persephone

A Silent Supper

It’s funny what things will make you miss someone close to you who has died. For me it’s usually something happy, something I want to share with that special person, but now I can’t. In The Austen Tea Room I wrote about someone close who had just passed away. What I didn’t say was that it was my mother. Her death was still too raw. The words couldn’t be said. Burying her on the morning of New Year’s Eve meant I was starting the new year without her. It’s shaping up as one hell of a great year. And it’s the first year I can’t share with my mum.

The wheel has spun its way back to Halloween in the Southern Hemisphere. With all the fun of trick-or-treaters and dressing up, sometimes we forget the true meaning of Halloween which is honouring the dead. This April 30th I will visit my mother’s grave and take some of her favourite foods to share with her. I’ll then be going to The Austen Tea Room for an afternoon High Tea. For the evening I thought I would do something very different – a Silent Supper – which is a meal that is eaten in silence to honour the dead.

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There are many ways to hold a Silent Supper. You can have a solitary meal or invite friends and family. It can be as simple as eating something in silent contemplation or you can go all out and do a formal ritual with a formal dinner included. Some even suggest cooking the food in silence too.

While there are no real rules or directions, there are a few things to think about when hosting a Silent Supper. A place should be set at the head of the table for the departed loved ones you are honouring. You can drape the seat in a white or black cloth. Before you bring out the food, light a candle and place it on the table near the setting for the departed. The meal should include some of their favourite foods. Starting the supper around midnight is a nice touch. While you eat your silent meal, think about those that have passed.

When I think about my mother I always think of Demeter and Persephone. The bond between mother and daughter is beautifully expressed by these two Goddesses. My mother and I saw ourselves in their myth. She was Demeter as mother – good, bad and smothering. I was the daughter Persephone who left Demeter’s realm as a young girl to find a place for myself in the Underworld with Hades. Over the years I returned often to visit my mum. We shared both good times and bad times.

As the years went by I knew that my mother’s time here was drawing to a close. Finally, with very little warning, my mum passed into the realm of Persephone and Hades. I hope she likes the Underworld as much as I do.

In remembrance of my mother I will be making coliva for Halloween. Coliva is a boiled wheat dish that is traditionally prepared for services that honour the dead. There are many things you can add to the coliva but I prefer a simple fruit and nut mix. I particularly like adding pomegranate seeds so that the symbols for Demeter (wheat) and Persephone (pomegranate) can be united again in this sacred dish.

Coliva

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Ingredients
1/2 cup wheat berries
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup vanilla sugar
1/2 a pomegranate, seeded
icing sugar for dusting
cream for serving (optional)

Instructions
Rinse the wheat berries and place in a large saucepan.
Add the salt and enough water to cover the berries by about 5 centimetres.
Bring to the boil over medium heat.
Stir occasionally to ensure the berries do not stick to the bottom.
During the cooking process, check to make sure the water has not dropped to a level where the berries cannot float.
Cook for 1 – 2 hours or until the berries are tender but not mushy.
Drain and spread out onto baking paper to dry for a few hours.
When the berries are dry, place in a bowl and mix through the walnuts, sesame seeds, ground cinnamon, vanilla sugar and pomegranate seeds, keeping a few pomegranate seeds in reserve.
Transfer to a serving platter and form into a mound.
Sift icing sugar over the top and decorate with reserved pomegranate seeds.
Serve with a dollop of cream if desired.

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A Game Of Love And Death

There are eight seasonal festivals that many witches and Pagans celebrate. Three of them are really well known – Yule, Easter and Halloween. Yule and Easter fall around the Summer Solstice and the Spring Equinox. They have been overlaid by a veneer of Christianity and so are celebrated in many different ways across the globe. Halloween falls between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice. It too has been overlaid by many cultural veneers but has stubbornly remained Pagan. From its ghoulish iconography to its impish games, there is no mistaking that Halloween is a time for remembering, honouring and fearing the dead.

Last week I discussed the issue of flipping northern hemisphere festivals to fit with southern hemisphere seasons. For a moment I fell into step with my witchy compatriots. Beltane, a fertility festival with a special emphasis on love and unions, was calling. For the first time since I became a solitary witch I was considering celebrating Beltane on October 31st. But a few things happened that flipped me back to Halloween.

