How my grandmother’s spirit infused me with a love of kitchen witchery
I got my introduction to kitchen witchery at my grandmother’s little table. This sounds more mysterious and wild than it was, but it was still essential to my development.
My grandmother was not a witch, at least not to my knowledge, but had a deeply intuitive, thoroughly natural ease with using food as a conduit to elevate one’s spirit and connect with those she loved. She was not working with an array of herbs and mixing elixirs — honestly, it was McCormick all the way in her modest spice rack and parsley was likely the only fresh herb that could be found in her ‘fridge — but if magic is at its core about transformation, my grandmother was a true sorceress and her kitchen, with the little yellow Formica table (what I wouldn’t do for it now) where she chopped and mixed and the stovetop where she stirred and cooked, was where the spells coalesced.
The cookbooks of her era were plain and succinct. If you ever see a cookbook circa 1975 and compare it to a contemporary counterpart, you will notice right away how much more simple and direct the recipes and instructions were. For someone who loved to cook, my grandmother did not have many cookbooks but the few she owned had notes for improvements neatly jotted in the margins. The recipes she used were much more likely to be filed in her recipe box and written with flowing cursive on index cards or stationary, some from her sisters, some in her own hand. It was all pretty straightforward but the simplicity of the recipes, which were developed by practical home economists, not influencers trying to gain followers, meant the recipes were about feeding hungry people efficiently, as opposed to public accolades. Despite this focus on frugality and simplicity, the results of my grandmother’s cooking were greater than the sum of their parts, seemingly infused with magic.
More than following recipes to the letter, what she did was, as she said, add a “titch” here and there, improvising and improving as she went, which is what I think a lot of us do if we continue cooking. She would add diced apples to make a cake recipe brighter, more tender. Before people talked about it, she taught me that a little sprinkle of salt would enhance the flavor depth of chocolate. The way she greased and effortlessly thumped…