Common yarrow (achillea millefolium)

Herba millefolii

You have probably seen this plant thousands of times, because – on the Northern Hemisphere – it grows pretty much everywhere. It’s a modest, unassuming plant, though the deep green colour is rather nice. The small, white flowers aren’t decorative enough to make bouquets of them, and the smell is sharp, a bit “medicinal”. No wonder, really – it’s a very valuable medicinal plant, and one worth keeping.

You can easily recognize yarrow for its leaves : slim and feathery, with a mass of tiny strands (the Latin ‘millefolium’ translates to ‘thousand-leaf’, which is actually one of its common names). The stem is tough and stiff, so if you’re planning on harvesting some, don’t even try to break it by hand. The right way to harvest yarrow is to take a very sharp knife and cut the blossoming stem roughly in the middle – taking half away and leaving half to grow. Yarrow grows back very quickly, which is why it is prized as a pasture plant, said t o “grow back right under the beast’s teeth.”

  • Medicinal uses

    Close-up of the characteristic leaf

Yarrow’s most interesting qualities are those of a medicinal plant. Fresh or dried plant (millefolii herba) can be used –  in decoctions or macerates – both internally and externally. Drinking yarrow infusions is generally advised in gastrointestinal trouble, as its healing properties can alleviate inflammations and cramp pains (although with serious cramps, fennel is a better choice.) Externally, yarrow preparations can be used in compresses and poultices to speed the mending of wounds, in which task it is very effective. This property is so well known that most yarrow names deal, in one way or another, with healing wounds : nosebleed plant, herba militaris, sanguinary, soldier’s woundwort… and not just in English, either. I have come across one extreme case – a solitary person wounded in the wild – who found yarrow growing nearby, chewed it into a pulp in his mouth and put the resulting mass over a cleaned wound. This was very smart of her, I must say. Even if it didn’t miraculously close the wound in seconds, it was still the best thing she could have done.

  • Culinary uses

Yarrow has a bittersweet taste, and a strong, sharp smell. It does not come to mind as the best foodstuff when you pass it by in the park, but it used to be quite a popular vegetable, used similarly to raw sorrel – in soups, and salads of boiled leaves. Nowadays, we have more interesting vegetables and yarrow is hardly ever consumed, but it’s still worth you attention from time to time. Especially if you have any kind of skin trouble – acne or suchlike – you will often hear how it can be treated with zinc pills and drugs, many of them quite expensive. Whereas yarrow leaves, and especially flowers, contain a large concentration of this valuable mineral which can be ingested when eating the plant. Tea-like infusion is one good choice, but seasoning a salad with the small, white flowers is even better, because you get a medicinal, cosmetic, gastronomic and aesthetic effect all at once. Yarrow leaves can also be chopped and added to quark cheese with tasty results.

  • Magic uses

Due to its healing properties, yarrow in herbal magic is best used to symbolise just that – healing, mending and closing of wounds. Herbal talismans containing yarrow are often made to help with hurt feelings and aid in moving on with one’s life after a traumatic event, searching for closure. Dried flowers are the best choice for these purposes, due to their sharp smell and pleasing appearance.

Cinnamon Oil

As I’ve already mentioned, one of the simplest means to prepare an herbal extract is by maceration. These macerates can be used for many different purposes, which of course have to be kept in mind during their production.

Oil macerates are rarely used in medicine, although some can be potent remedies. They are relatively common in cooking, though, and there’s hardly anything simpler to prepare.
Of the substances that lend themselves well to oil maceration, the most common and desirable are aromatic herbs. Their essential oils, themselves lipids, dissolve in oil easily, thus lending their properties and often preserving it from spoiling as well.

The most common oil macerate is made similarly to an alcoholic tincture – the ingredient in question is placed in a disinfected receptacle and oil is poured over it. The receptacle is then closed and stored safely while chemistry does its work.
However, unless You use an extremely potent ingredient, such as garlic, it takes over a month to feel any noticeable results, so sometimes people speed up oil maceration by using the great power of fire. That is to say, heating it up.

In this particular case, I took two spoonfuls of ground cinnamon, one star anise and a quarter of nutmeg for good measure, put it all in a small pot and poured a glass of oil over it. Of course, the better quality oil, the better result. For these kind of ‘sweet’ spices, like those usually put in gingerbread, sunflower or grapeseed oil are good choices. Olive oil, on the other hand, will clash with their aroma unpleasantly.

