Thirteen days from now, the Earth’s path around Belenus, the Shiny One, the Eye in the Skye, will reach a point where the Sun is lined up with the Equator. He will be exactly midway between the Tropical of Cancer and that of Capricorn, the most northern and southern, respectively, reaches of our own star in his trail through the azure dome we call the heavens. While the Tropicals are much different from each other – Cancer is a water sign of summer, whereas Capricorn an earth sign of winter – just as the solstices are, which happen when the Sun reaches either one of these latitudes, the Sun crossing the Equator means the times of the Equinoxes. Times when day and night are of equal length. Anyone noticed the accumulation of the prefix “equ” here, indicating a time of balance?
Yes, this is the time when we celebrate an equilibrium in Nature, a tipping point when the land finally escapes the claws of winter and awakens to the joys of summer. And all the work associated with that subsequent season, especially for the farmers. Remember them, the folks providing our food?
Many on the path of Druidry, or of other Pagan faiths, feel that attunement with the seasons is an important component of their work. Is it a tradition of old? Or a rather new invention, this Wheel of the Year, the celebration of the stations of the Sun? Being one with the churn of the seasons has definitely been an essential feature since the Neolithic era, when nomadic hunter-gatherers turned into farmers. Maybe the seasons weren’t that much celebrated back then, because they were such an integral part of life anyway. Or maybe less celebrated by the farm folk, but more acknowledged by Druids and other Pagan celebrants. Who knows for sure? Ronald Hutton maybe. He wrote a book about it.
May that be as it is, I find the attunement to the seasons is of utter importance to us today, particularly to those of us who live in ways no longer determined by the seasons. Because if we want strawberries, we just go to the store and buy some. Not too long ago, even when I was a kid, we had to wait until they grow in our land. Now I grab them from a shelf. We are utterly detached from the coming and going of the seasons, often enough flee them when they become too harsh for us, too cold or too hot. And therefore, no matter the age of that tradition, it is a wise idea to celebrate these stations of the Sun. The Vernal Equinox coming up next.
That said, I won’t go into too much depth about the meaning of the Spring Equinox, for that can be read about in countless blog entries and social media posts around this time; also in books, I might add, which may give you a better sense of the truth of the matter.
What I would like to talk about today is food. Which is why this blog entry comes two weeks in advance of the day, to give you ample time to prepare for the menu I am suggesting later on.
But: why food? Well, to be honest, at least in the European culture in which I grew up, everything is about food. Even when sitting at the table ingesting the food in front of us, we talk about food. But not only that. Food played a big role in our (European) ancestor’s lives. There were laws about who is to sit where at the table, gets their food on what kind of dishes, and who gets what cut of the meat. Food found its way not only into law, but also into literature. In the stories of the Welsh Mabinogi, thirteen banquets are mentioned, some described in much detail, and we encounter phrases similar to “going to feast” over sixty times in the text. Here is an example:
And they retired that night, and the next day Arthur prepared to depart. “My lord,” said Owain, “this is not well of thee; for I have been absent from thee these three years, and during all that time, up to this very day, I have been preparing a banquet for thee, knowing that thou wouldst come to seek me. Tarry with me, therefore, until thou and thy attendants have recovered the fatigues of the journey, and have been anointed.” And they all proceeded to the Castle of the Countess of the Fountain, and the banquet which had been three years preparing was consumed in three months. Never had they a more delicious or agreeable banquet.
Talking about celebrating something with a dinner.
So let me suggest a menu for a Spring Equinox banquet, as it would be traditional in the Alps. There are some alternatives to the recipe for folks who don’t have access to some of the ingredients. And, as a heads up: the main course is not vegan/vegetarian.
The menu was chosen to reflect the time of year. Wild garlic is a plant that only grows in early spring. When you forage yourself, however, be careful to not confuse it with Lily of the Valley. If you do, you may die. Seriously. Although it is hard to confuse, wild garlic smells like, well, garlic, and Lily of the Valley doesn’t. But you always want to be certain. So, you might either buy the leaves at the market, or substitute with leek.
Lamb is the meat of the season for a good reason: the ewes gave birth to them six weeks ago, and the farms had an abundance of them in spring. Sacrificing one of them for the Equinox celebration was not something folks of old did light-heartedly. They would choose the one that would most likely not make it, and considering that any animal needs fodder and space to roam, these restrictions were always something farmers had to work with. And, it was a sacrifice after all, a choice that pleased the Gods, hard as it may have been for the people.
Finally, as a desert, we (that would be my late father, who wrote up the recipes, and I) suggest one of m favorites: Kaiserschmarren.
With spring at the doorstep, the supply with eggs is improving again, cows produce more milk, and we need to use up the flour of last year before it goes bad. What better way to use these simple ingredients to transform them into a dish that was a favourite of His Majesty Emperor Franz Joseph I. of Habsburg, last ruler of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until 1918. Legend has it that the Kaiser (German for emperor), who was a passionate hunter, decided to rest at an alpine hut one day. His entourage asked the dairy maid living up there to make some food for the emperor. The poor soul, completely taken by surprise, had no choice other than make this traditional fluffy pancake, ripped apart before serving (i.e. making a mess, a Schmarren, out of it). She sprinkled it with sugar and served it. Franz Josef was quite content and asked the woman to give the recipe to his entourage, so that they can relay it to his court’s pastry chef.
