Recipes - The Spirituality of Food

The House Witch: Your Complete Guide to Creating a Magical Space with Rituals and Spells for Hearth and Home - Arin Murphy-Hiscock 2018

The Spirituality of Food

The recipes in this chapter focus mainly on very traditional hearth-associated dishes. This is not meant to indicate that only traditional foods can function as spiritual meals or in ritual environments. Rather, traditional dishes tend to focus on very fundamental issues such as comfort and basic needs. This chapter will focus on two very basic foods that are and were easily made at the hearth: bread and stews/casseroles. These two kinds of dishes represent some of the very best things associated with the hearth: harmony, slow blending of flavor and disparate elements, warmth, nourishment, and ease of preparation.


Bread is one of the essential basic foods of the Western world and has been one for centuries.

Basic Traditional Bread Recipe

This recipe comes from my friend Janice, and she has given me permission to share it with you. It’s a very straightforward and easy technique. Most bread is easy; it just seems overwhelming for beginners. If you have a bread machine, this is not the recipe for you. It’s worth trying by hand to have the experience. This recipe makes one large loaf or two small loaves.

You will need:

✵ 2 cups warm water

✵ 2 tablespoons sugar (or honey)

✵ 1 tablespoon traditional yeast (not fast-rise or bread machine yeast)

✵ 2 cups whole-wheat flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

✵ White flour

✵ Olive or other cooking oil

1. Put 2 cups warm water in a large bowl (preferably glass or ceramic) and stir in the sugar or honey until dissolved.

2. Sprinkle the yeast into the water. Wait 5—10 minutes for the yeast to activate.

3. Mix in 2 cups whole-wheat flour. Stir until there are no big lumps. Now add more whole-wheat flour little by little, mixing in well, until your mixing spoon (preferably wood) will stand up on its own in the middle of the bowl for a couple of seconds before falling over. It should have a consistency like cake batter.

4. Set bowl in a warm (25—30°C or around 80°F is ideal) place to rise for at least 2 hours. You may cover it with a damp, smooth cloth or not, as you prefer.

5. Add salt. Mix in as much white flour as the dough will take, until it forms a ball and stops sticking to your hands.

6. Sprinkle table or countertop with flour. Knead for at least 5 minutes, adding flour as necessary to keep the dough “dry” and not sticky.

7. Thoroughly oil a loaf pan. Preheat oven to 375°F.

8. Form the dough into a loaf shape. Put it in the loaf pan bottom side up, then turn it over (this is a quick way to get most of the top of the loaf oiled). Brush any parts that are still dry with a little more oil. (If making two small loaves, separate into two equal lumps, form into loaves, place in oiled pans.)

9. Set back in a warm place and allow to rise again. Within 45 minutes to 1 hour, you should have a full-sized loaf in the pan.

10. Bake 30—35 minutes.

11. Take the baked loaf out of the pan as soon as you can safely handle it, and cool it on a wire rack at least 30 minutes.

Basic Loaf Recipe for Bread Machines

Here’s a basic bread recipe for the machine. This recipe calls for whole-wheat flour, but it works well with white all-purpose flour or a blend of the two in any proportion as well. The egg gives the bread a bit more stability, but it works just as well without it. If you don’t use the egg, you may end up using a bit less flour.

This recipe makes about a 21/2-pound loaf. If your machine makes a maximum loaf size of 2 pounds, cut off a third of the dough after the first rise and allow it to rise separately, and then bake it as a small round cottage loaf on a baking sheet. Alternatively, if your machine has a smaller capacity, cut down on the yeast by 1 teaspoon and the flour by about 1/2—1 cup (start off with 3 cups flour and add more as the dough mixes to make a nice smooth ball, then make a note of how much flour you used in total).

You will need:

3/4 cup milk

3/4 cup warm water

✵ 1 large egg (optional)

✵ 11/2 tablespoons honey

✵ 11/2 teaspoons salt

✵ 4 cups whole-wheat flour

✵ 1 tablespoon yeast

1. Put the ingredients into the pan in this order (or in the order directed by your machine manufacturer if it doesn’t follow the basic liquids first/flour/yeast order).

2. Select the basic sandwich loaf setting and press start.

Basic Scones

Scones are like a cup of tea: they’re easy to make, are comforting to eat, and are quick and easy to serve to unexpected guests or just to make for yourself on a morning when you need a touch of comfort. They make excellent morning snacks or afternoon break treats.

This recipe adapts well to the inclusion of raisins, currants, nuts with a pinch of cinnamon, or chopped dried fruit. Use about 1/2 a cup of whatever you’re adding.

This recipe uses whole milk, but if you have a full or partly skimmed on hand, use that. If you use a lower-fat milk, add a bit of cream or a dollop of yogurt for richness. If you want a sweeter scone, use more honey to taste.