The pot is then put over a small fire and heated up until tiny bubbles appear on the surface. Once this happens, keep it on heat but stir it constantly, for about two minutes more. Take out the whole spices, if You’ve added any, and put them in a disinfected bottle : I kept both the star anise and the nutmeg, adding two whole cinnamon canes for good measure. The oil should then be filtered into the bottle to remove the dregs. Since ground cinnamon is a very fine powder, the best thing to use here is… thin pantyhose. Yup, that’s right, a scrap of old thighs You’ve made a hole in is a good friend in the kitchen (washed, of course). Failing that, a paper handkerchief is a good choice. I advice against using cloth, even very thin will still be too thick for the oil and filtering will take forever. It does even if You use paper tissue.

Even filtered, the oil will still get slightly opaque. That’s normal. Keep the bottle shut for some time, allow it to digest in peace – the longer You keep it the stronger aroma You get. Of course, it won’t be as strong as the essential oils you buy for aromatherapy, but that’s not the point – the point is to have cinnamon oil that’s edible.

It’s great to use in baking, when a recipe calls for oil, and in magic, naturally. Oil macerates made of aromatic herbs are also very good for seasoning salads.

Back for good. Rearranging the spice rack this time

The pentagram of spices! Beware!

Whew. This was a pretty hectic holiday, all things considered. Between my time in the mountains (no, not of madness), the fantasy convention – great as always but hard on the poor ol’ heart, as always – the damn house renovation and Death paying a visit to the family, things were pretty crazy. It’s all over now, though, and now I’m facing the dear drab everyday existence. It’s become so unfamiliar lately that I’m still having a kick out of boredom, but I know myself. This won’t last long.

The house is a little strange, what with me getting unaccustomed to it. It needs a solid scrubbing and I’m happy to oblige, as it takes my mind off… everything. And it’s a good way of making it mine again. There are numerous ways of marking Your own territory, and a good cleaning has the additional advantage of making things, well, clean. And now that I have successfully refurbished two rooms, I’m probably going to hit the kitchen pretty soon. Which leads me to the spice rack.

I don’t know what it is with a clean, orderly row of spice jars, but they are one of the most decorative sights I know while still being useful. There’s just something about all those shapes and colours and smells that makes me want to hoard them like some sort of foodie dragon. Huh, I guess I just like herbs and cooking. Who would have thought?
You can buy all sorts of stuff now to make that easy, like magnetic receptacles with rewritable labels, but I don’t really hold with that sort of thing. I stick to the little jars that my Mother used, which are over a twenty years old and already their shape looks original in a retro kind of way. And who needs labels? They detract from the thing itself, and if You need them to tell what is what then clearly You keep those herbs just for show.

So, do I have any advice to You spice hoarders? Sure, although I don’t really think anyone needs it. Keep the jars clean and shut. Use the same kind of receptacle for maximum contents exposure. Keep those spices that You actually use, otherwise they’ll go stale and unappealing. Always make sure the jars are absolutely dry before putting something in them – and, for this reason, avoid pouring the spices into pots directly from the jars when cooking. They get damp from the steam and that’s not good for the contents. Spoons were invented for a reason. Some spices may not like being exposed to sun – check it out beforehand. And remember – there’s nothing wrong with suddenly grabbing a jar of, say, cinnamon, and just taking a sniff. No, that does not mean I’m weird. I mean You.

It’s good to pick KW up again. And there will be recipes, although probably no cake.

Thyme (thymus vulgaris)

I know a bank where the wild thyme blows,
Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows,
Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine,
With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine.
Midsummer Night’s Dream

The common thyme. Strong, fresh scent, beautiful, small leaves and the resilience of something much bigger and tougher. This ancient herb has been used by many nations throughout the world since antiquity, respected for its antiseptic and preservative qualities that could be profited of by cooks, medics and even embalmers. Even nowadays, many throat remedies are still made of thyme, coltsfoot  and marsh mallow, despite all the progress in pharmacology.

Thyme is an easy herb to keep, even in a pot on your windowsill. It likes sunny spots best, but will actually make do anywhere, as long as there’s some direct light. It does not need a lot of water – indeed, too much of it can hurt the plant – and will struggle along even if You forget about it for a week, which makes it a good start for beginner herbalists. Even dried up and brown, the plant will regain almost all of its strength when taken care of.
If You want to have some fresh thyme at home, the best way to go about it is to buy a live plant. Thyme is very difficult to raise from seeds and is usually propagated by cuttings, even by professionals. If You bought a plant and want to put it in a pot, remember that thyme is a survivor ; it has evolved to withstand harsh conditions and those are the ones that suit it best. The most important thing here is to keep the soil well-drained. But don’t worry : just take the intended pot and fill the bottom with a 3 to 4 cm layer of stones (gravel or sea pebbles, anything small) and the rest with soil. This will make Your plant feel right at home.
Thyme can also be used to great effects in gardens, as it really is rather decorative, very resilient and can take severe cold well. An interesting fact is that ants like to make nests among thyme roots, and gardeners have successfully drawn ants away from an undesirable spot by planting thyme bushes somewhere else.

