Beltane, or Gaelic May Day, is an important festival in the Wheel of the Year. It is typically associated with fire, the beginning of summer, renewed life and growth, as well as an important time for agricultural and pastoral rearing. The Celtics perceived the year as being divided into two halves, a dark or winter period, and a bright or summer period. Beltane marks the beginning of the summer period. Beltane might also be connected with the ancient god Belenus, a Celtic solar deity. The Wiccan understanding of Beltane interprets this as a time of merriment, fertility, and even sensuality and sexuality because this is the time when the God and Goddess are believed to have physically united and come into fruitful union.
In honor of Beltane this year we were inspired to recreate some historical dishes and envelop ourselves in some kitchen magic, hoping to draw power from the recipes of yesteryear and connect with the customs and folk practices of those that came before us. We were able to do this thanks to some historical accounts of Beltane, describing vividly the affairs and festivities of the peasants:
“On the first of May, the herdsmen of every village hold their Bel-tein, a rural sacrifice. They cut a square trench on the ground, leaving the turf in the middle; on that they make a fire of wood, on which they dress a large caudle of eggs, butter, oatmeal and milk; and bring, besides the ingredients of the caudle, plenty of beer and whisky, for each of the company must contribute something. The rites begin with spilling some of the caudle on the ground, by way of libation: on that everyone takes a cake of oatmeal, upon which are raised nine square knobs, each one dedicated to some particular being, the supposed preserver of their flocks and herds, or to some particular animal, the real destroyer of them: each person then turns his face to the fire, breaks off a knob, and flinging it over his shoulder says, “This I give to thee, preserve thou my horses; this to thee, preserve thou my sheep’; and so on…When the ceremony is over, they dine over the caudle.”-Ronald Hutton, The Stations of the Sun
Let’s dive into some Beltane Recipes!
In order to pay respect to these customs, we decided to make a caudle alongside some oatmeal cakes.
A caudle is a warm, thick and sweet drink from the Middle Ages that was often prescribed to those who were sick, pregnant or to new mothers. There are various recipes for caudle (that varied from being similar to egg nog or gruel). For my caudle, I adapted this fun recipe by The Inn at the Crossroads to fit the historical description (my changes are bolded):
- 2 egg yolks
- 2 cups ale, white wine, or hard cider (I added a cup and a half of wine with half a cup of milk to fit the historical description)
- pinch of saffron (optional)
- pinch of salt
- sugar or honey to taste
- pinch of fresh nutmeg (I didn’t use the nutmeg in my caudle)
- 1 tablespoon of oatmeal (not pictured below)
- 1 teaspoon of butter (not pictured below)
I added the wine, milk, honey, saffron, pinch of salt, butter and oatmeal into a pot. On the side I separated the egg yolks from the whites, beat them and slowly incorporated them into the mix (which was heating on low heat). Make sure you keep gently stirring the mixture continuously for about 5 minutes on low to medium-low heat. Once the mixture is thickened nicely, strain it and pour into your serving cup. Make sure the sugar or honey is to your liking, to balance the acidity from the wine, beer or ale that you end up using.
The finished result had an incredibly gorgeous color and silky, custardy texture that I absolutely adored. Keep in mind that this caudle, with the addition of milk, saffron and honey was definitely a step above the peasant gruel. So if you’re interested in being more historically accurate, at least to the peasants’ experience (there were fancier caudles for the nobility) consider leaving those out. The taste was quite interesting, though not entirely my favorite (I am sure the choice of wine and ale affects this greatly). The more I tried it though, the more it seemed to grow on me. Give it a try and let us know how yours turned out!
Next up it was time for the oat cakes. Referring back to the text:
“…on that everyone takes a cake of oatmeal, upon which are raised nine square knobs, each one dedicated to some particular being, the supposed preserver of their flocks and herds, or to some particular animal, the real destroyer of them: each person then turns his face to the fire, breaks off a knob, and flinging it over his shoulder says, “This I give to thee, preserve thou my horses; this to thee, preserve thou my sheep’; and so on…When the ceremony is over, they dine over the caudle.”– Ronald Hutton, The Stations of the Sun
The oat cakes served as offerings for the well-being and maintenance of one’s livestock, which I found very interesting. For this, I ended up using an incredibly simple recipe from the brilliant and insightful Cailleach’s Herbarium blog (please check it out – everything on there is incredibly fascinating, informative and well-researched – one of my favorite blogs!):
- oatmeal (4oz) (I used half since I wanted to make a smaller recipe)
- baking soda (a pinch)
- a pinch of salt
- butter (1 tsp – use unsalted)
- hot water (about half a cup) (I started with half the amount, again because I was making a smaller recipe).
