean different things. Of course, food should have nutrients and minerals and vitamins that quite actually feed your body, allowing you to heal up, repair, and sustain yourself. In kitchen witchery, nourishment takes on other facets too.
When I’m missing my family in England, I make traditional English dishes. My grandmother’s shepherd’s pie recipe is to live for! When I make it, I’m instantly back in her kitchen gleefully awaiting the moment she’d pull the shepherd’s pie out from under the grill and I’d see bubbling, melted cheese and crusty, brown ridges of mashed potatoes. Eating “her” food nourishes my heart and soul far beyond the caloric and nutritional value of the ingredients.
Kitchen Witchery Is About Service
On any given day, in any given form of media, I can find article after article about becoming a more powerful practitioner of the magical arts (note: also insert famous, influential, revolutionary, etc). I rarely see Instagram posts connecting magic with service.
Kitchen witchery, at least for me, is all about service. If I cook for you, I’m literally serving you food, but I’m also serving something deeper. My hope is that I’m feeding your joy or your healing or providing you with sustenance, so you can continue fighting the good fight, whatever that may be for you.
Wherever you do your kitchen witchery, I wish you an abundance of spices and ingredients, and an endless fascination with making magic in the kitchen.
The summer has arrived and what a glorious summer it’s shaping up to be. Does it fly in the face of witchdom to love summer so much? This witch doesn’t think so. I definitely look better in black clothes, huddled around a Samhain bonfire, but these days you’ll find me in shorts, a t-shirt, and no shoes. Which suits me right down to the ground.
Summer Witchin’ In The Garden
I’m not a gardener but I enjoy gardens. Sitting in them mostly with a drink in my hand. Could be lemonade. Might be a nice cup of tea. Likely to be a cold beer or fruity little cocktail.
Gardens are fabulous. I’ve found an unusual enthusiasm for my own garden of late. I had a weekend of divine madness and went all Monty Don on myself and planted purple-top verbena, salvia, lavender, vegetables, and anything else that struck my fancy. I’ve been digging and planting and making plans for a water feature. Who am I? I’m becoming less like Nancy Downs and more like the aunts from Practical Magic than I care to admit.
A Walk In A Garden Makes Me Hungry
I walk a fair bit and there are some downright spectacular gardens in my neighborhood. The roses smell divine. Jasmine is blooming everywhere. I really do stop and smell the flowers. I’ll likely as not get arrested for trespassing because I’m all about wandering on a property so I can stick my nose deep into lemon blossoms and take a huge inhale.
What I love most are the community gardens filled with summer blooms and vegetables. Not far from my house is a walking trail that’s been replanted with native flowers. It’s just gorgeous. I can’t get enough of it. Throw in buzzing bees and butterflies alighting on fragrant flowers and twee little birdsong and we’re verging on perfection.
“But where’s the witchy, magicky stuff”, you ask? It’s absolutely everywhere. The sun is shining. The gardens are in bloom. I’m inspired. My fingers smell like lavender and dirt and I’m connected to everything. This is summer witchin’ at it’s best.
Summer Witchin’ In The KitchenOf course, it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t talk about a little witchin’ in the kitchen. There’s nothing I like better than cooking up a huge meal for friends and then just faffing about for the rest of the afternoon and evening.
Just last week I helped make a low country boil. Check this out – Lobster, tiger prawns, corn of the cob, potatoes, andouille sausages, whole garlic heads, and big ol’ onions, all seasoned with a wicked mix of southern spices.
We ate like gods. I had butter running through my beard and onto my chest. We quaffed ridiculously good wine, tossed back beer after beer, and generally ate ourselves into a stupor. Dionysus would be proud of me. Bacchus would be jealous and would ask for an invite to the Gwionalia (note: Bacchus was indeed invited to this feast).
I Connect To Food Through Magick.
Wait, I mean, I connect to magick through food. Correction, food is magick and magick is food and I can’t think of a better way to get my witch on than by filling my cauldron with wondrous ingredients and then sharing them. If you’re interested in food magick, I wrote a book all about it.
