I’m sorry to have been out of touch for so long! I’ve been so busy finishing the next batch of recipes for the Gather Victoria E-Cookbooks over at Gather Victoria Patreon it seems I’ve spent nearly the whole summer working without posting anything new here. So to rectify that I’m going to give you a preview of some of the new dishes I’ve wildcrafted up for the upcoming Harvest Magic Equinox Edition. Take a boo and let me know what you’d like to see here on the Gather Victoria website, and I’ll share the one (or two) of the recipes with the most votes. There will be wild crabapple cakes and tarts for Mabon (dedicated to the great Fairy Queen Morgan le Fay) and Fig Fennel Blossom Tart and Fig Brownies (made with Curly dock Seed flour) for the harvest celebrations of Demeter and Ceres.
Let’s begin with one of the oldest and most beloved foods of Goddess Cusine, the fig. Right now it’s the season of fig here in Victoria and while I don’t have my own tree I was lucky to harvest a few of these beauties from our local “common ground” orchards. Lush, sweet and fecund, it’s no wonder they are amongst the oldest foraged and cultivated fruits in history (along with the date).
Associated with the procreative power of the goddess since the Neolithic, this revered self-fertilizing fruit has appeared in countless ancient texts and artefacts. Egyptian mother goddess Hathor was said to have emerged from a mythic fig tree, as did Inanna-Ishtar in Mesopotamia (land of the black-headed people). Some even claim it was the fig which tempted Eve in the Garden, not the apple!
Needless to say, I was inspired to create a culinary homage to the goddesses across the “cradle of civilization” who were depicted in religious art, as the Tree of Life – either a date palm or fig tree. Countless sacred texts tell us figs and dates were an important ingredient in the many holy cakes served and consumed in her temples. The Sumerian word, GÚG, and Akkadian equivalent, kukku, refer to a kind of fruit bread or cake made of dates and figs, fruits which enhanced her divine fertility and ensured abundance for all.
Listed in the “cooking tablets” of the Yale Babylonian Collection, dated around 1750 BCE. little cakes called Mersu ( sweetie pies) were offered (and eaten!) in the temples of the Sumerian Goddess Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Lady of Life. (This video gives you an idea of her many other offerings). Scholars aren’t sure if Mersu included flour or not, their primary ingredient seems to be dates and figs, shaped into balls and often rolled in pistachio nuts, walnuts, or sesame seeds.
Other cuneiform texts mention “Lady Cakes” or Butter Cakes prepared by filling portions of dough with figs, dates and raisins and then baking them in “the tannour”. Recipes for Palace Cakes added a bit of fresh cheese similar to ricotta to the mix and butter cakes, butter. Temple offering lists mention cakes made of barley flour, dates, figs, nuts, syrups, sesame seeds, rose water and honey fed to Inanna’s sacred doves. This clearly delights Inanna who “from the midst of heaven looks down with joy” and when she was pleased – fertility, prosperity, good health and happiness blessed the land, animals and people.
Also mentioned frequently in temple offering lists is Qullupu a kind of pastry stuffed with a fragrant date, fig and nut-sugar mixture. In Babylonia, women offered similar cakes to Inanna’s Akkadian counterpart Ishtar, a goddess of fertility believed to be the prototype of Venus and Aphrodite. At the palace at Mari (in present-day Syria near the Iraqi border) thousands of round or crescent-shaped “Qullupu” moulds dating to around 1780 BCE, symbolized the goddesses associations with the moon, as well as the circle and the wheel, the cycle of the year and renewal of life.
According to Nawal Nasrallah, ‘Delights From the Garden of Eden: A Cookbook and a History of the Iraqi Cuisine, Qullupu are the ancestors of the well known Iraqi cookie Kleicha. These can be round spiral cookies or shaped into half-moons and crescents and are filled with dates, figs, dried fruits like apricots and raisins, moistened with pomegranate syrup, flavoured with orange blossom or rose water and spiced with cardamom.
Figs were also offerings to the Egyptian Goddess Isis who worship spread across the Roman Empire. Fig-branches and the milky sap of the fig-tree were offered to Tanit – the great African goddess worshipped in Phoenician, Arabian and Catalonian lands. The Romans called Her Juno Celeste or Juno Caprotina, Goddess of the fig tree (and goats!) who ensured fertility and a bountiful crop. Her festival was called the Nonae Caprotina, or the “Nones of Caprotina” and was exclusively celebrated by women.
Aside from encouraging fertility, the rites of the Nonae Caprotinae were also seen as a ritual spiritual cleansing of the city: the fig was a purgative, and thus associated with the driving out of evil so that the people and the crops might prosper. Feasts were held in the fig-grove of the Campus Martius (the Plain of Mars) – And I’m sure fig cakes and tarts made with goat cheese were on the menu!
And finally, my homage to the fig concludes with Demeter and Ceres, goddesses of the grains and you can’t have cake without flour. While not specifically tied to figs Ceres, like Demeter are referred to as Mater Frugum: ‘the mother who provides the produce of the earth, such as the cereals, fruit or vegetables’.
While these luscious Fig Brownies may not be historically accurate offerings, they are made with curly dock seed flour. Curly dock is wild buckwheat of sorts and so it seemed a great way to honour the first wild seeds and grains. Plus it just pairs so well with chocolate!
Demeter is of course associated with the extremely ancient Elysian Mysteries, primarily all-women agricultural rituals which occurred roundabout the Autumn Equinox. When her daughter Persephone disappears into the underworld Demeter follows to search for her. Since she is the goddess of fertility the earth grows barren with her withdrawal.
This archetypal drama of goddesses who descend into the underworld but rise again renewed in spring is also found in the earlier story of Inanna and her underworld sister Ereshkigal. These stories reflect our earthly experiences as the light and energies of growth wane and we transition from the season of activity into the season of rest. But that is another story – and recipe.
So as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, above are some of the recipes I’ll be featuring over at Gather Victoria Patreon. Please let me know which one of these recipes you’d most like to see posted here. I’ll share the final fig recipe winner on the Gather website. And stay tuned for more Harvest Magic previews! Next up the glorious sacred apple, Mabon and Morgan Le Fay!