This April I’m celebrating Goddess Cuisine. I made a Floralia Cake for the Goddess of Flowers, Violet Cream Cupcakes for Venus, honeyed libations for the Goddess Bona Dea and a savoury fresh white cheese made with plenty of “herbs and blossoms born of the earth’s free will” for the Great Mother, Cybele. And more!
This post is a sneak peek into Gather’s New Patreon Cookbook exploring the “culinary goddess” found throughout history, folklore and myth. And by this, I mean the “Lady of Life” who likely inspired cuisine itself. Because whether she was called Isis, Inanna, Ishtar, Asherah, Astarte, Artemis or Cybele – to name but a few – the first breads, honey cakes, fruit & nut cakes, sweet buns, cookies and cheesecakes, wines, beers, even pizza, were served at her household altars, shrines and temples. The Goddess loved her food and when she was pleased, all were showered with plenty!
And April in Rome was a big month for Goddess Cuisine. Yes, Rome was a deeply patriarchal culture but it had one foot firmly planted in the goddess traditions of the past. Their many writers, historians and poets left us of countless references to the many goddesses whose festivals were considered central to the well-being of the land, crop and populace and an indispensable part of religious life.
And if we look at April (into early May) we get a glimpse of how widespread the worship of the goddess was. Venus, goddess of love, beauty, gardens, and all things green and growing, had no less than three festivals this month, all of which involved offerings of cakes, bread, roses, myrtle, mint and violets and plenty of feasting, wine and licentious behaviour.
Floralia (April 28 to May 3) was held in honour of one of the most ancient Goddesses of Rome, Flora the Goddess of flowers. This festival of flowers was basically a six-day event during which wealthy Romans outcompeted each other to hold the most elaborate banquets and lavish feasts – and again indulged in licentious behaviour!
Bona Dea was a very ancient goddess of the earth, women, herbs and healing, considered to have existed long before the founding of Rome. During her April “women only” festival, women were permitted to drink wine. They created a ceremonial honey “mide” or wine with spring herbs and flowers which they consumed and poured for libations to Bona Dea. Her secret name is sometimes said to be Fauna, which means “She Who Wishes Well” but was not to be spoken—especially by men—so was usually referred to by women as Bona Dea, or the “Good Goddess”. Bona Dea is often depicted carrying a sceptre, standing next to a large jug of wine, holding a cornucopia (symbolizing abundance) and a serpent (renewal, sexuality, fertility). In her temple snakes slithered freely about!
Cerealia was the major festival celebrated for the grain and bread goddess Ceres. Although exact dates are uncertain, it took place sometime in late April. Ceres was credited with the gift of agriculture to humankind and governed pastoral, agricultural and human fertility. She had the power to fertilise, and her name derives from the proto-European word “to satiate, to feed”, also the root for Latin “to grow” “to bear, bring forth”. She is said to have the creator of spelt and offerings of spelt breads and cakes were made in temples.
The Great Goddess Cybele or The Magna Mater ( Great Mother) was honoured during the April festival of Megalesia. Her statue was carried through the streets in a chariot drawn by lions, her animals. Lucretius says “with bronze and silver they strew all the paths of her journey … and snow rose-blossoms over her.” In her temple and banquets, the goddess was offered a dish of simple herbs and fresh white cheese called Moretum. According to Ovid, Moretum descends from a golden age, a time before humankind had to cultivate the earth to produce food a time when an ancient people ate only “the herbs that the earth bore of its free will.” Moretum was offered so that the ‘ancient goddess may once again know the ancient foods.’
A Roman woman normally had no formal place in any public sphere, except in these rituals. Many were “women only” rites which took place at home or in temples (both indoors and out) where offerings of sacrificial cakes, wine, milk and honey were made. In her private household or hearth shrine, women also left food offerings and libations and entreating the goddesses many favours. Many of these rituals were timed by the lunar calendar and followed the cycles of the moon, and by the time of ancient Rome were already considered part of an old religion, “hoary with age”.
Today in this post-feminist age, the goddess and her many rites are forgotten and the foods that the earth bears of her own free will are now known as weeds. We have no memory of the rites practised not just by women, but humanity, for thousands of years. And I think that even the deeply patriarchal Romans would be shocked. Ignoring the Goddess completely would be, well, disastrous!
If we define cuisine as “a manner of preparing food” or a “style or method of cooking” then I think Goddess Cuisine is about celebrating our earliest relationship with Mother Nature. What we might call today, “gratitude attitude”. Many studies show that giving thanks for all we have received, all that we have and all we are about to receive, enhances feelings of safety, optimism, joy and pleasure, improves physical health, bolsters our immune system, reduces symptoms of illness and increases contentment, life satisfaction, strengthens our relationships and make us feel more connected to others.
And this is where the magic comes in. Because when we gather together to give communal thanks to the goddess who gives life, we engage in possibly what are the oldest spiritual or religious rites. The act of blessing our food causes life to bloom in response and the goddesses cornucopias to overflow with earthly delights. And I think this is how our ancestors truly saw it. Our gratitude, intentions, our prayers – and our celebrations, revelry and feasts were necessary to fructify the land. Which is why “gratitude attitude” and Goddess Cuisine are part of my spiritual practice. So this April, inspired by the ancient Goddesses of Rome, I offer my thanks & blessings through the following foods and dishes, the herbs and blossoms “borne of the earth’s free will” so that Goddess may once again know her ancient foods.
Violet Cream Cupcakes for Venus (violet was sacred to her). They are a tribute to the love and sensuous beauty she brings to life.
A Floralia Cake to thank The Goddess of Flowers, for the pleasures of her infinite colours and heavenly scents. This featured a fragrant mixture of various edible blossoms, violets, magnolias, wallflowers, flowering spring currant and dianthus.
April Cocktails for Bona Dea, in appreciation for her gifts of healing herbs. Herbs and blossoms infused in honey wine.
Spiced Spelt Honey Cookies for Ceres. Infused in Red Flowering Currant Honey. In gratitude for fruits of the earth, and her grains, flours, breads and cakes.
A fresh cheese (a mixture of Ricotta and Stracciatella) made with “plenty of herbs and blossoms born of the earth’s free will” for Cybele. Wild mustards, Dame Rocket and field garlic greens. Thanks to earth who freely provides.
And finally, a typical sacrificial Libum Cake. It’s Cato the Elder’s recipe for ‘Libum‘ from “De Agri Cultura and was served for many Roman Feasts. Made with flour, ricotta cheese, eggs and honey, these are traditionally infused with bay leaf and slathered in honey. I used honey infused with a variety of fragrant blossoms, violet, wallflower, magnolia, red flowering currant. (These cakes were delicious but I only got to eat one – I left them on the coffee table and when I returned the dog had eaten the rest! A sacrifice indeed.)
And while they are far from perfect or historically accurate, they are my way of remembering a time when the goddess was at the centre of an ancient religion in which cooking, baking and feasting were magical rituals honouring the divine feminine and her life-giving power.
Recipes Coming Soon to Gather Cookbook Patrons!