Cakes and ale. That’s the traditional ritual meal that Witches supposedly have at their gatherings. Tonight was the May Dark Moon and I spent a bit of time thinking about the practice of cakes and ale as I prepared for, well, you know.
What “cakes and ale” often means, in practice, is a pot luck: everybody brings a dish to share after the ritual is over. And, given the realities of people coming to ritual from work, on the metro or by bus, in the middle of the work week, my experience is that the “luck of the pot” is usually two or three loaves of grocery-store rosemary bread, a hunk of cheese, something from a salad bar, a frozen vegan casserole that transported easily. (I was once in a group where one of the women was a serious vegan and one of the women was on the Adkins diet, and we ate a lot of bread, apples, and cheese. The vegan scowled at the cheese, and the woman on Adkins scowled at the bread, and the rest of us went home to eat our real dinner.) And, certainly, the fellowship is the important thing and the quality of the meal is secondary. A well-organized group may have someone who assigns dishes: Sarah will have the main dish ready at her apartment, Sam will bring a salad, Susan will bring a starch, and Steve will bring fruit salad.
But my group does things a bit differently. One of us is married to a serious chef and is, herself, no slouch as a baker. One of us is a good Southern cook who can make chicken and vegetables cook together into a magical and nourishing dish. Some of us show up with cheeses for appetizers, wines and vodka to drink, decadent desserts from the local pastry shop.
Tonight, it was my turn to cook.
We started with cheese and crackers, which my companions are willing to guard from the cats. (Merlin WILL cut you for some cheese, yo.) Some of us drank the rose Sancerre, some drank water, some drank a wonderful potato vodka.
For dinner, I made slow-cooker BBQ chicken (made yesterday and heated up today) sandwiches. I made my cole slaw, which, if I do say so myself, is always v. good (chop up cabbage, sprinkle w/ sugar, add mayo, salt, pepper, and lots of lemon juice; I got the recipe at least 40 years ago from Woman’s Day). And, we had chunks of watermelon mixed with chopped mint. (I was ashamed to have to go to the grocery store today and buy mint. But this chilly spring has hindered everyone’s mint pots here in the Magical MidAtlantic. My mint never starts growing later than mid-March but, this year, it’s just now beginning to, slowly, sprout. A dear friend asked me a few weeks ago if I could give her any mint for Derby Day, and I had to, shamefacedly, decline; I just didn’t have any.) Ahead of time, I’d debated adding another side dish, maybe black beans or cheesy grits. I decided not to, but I think, now, it would have made the meal better. Since Virginians put our cole slaw on the BBQ sandwich, it was as if the watermelon was the only side dish. I think a meal has at least two and, preferably, three side dishes.
Our practice is to have dinner before the ritual, discussing what, exactly, we’ll do, and to have dessert afterwards, as we debrief.
Dessert was the easiest Southern dessert ever. Biscuits (shortcake) sliced, heaped w/ strawberries, and covered in whipped cream.
Clean up was minimal.
I do this meal probably once a year, sometimes substituting pulled pork (from a shoulder) for the chicken. People always like it and, since I’m working alone, enough of it can be made ahead (the BBQ, the cole slaw, the watermelon, and the beans or grits) to make it do-able. I bake the biscuits and slice the strawberries the day of the working and the only thing I have to do at the time is whip the cream.
What’s cakes and ale to you, or you to them? What’s your favorite recipe for a dark moon? What do you bring when you have to cook the night before and transport your dish on the bus? What would you eat if you were having the most decadent ritual ever?
Picture found here.