We’re all a bit of a kitchen witch around this time of the year. Just like our agrarian ancestors, we feel the urge to harvest, collect, store, preserve, and dry. But kitchens are magical all year round.
During harvest time, my kitchen is the busiest part of my house. Herbs dry on the counter, heirloom tomatoes ripen on the windowsill, and freshly picked jalapeños lie on the cutting board, are ready for pickling. There’s usually something bubbling on the stove or in the oven. On the days I stay home, I wash my knives and cutting boards four or five times a day. The kitchen has become the center of my home lately, where stocks are stored for the winter and nourishing meals are prepared with love.
Even outside of harvest time, the kitchen (or the hearth) is one of the most magical places of any home. No other room in the house feels quite like the kitchen. Transformation is a common occurrence here. Whenever I bake bread, all of the elements are present – water, wheat (from the earth), spirit / life (in the form of yeast), air (when the soft ball of dough doubles in height), and finally, the fire in the oven, which transforms the dough into a nice, crusty loaf.
Likewise, alchemy occurs every day in the kitchen as well. When I combine herbs, spices, oil, vegetables, rice, and salt in the right proportions, the resulting curry is more than the sum of its parts.
There’s something primal about being around all that transformation and alchemy, and then getting to eat perfectly seasoned foods. It’s not just because we need to eat to survive — the nourishment from a good meal goes far beyond the physical. I believe we also experience gratitude and transcendence with good food. It can be a spiritual experience that lights one up from within. The best way to experience this is with fresh food, and now just happens to be the best time for harvesting most food in the northern hemisphere.
Hestia, goddess of the hearth, was shown respect before all other deities in Greek and Roman times. It’s no coincidence that she’s associated with Virgo, the time when harvesting is the heaviest in the northern hemisphere. We’re in her season right now, from the cherry tomatoes popping off the vine to the corn festivals happening all around. I like to imagine that she’s busy at the hearth, making tortillas on the stovetop and roasting potatoes in the oven. This is her time of the year.
Most of us are using recipes more than ever right about now (with the exception of holidays). Handed down from generation to generation or from friend to friend, these special recipes have the secret to combining the proper ingredients in the right order. Apply energy / transformation / alchemy, wait patiently, and TA DA! You pull grandma’s apple pie out of the oven, just as she made it, with the perfect ratio of clove, cinnamon, and vanilla.
Recipes are basically rituals where you get to eat the outcome. Just like rituals, the more you practice them, the better you get. You know you’ve reached a level of mastery when you’re mixing up the ingredients, trusting what your tastebuds say over a recipe, and adapting the recipes to make them your own.
I don’t know about you, but the kitchen is an especially sacred place for me. I grew up in a fairly magical household, and our kitchen was the witchiest place in the house. It always smelled of peppermint oil and cumin, and it was where my mother’s collection of artisanal brooms were stored. Wonderful food was made there, sometimes out of nothing more than scraps. “Cupboard scraping magic” still happens, much to my surprise. If that isn’t kitchen witchery, I don’t know what is.
That kitchen was where I learned how to cook with love. I experienced my own joy of making delicious food, and also experienced pleasure in serving family and friends. It was also the first place I knew I loved the Greek pantheon.
When I was in graduate school, I didn’t have a lot of time or money. However, I refused to eat junk food. The kitchen became the place where I experienced magic — the hearth became my altar. The feasts I crafted after my homework was finished nourished me and kept me studying hard and going to my early-morning classes.
These days, I’m out of school. Even though my husband and I have money to go out to eat sometimes nowadays, there’s nothing like a home-cooked meal, resplendent with the magic of the hearth.
Now, the kitchen is where my girlfriends and I lean on the counter and drink wine. It’s where I bake Yule goodies and pull steaming hot shepherd’s pies from the oven on Christmas day. It’s where my husband and I make coffee and breakfast on the weekends, and where my cats brush against the cupboards and get morning cuddles. It’s where I make beans and rice every nearly Sunday for my lunches, where my friends and I get ready for fire dance performances.
Just like a lot of pagans, I’ll be storing the goods from this year’s harvest in freezer bags, canisters, and jars. I know I’ll be reaping the benefits of my hard work in the months to come. When I do, it’ll be like opening a little piece of sunshine from the warm September sun. Just the thought makes me smile, and makes the coming winter seem not so bad.