Culinary uses

Because of the strong aroma, thyme herb is a great seasoning for all those dishes that need an extra zing. Meats of all kinds can benefit greatly from being marinated in olive oil and thyme (and will keep longer).  It’s a great ingredient for all kinds of salads and casseroles where the taste would otherwise be too bland. The only problem is that the leaves are very small, and if You have a live plant, You’ll have to pick quite a lot of them and it becomes tedious after a while. But that’s hardly a real disadvantage.

Medicinal uses

Thyme is most commonly used as an antiseptic, due to high concentration of essential oils. Most common use for it are throat infections, which can be treated with infusions, thyme oil (it’s hard to make as it has to be distilled twice, so at home best stick to infusions) or some more complicated recipes I will not dwell on right now. It is also used to stimulate the digestive system and can raise blood pressure, although not enough to be any danger to patients suffering from hypertension. Usually. Of course, ultra-high concentration of thyme oil should be avoided by them, but then again, it’s not likely to come across that sort of dose anyway.

Magic uses

In magic, thyme can be used to great effect. Due to the strong and persistent nature of the plant, it can be used in charms  to grant courage and resilience. The potent, healthy aroma invigorates the spirit and clears thought similarly to lavender, but with more emphasis on action. Thyme can also be used to ward off nightmares, be it the fresh herb, the dried herb used in a witch bag, or incense. It is definitely worth to keep this small, but noble bush at home.

Tetterwort (chelidonium majus)

Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.
– Winnie The Pooh

It’s an interesting fact that some of the most valuable herbs are those considered “undesirable” ; that is to say, weeds. Indeed, the strange human obsession to control Nature and the unshakeable conviction that everything lies on the human shoulders fascinates me. For example, the whole idea of “maintenance”, while certainly useful if You’re trying to get Your orchard to produce as much fruit as possible, is really strange when applied to forests. And yet there is this constant pressure, shared by the majority of human race it seems, to interfere, to cut and fell and uproot and generally throw our weight about. Exactly how much good this does could be debatable, but only if You’re in an indulgent mood.

Plants such as stinging nettle, chase-devil or ribwort are commonly regarded as a nuisance, mostly because they are common and grow pretty much everywhere. Of course, if humans in general were taught more about their uses, they might see things differently. Sadly though, we are constantly taught about the value of gold and never about the value of tetterwort.

This common and unassuming plant, going by the Latin name of chelidonium majus (I’m told the name means some other plant in America) is a living, flowering proof of our strange, selective sense of worth. It needs no maintenance, no care, no human supervision. It grows wherever it can, and flourishes in most unexpected places. The leaves are a jolly, bright, somewhat yellowish-green and it sprouts small, brightly yellow flowers You might want to be looking out for. Because, despite being as unimpressive as a plant can get, it is definitely worth Your attention.
The whole plant contains a thick, yellow juice that oozes from the stems and dries very quickly when exposed to the open air. This juice is Your very good friend if You have any sort of skin problems : boils, warts, good old acne, everything that makes Your skin look abnormal can be cured by direct application of tetterwort juice. I have known many a despairing teenager who found a pimple on their great day – the school dance, the long awaited date – and could have used this amiable weed to end their suffering. There are some cases where tetterwort juice won’t help, such as scars or skin changes brought about by other illnesses,  but it’s still worth a try.

Of course, like any other herb, chelidonium has a limited lifespan. It can start as early as February and thrive well into autumn, thus giving us a nice supply of ever-fresh juice, but once it bears fruit the medicinal properties diminish greatly.  The juice itself cannot be stored separately, but the harvested herb can be dried for future use, and alcoholic tinctures made from both fresh and dried plants can still be very useful. For best results, a flowering plant should be harvested.

Internally, tetterwort can be used to help with liver diseases, but wrong dosages often result in digestive system irritation and even internal haemorrhage. I strongly advise against internal self-medication with this particular herb.