You will need:

✵ 2 cups whole-wheat flour, plus extra for hands and baking sheet

✵ 3 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup margarine or unsalted butter (at room temperature)

✵ 1—2 tablespoons honey

3/4 cup milk (whole, preferably)

✵ 1 large egg

1. Preheat oven to 400°F.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

3. With a pastry cutter or two forks, cut in the margarine or butter.

4. In a small bowl, mix the honey into the milk and add it to the flour and butter mixture.

5. Beat the egg lightly with a fork (try beating it in the bowl that held the milk and honey so as to blend in the last bit of honey sticking to the bottom) and add to the batter. Stir to combine.

6. Lightly flour the middle of a baking sheet. Scrape the batter onto the sheet. With lightly floured hands shape it into a rough disk.

7. Score the disk into eight wedges. Don’t separate them; just cut the dough about halfway to three-quarters of the way through.

8. Bake 20—25 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool 5 minutes on the baking sheet. Cut through the scores to fully separate the wedges. Serve warm with butter, jam, or clotted (Devonshire) cream.

These scones can also be made as individual scones. Instead of turning the dough out onto the baking sheet, flour a counter or pastry board and turn the batter out onto it. With floured hands, pat the dough down to about 11/2" thick. Cut out individual scones using a round cutter (about 21/2" across). When you press the cutter into the dough, do not twist it; the scones won’t rise as high. Use a flat or offset spatula to lift the scones from the counter onto the baking sheet. Reroll dough lightly and continue cutting scones out until there isn’t enough dough to fill the cutter. Roll the last bit of dough into a ball with your hands and pat it down to approximately the same height as the cut scones and place it on the sheet. Bake 18—20 minutes at 400°F, watching the scones carefully.


The word focaccia is derived from the Latin word focus, meaning “hearth or center of the home.” In essence, then, focaccia is a hearth-bread. To the ancient Romans, panis focacius was a flat bread baked in the ashes of the hearth. You may know it as Italian flatbread, but many cultures have a version of it.

This is a basic version. It is extremely flexible and adaptable. If you have a favorite pizza dough recipe, you can use that, and indeed I use this as my pizza dough as well. I often split a third of it off to make focaccia and use the other two-thirds as a base for homemade pizza. It is best eaten directly out of the oven; it loses something of its personality if kept and eaten the next day.

This recipe uses half all-purpose flour and half whole-wheat flour, but you can use any combination you like. You can use a variety of toppings, including fresh minced onion, garlic, chopped olives, and sun-dried tomatoes; the only limit is your imagination. If you wish, you can knead the toppings into the dough itself instead; just remember to drizzle the top with the olive oil and sprinkle it with salt.

This recipe makes two focaccias or pizzas approximately 12" in diameter and is easily halved for a single focaccia.

You will need:

1/2 cup warm water

✵ 1 tablespoon honey

✵ 2 teaspoons yeast

✵ 2 cups flour plus 21/2 cups

✵ 11/2 teaspoons salt

✵ 2 tablespoons olive oil

✵ Warm water

✵ Cornmeal for dusting sheet


✵ Olive oil

✵ Kosher sea salt

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

✵ Parsley

✵ Basil

✵ Oregano

1. In a small bowl or cup, mix water and honey; sprinkle yeast on top. Allow to sit 8—10 minutes until yeast is foamy.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together 2 cups flour and the salt. Add yeast mixture and oil, and mix thoroughly.

3. Alternate adding warm water and as much of remaining flour as necessary while mixing, a bit at a time, until the dough forms a ball and pulls away from the walls of the bowl.

4. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead the rest of the flour in. Knead about 5 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic.

5. Lightly oil a clean bowl and place the dough in it, turning it to coat it with the oil. Cover it with a damp cloth and leave in a warm place to rise for 1 hour until double in size.

6. Preheat oven to 425°F.

7. Turn dough out and punch it down. Cut the dough in half and cover one half while you work with the other. Knead dough briefly and pat it into a rough circle about 3/4" thick (or to your preferred thickness).

8. Lightly oil a baking sheet and sprinkle it with cornmeal. Move the dough circle to the sheet. Using your fingers, press indentations into the surface of the dough. Leave it to rise for approximately 20 minutes. If you prefer a flatter bread, put it directly in the oven.

9. Brush the surface of the dough with olive oil. Sprinkle it with coarse sea salt. Then sprinkle it with 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, and parsley, basil, and oregano to your taste. Repeat with the other focaccia.

10. Bake focaccia 20 minutes, or until golden. Allow to cool until it can be handled and slice into wedges.

Corn Bread

Another quick and very easy bread, this is wonderful served with stew or chili. This recipe can be made in a regular 8" × 8" square pan or a pie plate, but it can also be baked in a skillet or frying pan that is oven-safe. Why not try baking it in your cast-iron cauldron? Make sure your cauldron is big enough; an 8"-diameter pot is ideal.

You will need:

✵ Oil for greasing pan

✵ 1 large egg (beaten)

✵ 1 cup milk

1/4 cup oil (vegetable or olive)

✵ 1 tablespoon sugar

✵ 2 cups yellow cornmeal (you may substitute up to half the amount of cornmeal with flour)

1. Heat oven to 425°F. Grease the inside of the pan and place it in the oven.

2. In a medium bowl, beat the egg and add the milk and oil. Stir in sugar, then cornmeal, just until moistened. The batter should be lumpy—do not overmix.