So far the legend.
It is true that his Majesty liked the dessert and often demanded it after his meals. And he may have learned about it during one of his hunting trips. But the sweet dish has been known for centuries before the Emperor’s reign. It was very popular amongst the Kaser, the folks living in Alpine huts over summer, herding cattle and making butter and cheese. The German word for cheese is Käse, or in Alpine dialect, Kas. So it was the messy pancake of the Kaser originally, only later dedicated to Emperor himself.
4 Cups Beef broth
2 Hands full wild garlic leaves (or 2 stalks of leek)
2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp flour
1 small onion, finely chopped
½ to 1 Cup heavy cream
|WILD GARLIC SOUP
Blanch the wild garlic leaves and set aside. Melt the butter in the soup pot; add the finely chopped onion and sauté over medium heat until glassy. Add the flour and stir continuously to avoid clumps. Keep sautéing until the flour turns ever so slightly yellow. Pour in the soup while still stirring. Let simmer for 10 minutes.
Now add the blanched wild garlic leaves – except for two or three – to the soup, then the heavy cream.
When the soup is done, purée it with a blender (immersion if available).
Cut the remaining whole wild garlic leaves in fine stripes and use them as garnish when serving.
1.5 lb Boneless lamb shoulder
1 Celery root
1 Parsley root
3 to 4 Shallots
4 Tbsp. olive oil
2 to 3 thick slices of breakfast bacon
Pepper and salt
Rosemary and thyme
1-3 Garlic toes cut in tiny cubes
Beef or vegetable soup (optional, mixed with white wine)
1 Tbsp. corn starch
1 Tsp. red berries to garnish
200 g Tagliatelle (wide noodle pasta)
Peel the shallots and cut into quarters. Chop the root vegetables in slices. Set aside. Cut the lamb shoulder into one inch pieces. In a pot big enough for the meat and the soup, mix the lamb with the spices and briefly sauté in hot olive oil. Dust with flour. Add the bacon and keep frying. When the bacon is crusty, add the chopped root vegetables, the shallots, and the garlic. Sauté until the garlic turns golden, and then pour soup in until the contents of the pot is fully covered. Let the stew simmer for about two hours.
When the lamb meat is turning soft towards the end of the two hours, mix the corn starch with cold water and add to the boiling stew. The liquid should become viscid like chowder.
Cook the pasta according to the specifications from the producer. From Italians I have heard the recommendation that the process of cooking noodles should be as follows: Fill a large pot with water – a large quantity of water ensures that the starch in the pasta dissolves and doesn’t act like glue – and bring the water to a boil. Only then add salt, and then the noodles. Reduce to medium heat and stir so that the noodles don’t stick together. Check the consistency of the noodles frequently to catch them right at the point where they are al dente. Drain the water in a strainer, but don’t rinse. Melt butter or heat olive oil in the pot the noodles were cooked in and return the strained pasta there.
6 Egg whites
6 Egg yolks
2 Tbsp sour cream
5 Tbsp Sugar
1 Tsp Vanilla extract
200 g Flour
1 Cup milk
1 Large apple
8 Tbsp Butter
Mix the milk with the egg yolk, the vanilla extract, sour cream and the flour to a smooth batter. Beat the egg white and the sugar to a stiff peak. Carefully fold the beaten egg whites in the batter.
Heat a tsp of butter in a large, flat pan (clad iron is best), reduce the heat to low and pour the batter in. Bake until golden on the bottom and bubbles appear on the surface. Flip the pancake over and continue to bake.
When the other side is golden brown as well, rip the pancake into pieces (don’t cut). That makes it into a Schmarren, a mess. Sprinkle sugar over it and brown slightly in the oven, preheated to 400 F (200 C).
While the Kaiserschmarren is baking, chop the apple into small pieces. In small pan, melt sugar and butter and add the apple and the walnuts and caramelize. Take the Kaiserschmarren out of the oven, mix in the apples and walnuts, and serve garnished with powder sugar.
When it needs to go faster: Mix milk, flour, salt and the whole eggs together and bake on both sides in the pan. Process apples, walnuts as described above, and mix under the torn apart pancake pieces. This version doesn’t make the Kaiserschmarren as fluffy though.
Drinks: For the lamb stew we recommend a light red wine and for the Kaiserschmarren a sweet white wine (Muskat) or a strong Chardonnay.
This recipe and seven others, for all eight stations on the Wheel of the Year, can be found in the book “Steinkreis, Stosuppn’n und Grüner Veltliner – Österreichische Küche im Keltischen Jahreskreis”. Currently only available in German, but it’s being translated into English currently.
Get the German version at amazon.de
For other musings over the ancient Celts, please consider my book “Mountain Magic – Celtic Shamanism in the Austrian Alps”, available at lulu.com (preferred) and distributers such as amazon.com