Cheese

‘Cheese is good. Cheese is alive’.
– Granny Weatherwax, in The Wee Free Men

CheeseThere might be something more to life than eating cheese and drinking wine, but quite frankly, there isn’t much of it.
Fame evaporates and so do lovers (metaphorically speaking, I hope), but a good cheese will wait in the fridge faithfully, intent only on being eaten*. It may not be as glamorous and exciting as some exotic fruit, or as showy as caviare or some fancy dessert. But it’s damn tasty, that’s for sure.
Right at the start of this little blogging folly of mine, I promised to explore the cheese subject in-depth. A good opportunity has just presented itself – my love of cheese is well-known to those close to me, so they’ve been presenting me with many dairy delicacies lately. It’s not every day You find five different kinds of cheese at home, so I couldn’t let this pass unnoticed.

Cheese is one of the oldest foods in the world – older than bread, surely, because milk-giving animals have been domesticated before humans learned to grow crops. Nothing conclusive is known about the exact place of its origin, but it seems logical that cheese originated more or less everywhere: all humans need to eat and are likely to experiment widely in that field, and milk was available pretty much to every ethnic group out there.  So if You’re feeling like giving Your respects to the ancestors, cheese is a good bet.

There are thousands of types and varieties of cheese, since all those Peoples who got the idea have been working on it ever since. They can be classed by many different criteria, such as type of milk used (cow, sheep, goat etc.), texture or type of fabrication process and so on. Since all this is not really that useful and can be read elsewhere, I will stick to my own examples. As seen on the picture, we have:

The blue vein

Made using a special variety of mould, these cheeses have a very characteristic apparition and a peculiar, strong taste. Can be made from any milk, but the most famous one, roquefort, is only allowed to bear the name if made from sheep milk and in the caves near Roquefort-sur-Soulzon.
When dealing with those, it’s important to remember that they are, for all intents and purposes, covered with mould. Do not wrap them up with other cheeses, even other “mouldy” ones. It’s also a good idea to wash the knife before using it on something else, unless You do want to spread the mould everywhere.
Strong, dry red wine is necessary – anything weaker will lose to the taste of cheese immediately. Incidentally, the “vein” can be anything from blue to green to red to even purple at times.

The ‘standard’ semi-soft

There’s actually nothing standard about them, seeing as the category is only semi-valid by itself, but those cheeses are the most popular around the western world – Gouda, Edam or Maasdamer, those are the cheeses that You will put on a sandwich most often. They can vary greatly in tastes and shapes, and their biggest advantage is being as close to ‘universal’ cheese as possible: they can be sliced for toast, grated for pizza or pastas and cut in large bits for fried cheese cutlets.
These cheeses keep well and start spoiling from the surface, so the places in question can be cut off without losing the rest. Just remember not to leave them unwrapped as they dry out and become unusable.

The soft-ripened cheese

Made of most varieties of milk, using a special kind of mould, but having almost nothing in common with the blue veins. Amazing, isn’t it? Those are the brie, camembert, coulommiers, or brique (all French examples, because I’m writing what I know). This kind of cheese does not, usually, keep at all, as it is intended to be eaten in one sitting. Tastes range from mild and creamy (brie) to sharp and piquant (ripe camembert). Always with red wine, dry or semi-dry, never sweet.
Mostly eaten individually, just like the blue veins, but some salad and pasta recipes call for them.

‘Hard’ cheeses

Those are the ones that crumble rather than cut and go ‘knock’ when You tap them. Grana padano, parmiggiano, peccorino – Italy is the leader here, as this kind of cheese is intended to be grated and used as a condiment for pasta (sometimes roasted meat). Assembled in big molds and aged for years, sometimes, they can be undistinguishable from their thick wax crust, until tasted. There is no mistaking their taste, and I’m not going to attempt to describe it. They are expensive, but worth the price.
Can be eaten individually, but are at their best with pasta. Indispensable for more “modest” types of spaghetti sauce, like aglio et olio or puttanesca, where a lesser cheese will make a dissonance.

I can go on much longer like this, but feel obliged to stop now for the sake of my dear Readers. And for a bite of brie.

ΦΦΦ

* I don’t need love,
For what good will love do me?
Cheddar never lies to me,
For when love’s gone,
Cheeses last on…
;)

Star anise (illicium verum)

Star anise

Anise stars burning in a saucer.

This very decorative spice is obtained by drying the star-shaped fruits of a small evergreen tree native to China. Despite the name, suggesting a connection with the common anise (pim- pinella anisum) the two are not related. Anise is a member of the apiaceae family and native mostly to the mediterranean region, while star anise comes from the shisandraceae family and is native to China. They do, however, have something in common, and that is the presence of anethole, which gives them their distinctive flavor. This accounts for the similarity in names.