3. Carefully remove the pan from the oven and pour in the batter. Return the pan to the oven.

4. Bake 20—30 minutes or until the surface is golden brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm.

Stews and Casseroles

These are the ultimate one-dish meals. Hearth-associated foods tend to be easily put together and are often one-dish or one-pot affairs.

Beef Stew

You will notice the absence of potatoes in this recipe. While potatoes are traditionally included in beef stews, this one is served over a bowl of brown rice. If you wish to include potatoes, dice them and add them with the tomato sauce. Serves four.

You will need:

✵ Beef stew cubes (approximately 11/2 pounds)

1/3 cup flour

✵ Salt, to taste

✵ Pepper, to taste

✵ 1 tablespoon olive oil

✵ 1 large onion, peeled and chopped

✵ 4—5 medium carrots, scraped and sliced

✵ 3 stalks celery, washed and chopped

✵ 1 clove garlic, finely minced

1/3 cup tomato sauce

✵ 1 cup beef stock

1/2 cup wine (either red or white)

✵ 2 bay leaves

✵ 1 teaspoon oregano

✵ 1 teaspoon basil

✵ Button mushrooms (optional)

1. Toss the beef cubes in a medium mixing bowl with the flour and salt and pepper.

2. Over medium heat, heat the olive oil in a large pot. Add onions, carrots, and celery. Fry until the chopped onion is fragrant and soft, about 5—7 minutes. Add the garlic and stir-fry another minute.

3. Add a bit more olive oil if necessary. Add the floured beef cubes and stir continually, browning the meat.

4. Add the tomato sauce and keep stirring. Pour in the stock and the wine.

5. Add the bay leaves and the other herbs to taste. Add more salt and pepper if necessary. Add mushrooms if using.

6. Cover and reduce heat to minimum. Simmer at least 3 hours. Remove bay leaves before serving.

Hunter’s Chicken

Also known as chicken cacciatore, this tomato-chicken stew is best served over egg noodles. I prefer to use chicken thighs as they have a richer taste, but chicken breasts may also be used. It serves three to four people.

You will need:

✵ Chicken thighs (approximately 2 pounds)

1/3 cup flour

✵ Salt, to taste

✵ Pepper, to taste

✵ Fresh button mushrooms (or diced portobello mushrooms)

✵ 1 tablespoon olive oil

✵ 1 large onion, peeled and chopped

✵ 1 clove garlic, finely minced

1/3 cup tomato sauce

✵ 1 cup chicken stock

1/2 cup wine (either red or white)

✵ 2 bay leaves

✵ 1 teaspoon oregano

✵ 1 teaspoon basil

1. Chop the chicken into pieces roughly 1" × 3"; toss in a large mixing bowl with the flour and salt and pepper.

2. Over medium heat, heat the olive oil in a large pot. Fry the chopped onion until fragrant and soft, about 5—7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 more minute.

3. Add a bit more olive oil if necessary. Add the floured chicken and stir continually, browning the meat.

4. Add the tomato sauce and keep stirring. Pour in the stock and the wine.

5. Add the bay leaves and the other herbs to taste. Add mushrooms if using. Add more salt and pepper if necessary.

6. Cover and reduce heat to minimum. Simmer at least 1 hour. Remove bay leaves before serving.

Portobello Beef Chili

This is my favorite cold-weather one-pot dish. I suggest serving it with focaccia, but it goes well with any hearty bread or corn bread.

You will need:

✵ 4—6 large portobello mushrooms

✵ 1 cup red wine (or more to taste)

✵ 1 tablespoon olive oil

✵ 2 medium onions, peeled and sliced

✵ 2 pounds ground beef

✵ 2 (14.5-ounce) cans diced tomatoes

✵ 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste

✵ 2 (15.5-ounce) cans red kidney beans (or 2 cans mixed beans)

✵ 2 bay leaves

✵ Chili powder or dried chilis, to taste

✵ Salt, to taste

✵ Pepper, to taste

1. Chop portobello mushrooms into small dice shapes, approximately 1/2" square, and place them in a medium mixing bowl. Pour the red wine over the mushrooms. Refrigerate and allow to marinate at least 2 hours. Stir occasionally to make sure all the mushrooms have been marinated in the wine.

2. In a large pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add sliced onions and fry until fragrant and soft, about 5—7 minutes.

3. Add ground beef and fry until browned. Spoon off any fat.

4. Add tomatoes and tomato paste. Stir.

5. Stir in beans.

6. Stir in mushrooms and red wine mixture. Add bay leaves. Add chili powder or chilis. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add more red wine if desired.

7. Reduce heat to minimum and simmer at least 3 hours.

8. Serve with warm focaccia. If desired, grated sharp or extra-old Cheddar may be sprinkled on top of each bowl of chili.