I celebrated my recent birthday this year by seeing the stage production of The Wizard Of Oz at the Regent Theatre in Melbourne. It was a fun and colourful show and brought back memories of another witchy production I saw two years ago – Wicked. This play draws in elements from Wicked but mainly sticks closely to the 1939 film version of The Wizard Of Oz.
One of the highlights of The Wizard Of Oz was seeing a real dog play Toto on stage. I wasn’t alone in my admiration of the doggy star. When Toto first ran onto the stage the audience let out a collective “Awwwww!” Toto also received the most applause at the final curtain. As a dog owner myself, I loved seeing the impish Toto strut her/his stuff on the stage. The role of fluffy little Toto is shared by two talented Australians terriers. The female is called Flick and the male is called Trouble. I think Flick and Trouble are perfect names for dogs that are starring in a witchy musical. They are especially apt names when we remember that Toto is not always a good dog.
In the beginning of the play, Miss Gulch arrives at the Gale farm and announces that she has reported Toto to the authorities. She tells the distraught Dorothy that Toto will be seized by the authorities and possibly destroyed. Dorothy responds by calling Miss Gulch a wicked old witch. The audience naturally sides with Dorothy. How can anyone be so cruel to a little dog? How can that horrible woman want the little dog to be destroyed? She must indeed be a wicked old witch!
But what is the reason Miss Gulch reports Toto? She reports Toto because he has been allowed to roam free in her garden and has been chasing and harassing her cat. Not only that, Toto has also bitten her. While Dorothy apologises for Toto’s behaviour, there is a suggestion that Toto bit Miss Gulch as she is supposedly an unpleasant and frightening person. There also seems to be little sympathy for Miss Gulch’s cat. Could it be that cats, like Miss Gulch herself, are associated with witches and therefore not deserving of sympathy? Don’t get me wrong, I love Toto and would hate for him to be destroyed, but I am fascinated by the cat / witch link.
At the end of the play, Aunty Em tells Dorothy that Miss Gulch has withdrawn her complaint about Toto after hearing that Dorothy had been injured by the tornado. This is an unusual twist in the play as the fate of both Toto and Miss Gulch is left uncertain in the film. At the end of the film, all the characters from Oz that have a Kansas counterpart make an appearance, except Miss Gulch. Did Miss Gulch perish in the tornado meaning Toto is safe? If she has survived will she return and seize Toto? The answer to these questions is still being debated. So why is there a different ending to the play? It may simply be to add closure to questions left open in the film.
What makes this new ending particularly interesting is that Miss Gulch becomes a sympathetic figure, something she has never been before. I feel this is a reflection of the way Wicked has made us look at the figure of the Wicked Witch. Wicked imbued the Wicked Witch with a back story and, most importantly, a voice. The film Maleficent has also done this. Hopefully the role of a Wicked Witch is slowly gaining the complexity it deserves.
When I was thinking of what recipes would symbolise The Wizard Of Oz I was spoiled for choice. After much thought I decided on something green in honour of the Wicked Witch of the West. To add another witchy element, I chose a recipe that utilises a mortar and pestle.
The words “mortar” and “pestle” come from the Latin words “mortarium”and “pistillum” which refer to a vessel and tool used for pounding or grinding. Back when I was doing more formal rituals, I used to make my own incense in my trusty mortar and pestle. I would add herbs, spices and a chunk of frankincense to my mortar and then crush them to a powder with my pestle. I would then light a block of charcoal in my censer and spoon on my aromatic powder. Whether indoors or outdoors, the aroma of seasonal incense would permeate the air and the heady scent of frankincense would embrace me as I enjoyed another night of magic. As my rituals became less formal, I packed up most of my ritual tools. I did, however, keep my mortar and pestle, and after giving it a good clean, I put it to work in the kitchen. One of the recipes I use it for is pesto.
The word “pesto” means to pound or crush and no, it’s not a reference to the Wicked Witch of the East who was crushed by a house! It is in fact a reference to the word “pestle,” which reflects the fact that pesto was originally made with a mortar and pestle. You can make pesto in a blender or food processor, but nothing beats the flavour and texture you get from using a mortar and pestle.
The great thing about pesto is that like a witch creating incense, you can create your own magical concoctions by experimenting with different oils, herbs, nuts and cheeses. So channel your inner witch and get crushing!
Witchy Green Pesto
1 clove of garlic, sliced
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups basil leaves
2 tablespoons pine nuts*
2 tablespoons finely grated aged parmesan
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Add the garlic and salt to the mortar.
Using a circular motion, crush the garlic and salt together with the pestle until they become a rough paste.
Add the basil in stages and crush into little bits before adding more basil.
Add the pine nuts and crush, leaving some a little less crushed than others to add texture.
Add the parmesan and gently crush.
Add the olive oil and stir until it reaches your desired consistency.
Pesto is best used immediately but you can store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Just pour a little olive oil over the top to help prevent the basil from turning black.
*You can toast the pine nuts in a non stick frying pan over medium heat. Toss often until they turn light brown. Once toasted, pour pine nuts onto a plate to prevent further cooking. Set aside to cool before using in your pesto.