Star anise has a very distinctive shape and is often used in a way that emphasizes it. A common ingredient of desserts and liquors, it can be powdered in a mortar to enrich most cake recipes, especially gingerbread and chocolate cake. However, asian cuisine does not limit its use to desserts : star anise is one of the ingredients of garam masala, a seasoning mix very popular in India, and of the Chinese five-spice powder.

The Chinese star anise, illicium verum, should not be confused with the Japanese star anise, Illicium anisatum, which is poisonous. It is used in Japan as an incense, but even then only in small quantities. It definitely should not be consumed.

Medicinal uses

Star anise is known for its anti-influenza qualities, due to the fact that it contains large amounts of shikimic acid. The plant is, in fact, the most common source of this acid for the pharmaceutical industry and the base ingredient of anti-influenza drugs. Even dried, it can be of great help when battling ‘flu. Usually in form of infusion, but powdered flowers can also be consumed directly or, of course, as a spice.
Star anise infusion, or tisane, can also be used as an auxiliary rheumatism remedy.

Magic uses

Star anise has many uses in herbal magic. Like most herbs with heavy aroma, it can be used for purifying the house and for protection against negative influence : the whole stars can be put over smouldering coals to act as an incense*, which gives a pleasant, delicate aroma and a very decorative sight. Together with nutmeg, it can also be an ingredient of prosperity charms.
However, due to its aphrodisiac qualities, it is most potent when used in love and passion spells. This can be accomplished by ‘regular’, ceremonial spellcasting, but a Kitchen Witch will easily see other, more pleasant possibilities : hot chocolate drinks with star anise and cinnamon flavour, honey and anise cookies etc. These recipes have the additional advantage of being tasty, so they are more likely to give Your target a friendly disposition.
On this particular subject, star anise is also one of the ingredients of the Heartwarming Wine.

***

* You can try to burn the anise stars directly, but it’s quite hard as the fire will go out quickly. It’s best to use a ceramic dish with some coals so that there is a constant source of the fire. Remember that the dish itself will heat up, so watch out where You’re putting it.

Cinnamon (cinnamomum verum)

Take thee principal spices : of pure myrrh, and of sweet cinnamon half so much, and of sweet calamus and of cassia and of oil olive an hin. And  it shall be an Holy Anointing Oil.
– The Bible

Cinnamon canes and ground powderThe characteristic, bitter- sweet aroma of cinnamon is absolutely unmistakable. It is also hard to compare to any other smell or taste, so unique is the spicy, tingling, sweet quality of this herb.  And cinnamon is definitely a herb : the inner bark of the cinnamomum tree, which forms characteristic, curled canes while peeling off the trunk, is then dried and powdered, making it cinnamoni cortex from the herbalist’s point of view. The most common use for cinnamon is seasoning cakes, desserts, chocolate and sweets, as I am sure You are well aware. It is fairly widespread in confectionery industry and popular in home cooking. Cinnamon goes especially well with apples, and as such it is an obligatory ingredient of apple pies.
Some recipes that benefit from adding cinnamon :

  • sweet pancakes
  • french crêpes
  • apple pie
  • chocolate cake

The interesting thing about cinnamon canes is that they can be eaten directly, making for quite an eccentric snack.

Medicinal uses

Curiously enough, cinnamon has been rather looked over by the scientists when it comes to studying health aspects of food. Although its high anti-oxidant properties are accounted for, pharmacists seem not interested. This is probably due to the difficulties of working with essential oils, which need much care, skill and appropriate conditions. However, nothing stops us from profiting of the anti-oxidant properties of cinnamon by adding it to our meals or drinks. Not to mention the anti-anxiety properties : no stress, no matter how devastating, will persist when treated with a cup of hot chocolate with cinnamon and whipped cream.

Magic uses

There is much use for cinnamon in magic. I have already presented a recipe for scented candles that call for it, as most prosperity charms do. The dual nature of this herb makes it useful in different occasions : the hot, warming, invigorating quality is the one addressed in spells for inspiration, energy and prosperity, including money-drawing charms. The sweet, aromatic, aphrodisiacum aspect is drawn upon in love spells, as You will see in the recipe for the Heartwarming Wine. Cinnamon is also a good catalyst for most herbal charms, although to serve in this way whole canes must be used. Since it is, essentially, dried tree bark, it can be used as a symbol of Nature, channelling the aspect of growth, strength, vitality and endurance.