As I was perusing the shelves at my local craft beer shop I saw a can of beer that really called to me – a saison named Persephone! When I saw the name, and the Grecian inspired artwork, I just had to have it. The beer is flavoured with balsamic, grapefruit, pink pepper and, not surprisingly, pomegranate. But what really interested me was that saison is French for season. I didn’t know that. The label told the story of Persephone’s journey and how her love of pomegranates bound her to the Underworld and to a seasonal dance of Love and Death with her husband Hades. I can think of no better drink than a saison for Persephone.

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I chose to drink my Persephone saison while finishing a book recommended to me by my friend and cupcake conspirator Anne Belov. Martha Brockenbrough’s The Game of Love and Death is an extraordinary tale featuring the anthropomorphic characters of Love and Death. Each chooses a human player that will represent them in a game. The human players don’t know they have been chosen. Love and Death then manipulate the lives of their players to see if they will choose each other or go their separate ways. Choose Love and the game ends, choose Death and you end! One of the intriguing questions in the book is if we didn’t have Death, would we Love as deeply? Does knowing that Death is our final destination inspire us to Love more fully? Another fascinating aspect is the relationship between Love and Death. Are they enemies or are they two halves of the same coin? You’ll have to read the book to find out 🙂

This October 31st I will be celebrating Halloween. I can’t resist the siren call of the Halloweeny paraphernalia surrounding me! But I won’t be forgetting Beltane. Although I have symbolically chosen to celebrate a festival of Death over a celebration of Love, I will also be thinking of my fellow witches down under who will be leaping over bonfires to promote fertility and dancing around a maypole in November. As for me, this Halloween I will begin a new round of my own seasonal game of Love and Death.

Coeur a la Creme

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Love and Death unite in this decadent heart of cream bathed in pomegranate juice and scattered with fragrant pomegranate seeds.

Ingredients
125g mascarpone
125g ricotta cheese
300ml double cream
1/3 cup icing sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pomegranate, juice and seeds

Method
Beat mascarpone and ricotta with an electric mixer until smooth.
Add cream, sugar and vanilla and mix lightly.
Line coeur a la creme moulds* with muslin that has been moistened with water and wrung out. Make sure there is enough overhang to cover the top of the mixture. Pour mixture into moulds and cover the top with muslin. Place on a cooling rack over a baking tray and leave in fridge to drain overnight.
Unmould onto serving dishes and decorate with fresh pomegranate juice and seeds.
To prepare pomegranate, cut the fruit in half and squeeze into a bowl. Separate the juice and seeds. Pour as much juice and scatter as many seeds over the coeur a la creme as you like.

*Coeur a la creme moulds are heart shaped ceramic moulds with holes for drainage. They are difficult to get so there are a number of ways to achieve the desired heart shape without them: 
1) You can buy a heart shaped silicone cake pan or mini cake pans and make holes in the bottom with a skewer.
2) You can leave the mixture in a muslin bag to drain overnight then place in a heart shaped mould or moulds before serving.
The important thing is that the cream mixture is allowed to drain overnight before shaping.

An Ode To Hades

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As I walked my dogs early Sunday morning, they raced to a cluster of white speckled weeds. I pulled them away thinking the white speckles were weed killer. But as I took a closer look I saw something I hadn’t seen in a while – frost. I stared at the icy weeds and thought about the last time I had been out this early in the morning and the last time I had felt this cold. It’s been a while! This July has been one of the coldest in Melbourne for quite a few years. What better way to celebrate the cold then with an icy morning walk followed by a trip to the country to visit the even colder town of Daylesford.

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After enjoying a warming coffee and a visit to the Daylesford market we set off to the Convent Gallery for scones and art. The former convent is now an art gallery with a cafe, bar and souvenir shop. I loved seeing the artworks juxtaposed against the backdrop of catholic iconography – especially the nudes. It was a beautiful blend of history, religion and modern art. The scones were great too. I washed them down with a Pimms and lemonade garnished with fruit grown in the convent gardens.