The recipe is humble and delightful in its simplicity. The oatmeal is combined with the hot water, into which melted butter is added to form a dough. I am pretty sure I ended up using a little more butter than the recipe because it is, after all, one of the two main flavoring ingredients here. After the dough came together, I rolled it out and cut it into square shapes with knobs on top. In a small frying pan, I toasted these in a little more butter until golden on both sides. Now these are really simple in flavor and can do nicely alongside some cheese, butter or honey (or honestly anything at all that you prefer to serve them alongside). I enjoyed them plain, and put my attention back to the peasants and their offerings in the fire.
Milk Magic and Beltane Cattle Cake
“Milk magic is especially connected with the festival of Beltane, presumably because this feast signaled the commencement of the dairying season. A persistent motif in narratives referring to the performance of milk magic is that some women could shapeshift, transforming themselves into hares in order to suck the milk from the cows lying in the fields.”– Patricia Lysaught, Medieval Folklore
We use this idea of milk magic in creating our next recipe: a Beltane Cattle Cake, incorporating the bounties of milk, butter and cream to pay respects to them, honor and celebrate them, and to use this offering to channel an even greater bounty in the time to come.
Beltane is the time of giving tribute and offerings for the cattle because they are very important animals to us human beings and we must always remember that. In this way, we are honoring the importance of the cattle and to ensure that the cattle are fruitful during the summer season, we must give them offerings and tributes for things to go well. For the offering to the cattle, we will be performing milk magic in the form of a magical meal. This magical meal will have ingredients that are related to the cattle and we are going to charge these ingredients with magic through means of chanting. This process ensures that the season is fruitful so that we will have enough milk to last through the upcoming cold seasons. The Beltane Cattle Cake is to symbolize the cattle; the milk, cream, and butter symbolizing the products that come from the cattle. While we are using a lot of ingredients for this cake, which could be interpreted as wasteful, this is further from the truth because the cake is not meant to be eaten in one or two sittings; it’s meant to be eaten throughout the next couple of days. This is to symbolize the biding of time before the cattle can produce more milk for us to use. By eating this cake, we are paying tribute to cattle and showing gratitude for the milk that they provide us year round.
Beltane Cattle Cake:
- 4 eggs
- 2 cups of flour
- 1 cup of sugar
- 1 cup of honey
- 2 and ¼ teaspoon of baking powder
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 1 stick of butter (approximately 8 tablespoons)
- 1 cup of milk
- ½ cup of cream (whipping cream or heavy cream)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
- Pour milk, cream, and butter into the mixing bowl. When doing this step, you must recite this part of the chant while placing each item into the bowl in the order of the chant:
Blessed milk, cream, and butter from the cattle,
Shall you go into this mix and give it a rattle.
Afterwards, melt the butter and mix the mixture until the butter has melted. Set aside to cool (or put it inside your refrigerator for faster cooling).
- In a separate bowl, take flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar and mix them together.
- Once the wet mixture has cooled down, add vanilla, egg, and honey and whisk until you no longer see the egg and everything has mixed together.
- Begin adding your wet mixture into your dry mixture. This part will take some time as you must add the wet mixture little by little. While you do this, perform the rest of the chant:
With this batter, I shall mix,
The recipe passed down from the Celtics.
I give praise to the livestock of the fields,
With the offering that I yield.
May the cattle be fruitful this season,
And for nothing to go without reason.
Slow and steady shall I consume this cake,
To bide the time until autumn breaks.
By the last bite of my tribute,
May there be double the resources to distribute.
Recite the chant again and again until the wet and dry mixtures combine together.
- Place the mixture into your baking pan, then place it in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour (your time might vary depending on your oven, your baking tray, etc.).
- Once cooked, take your cake out and let it cool on a cooling rack.
Remember that this cake is not meant to be eaten in just a few sittings, it is meant to last a few days. We recommend that you pre-cut the slices you will eat for a meal in order to portion your cake better.
And thus, our Beltane kitchen magick altar came together rather beautifully.
So to our fellow pagans, Wiccans, witches, occultists, Christians, atheists and all – A Merry and Joyous Beltane to you all. May this time be fruitful, merry and free of stresses, and may the brighter half of the year alight your ambitions and desires into realization and materialization. Blessed Be.