Summer Witchin’ Out And About
I went wine tasting last week with dear friends. Spent the day in and out of vineyards and tasting rooms. I’m going for a walk in a lavender labyrinth tomorrow. This weekend I intend to toddle off to the beach and wile away a few hours alternately eating a cheese and cucumber sandwich and dipping my toesees in the surf. I have plans to kayak with my daughter and wander through ancient redwoods. I’ll saunter about farmer’s markets with a basket brimming with fresh delectables.
It’s my plan to swan about at least once a month, and better it be if the sun is full, and assemble in some garden or park or beach with others or contentedly alone, and adore the spirit of summer.
Sounds divine, don’t it?
So the flowers I’m talking about here are cauliflowers. I suppose you could make a garland to wear on your head of cauliflowers. It seems a bit excessive, maybe even dangerous.
I’m suggesting you make a delicious gratin and take it to a Beltane potluck to share with friends and loved ones. Of course, you can make this on any old Tuesday afternoon as well and not share it with anyone.
Cauliflowers and Cheese
Okay. Stay with me here. I realize you might not associate cauliflowers and cheese with Beltane. It’s a tenuous connection, I’ll grant you that. Cauliflowers have the word “flower” in them. That’s enough of a link for me. The cheese I use in this recipe is sheep’s milk cheese. I associate sheep with spring. There. That’s why this is a Beltane potluck recipe.
Cauliflowers Are New. Who Knew?
Cauliflowers are relatively new to the United States, showing up in the 1900s. If you’ve got a cauliflower in the fridge, it’s a good chance it came from California. There are a fair few varieties of Cauliflowers too. For the recipe below, you can use any of them or even combinations to mix up the colours.
One of my favourite cheeses is Manchego. It’s a sheep’s milk cheese and originates from the La Mancha region of Spain. There’s a man from there, I think, who knows something about windmills. Manchego is nutty and tangy and smells a bit like grass, which also makes me think of springtime.
Beltane Potluck: Cauliflower Gratin with Manchego
This dish makes enough for 4-6 people. Double it if you’re going to a big pot luck or just because you want more. This dish is vegetarian and gluten free and delicious to eat and easy to make.
Ingredients You’ll need:
2 heads of cauliflower
1 cup of heavy cream
A bit of ground nutmeg
A pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups of Manchego cheese (you could use Parmesan or Romano, but try the Manchego. It’s worth it)
Easy To Cook
Start by preheating your oven to 450 degrees F. While the oven is heating up, bring a large pot of water to the boil. The pot needs to be big enough to put all your cauliflower into, if that helps.
Cut each cauliflower in half and remove any outer leaves and the hard, central stem. Cut the cauliflower into florets. Once the water is boiling, add the florets and cook for 3 minutes. The florets will be cooked, but still firm. Drain the water. Arrange the florets into a baking dish.
Grab a small bowl, crack the eggs and whisk them up. Add the cream. Add 1/8 to 1/4 of a teaspoon of nutmeg. Start with an 1/8 if you’re not sure you like nutmeg. Don’t forget the salt, just a pinch will do. Pour this mixture all over the cauliflower. Bake the whole thing in your oven for 40 minutes.
Here’s my favourite part, aside from eating it. After 40 minutes pull the cauliflower out of the oven. Sprinkle the Manchego over the baked cauliflower and cream mixture and put it under the broiler for 4 minutes, until the top turns a sumptuous, golden brown colour. To be honest, I cook mine just a little longer until there are little crusty black bits too, because I like that flavour.
You can serve it warm. Serve it cold. Serve it as a side. Serve as a main dish. Not take it to the Beltane potluck and eat it all yourself while watching this amazing May Pole dance from the comfort of your own sofa.
May the Cauliflower fairy bring you all the cauliflowers you dream about on this Beltane. Happy Beltane.