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We ended our trip to Daylesford with a visit to Lavandula, a Swiss Italian Farm. There were so many things to enjoy here but one thing grabbed my attention.
Two pomegranates, way past their use by date, posed decoratively in front of an old lantern on a rustic table. Every time I see pomegranates I think of Hades and Persephone, and the sweet fruit that “trapped” the even sweeter Goddess in the Underworld. I thought the paired, rotted fruit were a beautiful and poignant symbol of the God and Goddess, reliving the cycle of the seasons; from birth to death, from spring to winter. Persephone “escapes” every spring but for now she is underground and we are in the midst of a cold, harsh winter. It made me smile. It reminded me that spring is just around the corner.

IMG_2187Spring heralds the return of Persephone, the return of warmth, light and life, and the return of many creatures dwelling in the Underworld. I’m not looking forward to the return of some of those creatures! But for now, like Persephone, I will embrace the bitter cold while it lasts and enjoy the fruit of the Underworld in all its forms. Could the Lord of the Underworld tempt you with these deadly white treats?

Persephone’s Death By White Chocolate and Pomegranate Clusters

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Ingredients
200g white chocolate, broken into small pieces
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

Method
Line a mini cupcake tray with mini cupcake cases.
Fill a saucepan about one-third full with water and bring to a gentle simmer. Set a heatproof-bowl over the saucepan, making sure the water does not touch the bottom of the bowl. Add the white chocolate and slowly melt, being careful not to burn the chocolate. Remove from the heat. Gently stir in the pomegranate seeds until just combined.
Dollop into prepared cases and refrigerate until firm.
Bring the chocolates to room temperature before serving.

Pomegranate Surprises

It’s funny how some recipes come about. A while ago I created a dish inspired by the Hades/Persephone myth symbolising Persephone being tricked into eating pomegranate seeds. It involved coating individual pomegranate seeds in melted dark chocolate flavoured with rose water. Once the chocolate coated seeds were set, they were served with sliced fresh lychees and dots of pomegranate molasses. Just by looking at the dish you wouldn’t know that it contained pomegranate seeds until you bit into a chocolate and crunched on the fragrant seed. I called the dish Persephone’s Surprise.

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While watching a cooking show recently I saw a fabulous bright green sago pudding flavoured with pandan extract. I loved the vibrant green colour of the dish but my thoughts went straight to Persephone and pomegranates. I wanted to make that dish but colour it red! I could then add pomegranate seeds and hopefully they would be disguised in the pudding by their shape and colour.

I remembered having sago pudding as a child so I researched recipes and thought about ways of making the pudding naturally red. I thought of boiling the sago in pomegranate juice but most of the recipes advised rinsing the sago thoroughly after boiling and I wondered if that would wash away the flavour and the colour. I had a few ideas and as a last resort I was going to use food colouring.

I went to my trusted delicatessen and asked if they had sago. They didn’t have sago but they had tapioca pearls. I looked at the packet and saw that the image of cooked tapioca was red! I asked how to get the tapioca pudding red and they said it was a traditional Brazilian recipe which involved boiling the tapioca in red wine. Some more research and I discovered the trick was to cook the tapioca first, drain it and then briefly boil again in red wine. You then marinate it overnight in the wine before draining and briefly chilling. I added my pomegranate tweaks to create a new surprise for Persephone – a Tapioca Surprise.

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Tapioca Surprise

Ingredients
1 + 1/2 litre water
1/2 cup tapioca pearls
1 cup red wine
1/2 cup pomegranate juice
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
cream for serving

Method
Bring the water to the boil. Add the tapioca pearls. Bring back to the boil while gently stirring the tapioca. Once boiling, cover and remove from heat. Allow to cool for 3 hours, stirring occasionally.

Drain tapioca in a colander and rinse under cold water until clear.
Add the tapioca pearls, wine, pomegranate juice and sugar to a saucepan. Cover and bring to the boil. Once boiling, remove from heat. Stir through the pomegranate seeds.
Allow to cool before placing in a glass or metal bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Drain tapioca and place into a large serving bowl or individual bowls. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Serve with a dollop of cream.