Saturday, 13 October 2012

Kitchen Ancestors by Nimue Brown

We are very pleased to welcome our guest blogger today - Nimue Brown.

Kitchen Ancestors
By Nimue Brown

My great grandmother used to boil her Christmas puddings in the copper – a tub-fire arrangement more normally used for washing clothes. I think of her a lot when I’m able to make the seasonal puddings. My paternal grandmother had very cold hands, and like me she was a pastry maker. Drawing on a Japanese tradition, I like to call this having ‘hands of the moon’. Folk with hands of the sun, are good bread makers, yeast likes warm fingers! I make a good pastry but my breads cannot be relied upon to rise. I learned wine making from my father, and he got into it via his father. There are stories about the used rice and raisons being fed to chickens… And of course there’s marmalade, that great, seasonal ritual of mass orange dissection.

I cook almost every day, and I cook from scratch. I used to make food offerings for rituals, as well. Every act of cooking is an act of intent, sharing love of family and community, expressing care, working a domestic magic that nurtures the body. You probably know this stuff already. For me, it’s also an act of communion with my ancestors, especially where I’m using recipes or ideas that have come down to me through my family.

Bringing food-lineage together is also a way of meshing stories and a sense of heritage. My husband’s family have traditions around the consumption of globe artichokes, that have now become part of my family way of doing things, too.

Food often comes with stories, my father’s infamously bland marrow jam that combined with the over-hot chutney to stunning effect. My grandmother’s goo-cakes that were a staple of every childhood birthday. Stories about how great grandparents cooked during the rationing period of the Second World War, tales of my Nan in service. There are the tales of where a technique was learned, where an idea came from. I learned a different way of thinking about food from vegan cooks at Druid events. Every plate has a story to tell. In fact, the kitchen equipment too can become a thing of heritage and connection. I have plates and saucepans that belonged to my grandmother, and I remember her every time I use them.

Cooking is such an everyday art that it is easily overlooked. There’s a long and ancient tradition of cooking as women’s work, though, and the history of food is also the history of our connection with the land, and with many other species. Bread and beer take us right back to the roots of settled human culture. Culture and agriculture are closely related words, and with good reason! Companions are literally people who share bread (from the French) and most of our Pagan, seasonal celebrations, when you look at them, have everything to do with food and farming.

The kitchen is a place of magic, and also a place of inheritance and ancestral power.

When we empty packets into dishes and throw those into a microwave, there isn’t much time to contemplate our relationship with the food, the land or the ancestors. We won’t, generally speaking, pause to contemplate where the recipe came from – because we won’t know unless the packaging has some grinning celebrity chef on it. Food without stories is not so good for the soul. Traditionally, food was a focal point for family and wider community as well, intrinsic to our spiritual lives (The church had a bread based calendar too, once) and part of what connected us to the great web of existence. We’ve devalued food in so many ways, but reclaiming it is a powerful business and well worth making the time for.

Anyone curious about the Druid perspective on things, especially with regard to history and ancestry, is invited to have a look at  
and I also blog most days at about things Druidic.


  1. Simply put... not only do we put love in our dishes, we also put whole ingredient far better than what any processed food may offer. Cooking my mother's recipes always fill me with warmth, simply for the sake of the memories attached to those smells and tastes. I can't say much about honoring my ancestors since I never met them, but as far as putting my soul into serving the best dishes I can... there's lots of magic into it.

  2. Lovely piece of evocative writing, and I couldn't agree more. I have collections of recipes from my mother, grandmothers, their parents and further back - some recipes passed down on paper, others taught to a child either sitting on the draining board or standing on a stool helping. I aim to teach my 2 children (girl and a boy) all that I know about cooking, and the wonderful array of 'family recipes' which I feel honoured to be able to impart.