easter

The Witches Of Easter

Thinking about my broomstick, I decided to google “broomstick cookies” for a laugh. I wasn’t surprised to find Halloween type recipes where cookies or pretzels are shaped to look like brooms but I was surprised to find recipes for Swedish Broomstick Cookies. When I saw pictures of them they looked like curled, lacey tuile cookies. So why are they called broomstick cookies? Because the warm cookies are draped over the handle of a broomstick to achieve the slightly curled shape. I love the idea of shaping cookies on broomsticks 🙂 What I love even more is that the discovery of these cookies also led to another witchy discovery – the Swedish Witches of Easter!

Blåkulla is a place in Sweden where witches go to celebrate a Witches’ Sabbath. The destination can only be reached by a magical flight. Luckily witches have broomsticks! On the Eve of Maundy Thursday – the night of the Last Supper – Swedish witches grab their broomsticks and fly out of their chimneys to Blåkulla. They take a black cat and a copper coffee pot with them. I expected a cat but not a coffee pot. It warms my heart to know these witches take their coffee drinking seriously – just like me 🙂 They party for three nights with the Devil before returning home just in time for Easter Sunday.

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This idea of an Easter Witches’ Sabbath has led to an interesting tradition where young girls dress up as påskkärringar – Easter Witches. Similar to Halloween, the Easter Witches visit their neighbours with gifts of paintings, drawings and cards and are given sweets in return. Unlike Halloween, traditional påskkärringar like to dress in long, colourful skirts with shawls on their shoulders, scarves covering their heads and sporting rosy cheeks and freckles. Naturally they ride broomsticks and carry copper coffee pots – because you can’t forget about coffee!

I was going to make a batch of Swedish Broomstick Cookies in case some Easter Witches come visiting me before I fly off to Blåkulla. But, as I was sorting through a pile of recipes I had clipped from newspapers way back in 2011, I came across the perfect recipe for a witchy Easter cookie – Strazzate. These Italian chocolate and almond cookies are flavoured with Strega, a liqueur named after the Italian word for witch. I talked about Strega in my post Season Of The Witch and offered a recipe for a Strega Sunrise.

The label on a bottle of Strega features an old witch holding a broomstick. There are other witches dancing with half goat, half man creatures. These witches seem to be partaking in the same revelries as the Swedish Easter Witches so to me they are the perfect Easter Witch Cookie. They even contain coffee 🙂

Strazzate

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Ingredients
1 + 3/4 cups plain flour, sifted
1 tablespoon cocoa powder, sifted
1/2 teaspoon baking powder, sifted
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 + 3/4 cups ground almonds
2 tablespoons roughly chopped almonds
1 cup caster sugar
2 tablespoons finely chopped dark chocolate
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup Strega
1/3 cup warm black coffee

Instructions
Preheat oven to 160C / 325F.
Line 4 baking trays with baking paper.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt, ground almonds, chopped almonds, sugar, chocolate, olive oil and Strega, until combined.
Add the coffee and beat until you have a pliable dough.
Roll into balls – use approximately 1/2 a tablespoon of dough per ball.
Place on prepared baking trays and flatten slightly.
Bake for 20 – 25 minutes.
Allow to cool on wire racks before serving.

Recipe by Kate McGhie published in the Herald Sun newspaper April 19, 2011.
The original recipe suggested dusting the cookies with cocoa powder before serving. I didn’t do this but you can give it a try.
You can substitute Galliano for Strega but then you won’t have the witchy connection.

A Trio Of Celebrations

This Saturday 30th of April is a very special night. There are three celebrations happening. Two are annual events – Walpurgis Night and Beltane/Halloween. The other is Orthodox Easter Eve. As Easter is a Moveable Feast, it is not always celebrated on April 30th. The fact that it falls on this special night this year makes for a very powerful Saturday eve! As I will be celebrating Halloween, I thought I would explore Walpurgis Night as it has always had a Halloween feel for me.

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Walpurgis Night is also known as Witches’ Night. It is the night when witches are thought to fly to the Brocken, the highest mountain in the Harz mountain range and the highest peak in Northern Germany. There they will light a great bonfire and celebrate the coming Spring with singing, dancing and feasting. Sounds good to me! What also sounds good to me is the name Walpurgis. It has such a witchy feel to it. And it would have to, seeing as it is the name of a witchy holiday, wouldn’t it? Well, not really. Walpurgis Night is not so much witchy as it is holy.

Walpurgis Night is named after Saint Walpurga, a female, English missionary. She was born in Devonshire in 710 and spent her early years in an abbey where she was educated by the nuns. She wrote a biography about her brother and also wrote in Latin about his travels through Palestine. She is often called Germany and England’s first female writer. She was an exceptionally educated women for the times. She died on February 25th, 777 or 779 and was canonised on the 1st of May, 870. So why is she connected to a witches holiday? I’m not really sure but I can make a couple of guesses.

What is interesting about Saint Walpurga is that her offical Catholic feast day is celebrated on the day of her death, February 25th but her more popular celebration is on the day of her canonisation, May 1st. Was celebrating Walpurgis Night on the eve of her canonisation a ploy by Christians to take over the pagan holiday of Beltane? It’s not like that wasn’t done before with Xmas and Easter. It seems to make sense, as Witches’ Night and Beltane have many things in common, not the least which are their welcoming of the coming Spring. But why not chose one of the many Saints who is actually celebrated on May 1st, rather than Saint Walpurga? Again, I’m not sure. Perhaps they wanted a female Saint to represent the Goddess of Spring. But it wouldn’t be the first time a powerful and educated woman was associated with witches!

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Another reason I love Walpurgis Night is Dracula. Yes, Dracula has a connection to Witches’ Night 🙂 Dracula’s Guest, the prequel to the novel Dracula, is set on Walpurgis Night. It is on this night that Jonathan encounters a female vampire – the Countess Dolingen of Gratz. He survives the encounter, thanks to Dracula, who wants Jonathan all to himself! I could never forget this haunting description:

“Walpurgis Night, when, according to the belief of millions of people, the devil was abroad—when the graves were opened and the dead came forth and walked. When all evil things of earth and air and water held revel.”

This brilliant prequel is the inspiration for the High Priestess card in my Dracula Tarot deck.

Priestess

The Countess Dolingen of Gratz

In honour of the pagan bonfires that will be burning in both the southern and northern hemispheres I would like to share a recipe for one of my favourites treats. It is known by many names such as honeycomb, hokey pokey, sea foam and puff candy but my favourite name for it is cinder toffee 🙂 Nothing conjures up the power and heat of a bonfire than the heady smell of almost burning sugar as it is slowly caramelises and darkens. And what could be more exciting than the alchemical change that happens when baking powder is added to that amber liquid!

Cinder Toffee

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Ingredients
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons golden syrup
1 + 1/2 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda

Method
Line a baking pan, approximately 25cmx30cm, with baking paper.
Place sugar, water, honey and golden syrup in a deep, heavy based saucepan.
Place the saucepan on low heat and cook, without stirring, until the sugar has dissolved.
Bring to the boil then reduce heat to a gentle boil.
Cook for 10-15 minutes or until the mixture turns golden brown. Be careful not to burn the mixture as it can heat up very quickly.
To check if it is ready, drop a small amount of syrup into a cold glass of water. If the syrup becomes brittle it is ready.
Remove the pan from the heat. Add the bicarbonate of soda and whisk vigorously, being very careful as the mixture will bubble up.
Pour mixture quickly into the prepared pan.
Allow to cool before breaking into pieces.

Moon Over Easter

The March Equinox has come and gone, which means Easter is on its way. Easter is a Moveable Feast that takes place on the first Sunday after the first Full Moon on or after the March Equinox. I’m using the term March Equinox because its seasonal attribute depends on the hemisphere you are in. In the southern hemisphere it’s the Autumnal Equinox. In the northern hemisphere it’s the Vernal (Spring) Equinox. As Easter is based on northern hemisphere seasons, it is a Spring Festival. Which explains the rabbit and the eggs.

What isn’t really explained is why there are often two Easters – one for Western Christians and one for Eastern Orthodox Christians. The answer is simple (well actually it’s not even slightly simple!). While the above formula is used by both, Western churches use the Gregorian calendar and Eastern churches use the Julian calendar. Plus, there are differences in how the Equinox and the Full Moon are defined. Eastern churches use the Astronomical Equinox and Full Moon, while the Western churches use a set date (March 21) for the Equinox and an Ecclesiastical Moon, which comes from a church calendar.

To make it a bit more confusing, Eastern Easter is always after Passover, because Jesus celebrated Passover before he was executed. Western Easter doesn’t worry about that in what appears to be a search for simplicity. So what does that all mean? Well this year Western Easter will be celebrated on Sunday March 27th and Eastern Orthodox on Sunday May 1st.

