I want to be a village witch.
Like, a (mostly) benevolent, indeterminately aged woman who lives in a quirky cottage where there are always weird bundles of things drying in the kitchen, who spends a lot of time prowling the hedgerows for wild herbs. Who dresses a bit like a mori girl or Baba Yaga. Who may or may not have a private back room used for magic (or writing, or magical writings).
Happily, that’s pretty much me right now, except for the aspirational fashion. Today I’m a village witch dressed in muddy rain boots, worn-out jeans and my “Kiss Me, I’m A Lyons” t-shirt.
When I was eleven, I read a book about natural skincare products and spent the next year attempting to make my own bubble baths, lotions, and powders. For one of my first projects, I took the petals off of the roses from a wilting dance recital bouquet and submerged them in sweet almond oil in an empty spaghetti sauce jar, screwed on the top, and hid them in the back of the bathroom closet. The book assured me that in a few weeks I’d have rose oil, and I figured the parts about sterilizing the jar and using only organic flowers were, you know, optional. Rose oil sounded like magic potion, and that was enough for my baby-witch heart.
Of course, being eleven, I promptly forgot about the jar. Many months later, my mother found it while rummaging through the shelves for ipecac to rescue one of the dogs. What she found was rank and festering, limp brown petals nesting in layers of gray mold and globby oil. It popped like soda when she opened the jar and unleashed a truly foul stench into the air. She probably could have fed the dog my rose oil instead of ipecac and yielded similar results.
Mom forbade me from doing any further ‘experiments’ outside of her supervision. But supervised potion-making was not nearly so satisfying, and I eventually gave up experimenting altogether.
Now, though, I live in a stove-heated cottage along Ireland’s wild Atlantic way, and the urge towards hedgerow witchery has come back to me. That does include actually paying attention to Old Irish holidays and rituals and other quietly Pagan and Druidic things, which I hope to write about as I learn more about them.
Mostly, though, my witchy practices involve gathering edibles: sorrel, strawberry leaves, and elderflowers this time of year, field mushrooms (which I am so neurotically careful about) and strawberries in the summer, and hazelnuts, elderberries, rose hips, and sloes in the abundant fall. Goat’s milk soap, cheese, and caramel sauce are my most common potions, because each of my goats can produce nearly two liters even when they’re only milked once a day, and I don’t want a drop of it to go to waste.
My latest village witch endeavor, though, would really have delighted my child self: sugared primroses. Doesn’t that sound like something on which a good witch or a fairy queen would feast?
Well. Let me tell you something.
First I gathered the individual flowers from within a half-mile radius of my house, which was appropriately charming and fairylike, even if my hands started to freeze when the late afternoon turned suddenly and uncomfortably cold as it slipped toward evening.
As soon as I got home, I beat egg whites (from my own hens, Flora and Elfine, for that thorough cottage aesthetic experience) and poured caster sugar into a bowl. I shook my primroses carefully to dislodge any creepy crawlies; washing would wilt the delicate petals. I picked up a small, flat paintbrush and a teaspoon.
Then I spent four hours painting each flower, front and back, with egg, dipping it carefully in caster sugar, and using the teaspoon to pour tiny streams of sugar onto any surface the brush-and-dip had missed. I placed each flower painstakingly onto the wire rack that I had purchased especially for this occasion.
Finally, the flowers had to dry in an oven, set to the lowest possible temperature and cracked open, for an indeterminate amount of time; just “until thoroughly dried.” In this foggy, cool, densely humid place, that meant the primroses in the middle of the rack caramelized while the ones on the edges were still damp with egg white.
But fine. Whatever. They were sugared flowers, and wasn’t that just magically delightful? And hadn’t the recipe claimed they were breathtakingly delicious, that in fact you couldn’t make them with small children around because they’d gobble them all up in a flash?
Well. If your definition of “breathtakingly delicious” is raw-tasting sugar and egg white glued to tissue paper, then, OK. But that is literally what they tasted like: thin paper dipped in egg and sugar and allowed to dry.
Which is, basically, what they are. I know, I know.
I actually liked the burnt, caramelized ones better, because at least they tasted of something. (In fact, as I write this I am munching on a few of them, and they’re . . . fine. The way thin, grainy caramel paper is fine. But clearly I’m still eating them, so, you know, make your own choices.)
Still, I have to say that they were terribly underwhelming, and far too fiddly and involved. This game was not worth its candle.
My recommendation, should you wish to feast on wildflowers (and who doesn’t?), is to gather your primroses and sweet violets, but keep them fresh and toss them in a salad. A plate of mild, fresh, colorful flowers, drizzled with the simplest lemon-and-oil vinaigrette: now that’s the feast for this village witch.
And the best thing about primroses and violets is this: the more you pick, the more they bloom. That seems like magic to me.
(Photos from my Instagram feed.)