Oh my, it is almost the Autumn Equinox! This means it’s time to share this rustic Crabapple Galette inspired by the Great Mother goddess Modron and the great Fairy Queen Morgan Le Fay. Crabapples and berries have long played a role in the magical lore of the Second Harvest or Mabon. (You can find more recipes for crabapples and berries in the Autumn Edition of the Gather E-Cookery Book, Season of Harvest”.
Mabon was named by Wiccan author Aiden Kelly in the 1970s after Mabon the Welsh God of Youth. While Kelly sought to revive the harvest traditions of the Autumn Equinox I think this Sabbat could have been more aptly named after Modron, Mabon’s mother. Little is known of Modron directly, but her name, meaning ‘Divine Mother,’ clearly suggests she is an aspect of the Mother-Goddess so ubiquitously celebrated at this time of the year.
Across the old world, she took form in the many earth, fertility, grain, and harvest goddesses whose overflowing cornucopias have presided over harvest festivals, feasts, and revelry as emblems of earthly abundance, pleasure, healing, and good fortune since, well, time immemorial. And from Western and Eastern Europe, across to Russia, they have been traditionally honored with the fruits of the harvest, offerings of grain, fruits, apples, nuts, gourds, bread, cakes, beer, mead, and wine.
Modron’s name is said to be linguistically connected to Modr, Mater, Matrona, Matronae, regional names meaning “Great Mother.” The Matrona were a trio of goddesses depicted on thousands of shrines, votive stones, and altars found as far as Scotland, Spain and Portugal, Germania, Gaul, and Northern Italy. Their origins stretch back to the megalithic. Often located near rivers, mountains, sacred springs, and trees, their shrines often depict the Matrona holding cornucopias, babies, fruit, and bread, emphasizing their role as ancestral goddesses of nature, fertility, and food.
Most fascinating is Modrons connection to the great Fairy Queen Morgan le Fay whose feast day and name were apparently once celebrated around the Autumn Equinox. The Arthurian romances of the Middle Age took root in Welsh mythology and many scholars agree that Morgan Le Fay was inspired by Modron. It was with the later influence of the Church that the original Arthurian legends were given a whitewashing and Modron became transformed into one of the most infamous evil witches in literature, Morgan le Fay. But according to Goddess Dethroned: The Evolution of Morgan Le Fay she was something much more to the ancient Celtic people than a fairy or a witch. “Indeed, she was in origin their great and powerful mother goddess.”
Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote that Morgan was Queen of the Isle of Apples ( later known as Avalon) a land of plenty where mortals enjoy everlasting youth. The Isle of Apples “produces crops in abundance and grapes without help, and apple trees spring up from the short grass of its woods”. In this enchanted land nine sisters “exercise a kindly rule over those who come to them from our land,” but the beautiful Morgan le Fay is “first among them [and] has greater skill in healing […] She has learned the uses of all plants in curing the ills of the body.” Renowned for her skills, she saves the life of her half brother King Arthur who is sent to her wounded and near death for healing.
While we may not think of Morgan Le Fay as a harvest goddess, she was certainly associated with one of the most ancient symbols of the goddess and the harvest season, the apple. Crabapples grew wild across the British Isles so the fabled orchards of the Isle of Apples were likely composed of crabapples.
Crabapples have a long mystical history. In the Middle Ages, they were known as one of nine great magical herbs of Anglo-Saxon Charms, thought to banish evil and heal all ills. In 19th-century Ireland and parts of Scotland, women offered crabapples at burial mounds, called cairns, to honor dead ancestors, especially female ones. According to folklore, all human souls were reabsorbed into the wombs that bore them, and therefore, only women inhabited the Land of the Dead! Crabapples were important for that other important feminine activity – divination. A fermented alcoholic crabapple cider known as Witches Brew was consumed to provide inspiration for prophecy.
So the following crabapple recipe is my Autumn Equinox tribute for Modron and the magical healing apples of Morgan Le Fay. I used mostly locally foraged varieties such Dolgo and John Downie, but you can use any variety of crabapples – their tartness contrasts beautifully with the buttery crispy phyllo. If they are very sour add a little extra sugar with the honey to the recipe. The tart is made in a cast-iron skillet much like a Greek “rag pie” meaning that bundles of phyllo pastry are added to the bottom and then filled with mascarpone cheese, cream, and eggs to create a custard-like base.
This recipe features salal berries which can still be found growing in many parts of the PNW. Otherwise, blackberries or huckleberries would work equally well. September is considered “Berry Month” by many indigenous people of the PNW. Both the Coast Salish and Kootenai held special ceremonies for the first harvest of huckleberries. (Find out more about First Berry Harvests in the Autumn Edition of the cookbook).
Enchanted Crabapple Galette for Morgan Le Fay
You will need a 9-inch skillet or deep-dish pie pan.
- 2 ½ cups of crabapples, cored and quartered
- 1 cup of salal berries
- ¼ cup soft unsalted butter
- I box of thawed phyllo pastry (approx 270 grams)
- 1 cup mascarpone cheese (or cream cheese or ricotta)
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tsp of vanilla
- 1 tsp of nutmeg (or cinnamon)
- 1/2 cup full-fat milk or table cream
- ¼ cup honey (plus two tablespoons)
Place your crabapples and berries in a saucepan with honey (holding back two tablespoons for later) and half of your butter. (approx 3/12 tablespoons). On low heat simmer for 10 minutes or until the fruit begins to soften. Remove and set aside.
Melt the remaining butter in another small saucepan, then take it off the heat.
Line your skillet with a few layers of phyllo, allowing one end to hand over the side. Brush with butter. Arrange another few layers of phyllo in the skillet in the opposite direction, and brush with butter. Keep adding layers until you have dough overhanging the entire circle of the pan, (eventually, you will fold in the overhanging edges). Brush again with butter.
Using your remaining sheets, tear and scrunch them up and drop them loosely into the pan. Depending on the size of your skillet or pie pan you may not use all the pastry sheets. You don’t want to overstuff the interior otherwise you’ll have too much phyllo!
Gently dollop the cheese in between the bunches. Beat the eggs with the milk, nutmeg, and vanilla then pour the mixture over the pastry and cheese. Next spread your crabapple and berry over the top of the entire pastry. Fold the edges of the overhanging phyllo towards the center of the pie. Trim off any stray edges. Let it stand for at least 30 minutes in the refrigerator before baking.
Heat the oven to 400°F, and bake the pie for 30 minutes. When it’s ready, the pastry will be golden and puffed up, the fruit soft, and the inside set. Let it stand for 10 minutes, then dribble 2 tablespoons of the remaining honey over the top.
If you’d like another recipe featuring crabapple, check out this post, Crabapple & Rosemary Hand Pies: