Beltane is the most passionate, fertile and fiery of all of the Celtic holidays and all manner of wonderful things can happen while you're dancing amongst the flames but do be careful. Today as they say "The Goddess is alive and magic is afoot". She loves to have her way and there are always plenty of babies that were conceived in May......
Today it is Beltane, the time that marks the beginning of the most fertile season of the year. Cattle were driven up to higher, greener grounds and passions burned on May the 1st like the ancient ritual fires that were lit to celebrate the sowing of seed, both physically in the newly plowed fields and during the times of the old religions through an ecstatic sexual union of the sacred feminine and her masculine counterpart, the great horned God. Every year on this day , the great wheel of the year would turn once more towards summer and bonfires would be built. Men and women lay together in the fields cloaked only in the smoke, exhausting their passions over and over again with the intention of creating a potent ritual that would ensure an abundant harvest. There would be feasting as well as dancing around a beautifully beribboned May Pole (no imagery there!) and it was a time of celebrating all forms of fertility, love and lust. Babies conceived during the sacred Beltane union were considered blessed by the goddess herself. Centuries later we really haven't changed all that much. Bonfires, gardens and woodsmoke can still stoke our passions as well as insure our very survival. We still plant our vegetables every spring and wish for enough rain and sun to help our gardens grow. Although we have long since harnessed the power of the flame and made it manageable, I've yet to find any oven that stirs my food lust like the warmth of an open flame . I long for a wood burning clay oven in my kitchen where I can bake fresh crusty bread, clafoutis aux cerises and fresh pizza!
Several years after we bought our farm in Burton, we installed a magnificent woodstove and I learned to cook with fire as my source. During the cold winters pots of spicy chili and stews full of aromatic herbs would simmer away for hours and I scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast. It was a very soul satisfying way to cook and I always missed it come spring, when we’d give the beautiful cast iron stove it’s well deserved rest. But come the warmer months, Jim would build large bonfires on our back hill and we’d wrap potatoes and corn in foil, cook hamburgers, steaks and roast marshmallows over the coals while laughing well into the night. I still don’t think that there is anything quite as wonderful as an ear of fresh sweet corn, sweet and grilled then dressed with salted butter, chili and garlic. Something alchemical about the fire and smoke turns this simple vegetable into something greater than the sum of its parts. It’s bliss to eat such a thing when it's piping hot , smoky and buttery. I’ve always believed that cooking the foods that we grow with fire is one of the most primitive, elemental things that we can do to connect us to the world around us. I may be simple that way, but I truly want that earthy , lusty connection to my food. The smell of woodsmoke totally turns me on, yes.....I'm a pretty simple sort of girl. I love the feel of sweet butter dripping down my neck.
Although they are so convenient, gas grills don’t really provide the same pleasure for me because I desire the flames and the sweet wood smoke dancing around me while I cook. It brings me a lot of joy to hand wrap large bundles of rosemary stems and fresh lavender with string to dip in olive oil, red wine and garlic and use as a brush for steaks , thick pork chops and vegetables. If I’ve only a gas grill though I love to use wood chips to flavor the food. You can buy them everywhere already in bags or use some of your own fresh branches like I did when we still had the farm. Soak the wood chips in water or wine and put them in a cast iron skillet and pull down the lid of the grill while you slowly cook the meat. Mesquite wood , apple wood , cherry and peach wood chips create a beautiful , sweet smoke that flavors pork, wild game and poultry with the subtlest of flavor. You can even buy oak chips soaked in wine that I think would be fabulous used to smoke a pork tenderloin or leg of lamb. I personally think that mesquite smoked fresh trout is one of the most delicious of dishes, especially when accompanied by a chili chutney and some smoked gouda grits.
My favorite thing to grill is a simple porterhouse steak (free range please!) , that’s been lightly seasoned with salt and pepper and marinated in fresh lemon juice. While the steak is marinating, mash up some garlic, fresh rosemary, and olive oil with a bit of white truffle oil and set aside. While you’re at it make sure that you have several long branches of fresh rosemary to bundle together as this will make a very aromatic grill brush. Preheat your grill to high or get the wood coals to the right amount of glow and grill your steak to the desired doneness, brushing occasionally with the garlic and olive oil mixture. Place the steak on a platter and drizzle with the rest of the herb/oil mixture and let it rest for a few minutes so that the juices can settle. Carve the meat into thin slices and serve with roasted plum tomatoes and fresh mozzarella and basil salad. And to drink ? Any deep rich red wine of your choice will do! How to eat it....with your fingers of course and naked in the arms of your lover. By now you know I'm completely serious. Take the whole feast outside and feed it to each other. Play with your food and build a Beltane fire of your own. This is the day to celebrate all of our passions and the joys of simply being alive.
When you've finally exhausted each other, dance over to Roxana's Illuminated Journal for her gorgeously scented musings about the fragrances of Fire and Smoke!
Photograph of Clafoutis courtesy of : http://cuisine.elle.fr/elle/Elle-a-Table/Recettes-de-cuisine/clafoutis-aux-cerises-et-a-la-rhubarbe
Photograph of Bistecca Courtesy of: http://www.tuscany-cuisine.com/images/bistecca-fiorentina.jpg
Photograph of Corn courtesy of Martha Stewart .com