The one question that never gets answered for me is – “Does the Easter Bunny visit on both Easters?” 🙂 Just in case the answer is “yes”, here is a recipe for Carrot Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting topped with Candied Carrots.

Easter Bunny Cupcakes

easter bunny

Ingredients
for the carrot cupcakes
1 + 1/3 cup plain flour
1 + 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 + 1/4  teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3 eggs, room temperature
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups peeled and grated carrot

for the candied carrots
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup water
1 cup peeled and grated carrot

for the cream cheese frosting
1 cup (225g) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 cups powdered (icing) sugar, sifted

optional
mini chocolate Easter eggs for decoration

Instructions
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F.
Line a 12-hole muffin pan with 12 paper cases.
Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a bowl and set aside.
In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and sugar together with an electric mixer until light and frothy.
Using a wooden spoon or spatula, stir in the oil, vanilla and carrot.
Fold in the flour mix until just combined.
Using an ice-cream scoop, spoon the batter evenly into the paper cases.
Bake for 10 – 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre of a cupcake comes out clean. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

While cupcakes are cooling, make the candied carrots by placing the sugar and water into a saucepan. Bring to the boil over high heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Add the carrots and cook for 5 minutes stirring occasionally. Remove carrots from the syrup and place in a heatproof bowl. Cook syrup for a further 10 minutes or until reduced. Pour syrup over carrots and allow to cool. Preheat oven to 110C / 230F. Line a baking tray with baking paper. Drain the carrots and spread in a thin layer on prepared tray. Bake for 45 – 60 minutes or until they start to harden. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely. They will harden more when cooling.

While carrots are cooling make the cream cheese frosting by creaming together the cream cheese, butter and vanilla extract in a medium sized bowl with an electric mixer. Gradually beat in the powdered sugar until frosting reaches a piping consistency. Spoon icing into a piping bag and pipe onto cupcakes.

Sprinkle a small amount of the candied carrot onto each cupcake.
Decorate with mini chocolate easter eggs if desired.

Blood, Life, Death & Resurrection – Stoker Style

While many around the world are celebrating Easter Sunday, some of us are commemorating today as the 102nd anniversary of Bram Stoker’s Death. So what better way to honour Bram’s Death Day than by briefly exploring the Easter message of blood, life, death and resurrection in Dracula? Three key characters who experience this journey in distinctly different ways are Lucy, Mina and Dracula himself.

Lucy – The Classic Victim

Lucy is the first of Dracula’s victims in England and experiences a traditional transformation into a vampire. Bitten when sleepwalking one evening, Dracula returns to her periodically to feed. Although her friends and family try to help her fight the vampire, they ultimately fail. Lucy dies, a victim of Dracula’s constant feeding. After her death, Lucy is resurrected into a “Bloofer Lady” – a beautiful vampire who drinks the blood of children. She is hunted, staked and killed, dying a second time. Lucy’s soul is returned to her body by the shedding of her unnatural, vampiric blood. Lucy’s journey is traumatic but conventional. (at least conventional in a “bitten by vampires” sense!)

Mina – The Living Undead

Mina’s slow transformation into a vampire is very different from Lucy’s. Mina is bitten by Dracula and forced to drink his blood. This is a ritual Van Helsing calls “The Vampire’s Baptism of Blood”. Dracula offers Mina eternal life through the drinking of his blood. The symbolism to Communion is obvious. What is interesting about Mina is that she starts to change into a vampire without physically dying. She is therefore turning into a living vampire. Her vampiric transformation is stopped just in time by the death of Dracula.

Dracula – The Unknown

We are never told how Dracula became a vampire. Was he bitten like Lucy? Was he involved in a Vampire Baptism like Mina? Did he learn the secret to vampirism at the Scholomance – the Devil’s school? All we know is that Dracula was once a human Prince and warrior and then sometime, somehow, he became a vampire. Dracula’s death also poses a conundrum. All the vampires in the novel are killed by having a wooden stake pierced into their heart. Dracula’s death is slightly different. Jonathan first slits Dracula’s throat and then Quincey stabs Dracula in the heart with a metal knife, not a wooden stake. Dracula’s body crumbles and vanishes, but is he really gone? Could Dracula have survived his destruction? If you’ve ever read a vampire book or have seen a vampire movie then the answer is a definite YES! Vampires are really hard to kill and the King of the Vampires is especially hard to keep nailed down.

Since it is Easter, we should explore another way that Dracula can be reborn and that is through the birth of a Son. Van Helsing calls Dracula “the father or furtherer of a new order of beings, whose road must lead through Death, not Life”. A year after Dracula’s death, Mina gives birth to her and Jonathan’s son. They name him Quincey to honour the fact that Quincey Morris died to save Mina. Yet many questions remain. Quincey’s mother is someone who has had intimate blood relations with a master vampire and almost became a living vampire herself. Can she ever be truly free of her curse? Does her blood carry any vampiric taint? Could some tainted vampiric blood have been passed onto Quincey? Has Dracula “furthered” or “ fathered” the vampiric curse through Quincey? If Mina is fully redeemed by the death of Dracula then there is no issue with Quincey. However, if she isn’t fully redeemed …..

Bram may have left this world, but Dracula, his most famous creation, lives on.

Three of Stakes

dracula coming to whitby

If you’re really interested in this stuff, check out my Dracula Tarot book and deck 🙂

Moveable Feasts, Moveable Meanings

Many, many years ago I was watching a cooking show by Geoff Jansz. He was doing an Easter Simnel Cake and explained that the eleven marzipan balls that top the cake were representatives for the twelve disciples – Judas was naturally omitted. Jansz proceeded to put a 12th ball on the cake explaining that “two thousand years is a long time to hold a grudge”. Once I finished rolling on the floor laughing, I researched the cake and made my own version. I even made a cupcake variation!

simnel cake

simnel cake

This made me think about Easter, food, religion and tarot – popular topics for me.

When I think of Easter I think of the Tarot card the Hierophant. Hierophant is an ancient Greek word for someone who is skilled in the art of interpreting sacred and holy texts. The Rider-Waite Hierophant card features a man sitting on a throne between two pillars. He wears a crown on his head and his red gown and white shoes are both decorated with crosses. The Hierophant holds a scepter in his left hand, his right hand points to the heavens. At his feet are two crossed keys. Two figures kneel before him, one wearing a gown decorated with red roses, the other gown is decorated with white lilies. The Hierophant stands for conformity, education, good counsel and religious guidance. He is the link between Heaven and Earth and is the male spiritual counterpart to the female High Priestess. The name Hierophant may be of ancient Greek origin but the traditional symbology of the tarot card is distinctly Christian, which is why many decks call this card the Pope.

When you think of the Pope, the last thing you may think of is food. Yet food is intimately linked to religion. From the Christian ritual of communion to Pagan feasts, food has been one way of communing with the Gods. Easter is one of the most religious and food oriented celebrations on the Christian calendar. It is called a Moveable Feast as, unlike Christmas which is celebrated on a fixed date, Easter’s date changes yearly. The reason for Easter’s moveability is that it is based on the cycle of the moon and the Spring Equinox. To confuse the issue, Orthodox and Western Christianity argue about how to measure when these astronomical events occur. That’s why you sometimes have two Easters. Like the Hierophant himself, Easter’s dependence on lunar, solar and seasonal cycles harks back to ancient Pagan festivities.

Before Christians began arguing about full moons and equinoxes, Pagans around the world had been celebrating equinox festivals for ages. The Northern Hemisphere Spring Equinox ritual is a celebration of life and rebirth after the harshness of Winter. Christianity easily adapted its message of life, death and resurrection to this festival. Easter therefore incorporates the foods, ingredients, and rituals of many diverse cultures.

Last week I posted my recipe for Coffee Lamb Cutlets which can be an Easter dish as it combines the symbolism of lamb with that most religious and worshipful of all foods Coffee! I’d love to hear about your Easter traditions and recipes – whatever their origin.

So to bring this discussion full circle I will return to the tarot Hierophant. When I was creating my Dracula Tarot there was only one choice for this card – Abraham Van Helsing. The most famous of all vampire hunters combines an intellectual understanding of medicine, science and philosophy with arcane knowledge on the supernatural and a deep belief in religion, Christianity and the might of God. He uses the power and knowledge of the Hierophant to save souls and destroy the vampire Dracula. So what would Van Helsing’s favourite Easter food be? Hot Cross Buns! I can just imagine Van Helsing warding off Dracula with a large yeast bun 🙂

Hierophant

the dracula tarot by vicky vladic & anna gerraty

Hot Cross Bun

chocolate hot cross bun