Basil (ocimum basilicum)

Basil has an enmity with amber, which does not attract it,
but repulses even a smallest shred. Its smell can revive spirits
– Hildegard of Bingen

Basil - fresh and dried

One of the most common seasoning herbs in the world, basil is a great friend to any Kitchen Witch. Its unique aroma will make Your cooking so much tastier than just the dull salt and pepper. Most of the mediterranean dishes will require it somewhere along the way, and the recipe will probably call for fresh leaves. But don’t despair : basil is not a very demanding plant, so You can easily grow it in a flowerpot and enjoy the natural supply of fresh herb for Your cooking by simple means of watering the plant regularly.
A nice trick for obtaining a healthy basil plant is to buy it fresh (some stores offer whole plants in little plastic pots) and then move the entire thing – apart from the plastic – into a larger flowerpot with more soil. What the manufacturers supply is usually very poor, but You only need to top it up and the plant will be fine.

When cultivating basil at home, it’s important to remember that once the plant flowers, it stops producing leaves. The stem becomes woody and the oil withdraws from it, so it has no further use as a condiment. To prevent this, You should pick the flowers before they bloom. However, this happens separately for each stem, so You can leave the flowering one for decoration and harvest from the others.

Some recipes that require basil:

Listing those recipes is actually quite pointless because of their sheer number. Besides, condiments can be added according to our tastes and modified in almost any dish. However, these are the ones I make most often, and You’ll be seeing them all here.

When using basil for cooking, remember not to chop it with a knife. If the leaves are too big, rip them to pieces with Your fingers – much less oil is lost that way. For decoration, a few whole leaves make almost any meal look elegant and healthy.

  • Medicinal uses

The medicinal uses of this herb are still being studied ; however, tradition shows us at least some areas of interest. Hindu medicine has made use of basil as an auxiliary in treatment of stress, and the essential oil shows disinfectant qualities similar to those of mint oil. Hildegard of Bingen claims basil can ‘ease the childbirth’, but she does not supply any specific information.

  • Magic uses

As with most herbs which have a strong, pleasant smell, basil can be used for protection spells and for cleansing the house of negative influence. It is also used, sometimes, in charms that are to bring luck and prosperity, which are all good reasons to keep it in Your kitchen. However, personally, I am never using basil for spells, much preferring sage or lavender for protection, and cinnamon or nutmeg for prosperity. With basil, I am content to add it to my dishes, and thus profit of its power from within.

Wine

Wine is sunlight held together by water
-Galileo Galilei

Bottles of wineNo cooking-related text would be complete without at least a reference to wine, the noblest and most pleasurable of all alcoholic beverages. One of the oldest achievements of mankind (beer is thought to be even older), wine is being made and enjoyed all over the world, by simple peasants of Massif Central and russian millionaires alike.
There is a reason why wine commands a science all of its own. A topic so vast  is practically impossible to compress in a few words of a blog post, even for an experienced Kitchen Witch. But the crime of not touching the subject at all would be much greater, so I will endeavour to present the absolute basics of oenology here, if only to have an excuse for taking pictures of wine glasses.

Simplifying things, it can be said that wine comes in two basic varieties : white and red. There is an ongoing debate about the classification of rosé, the ‘pink wine’, but the majority of specialists seems to consider it a variety of red.  Another popular way of describing wine is the use of terms ‘dry’ and ‘sweet’. These terms may come in handy when dealing with absolute basics. However, as time and knowledge progresses, they are replaced with a subtler categorization, often a sum of grape variety, country of origin or even exact region and other information.

Knowledge of wine is a skill that requires long honing, time and taste. Since You never know the wine untill You try, a certain amount of trial and error will also occur. However, once a wine that suits Your palate is found, You will be introduced to the ultimate pleasure : sipping good wine calmly, on Your own or with a dear person. Not many pastimes can compete.
A skill even harder to acquire is the ability to match a dish You are serving to an appropriate wine. Choose it right, and You will create a perfect meal. Choose it wrong, and the food and drink will engage in a war right in the middle of Your mouth. Again, some trial and error is to be expected before You can match Your cooking, Your wine tastes and whatever the market has to offer. But there are some tips that can help those in need of guidance.

  • White wine

White wineDelicate and subtle, white wine is sometimes considered ‘lesser’ in comparison to its dark, deeply coloured coun- terpart. In fact, most people, when they say ‘wine’, mean red wine. Yet it would be a big mistake to miss out on what white has to offer, both as an independent drink and in terms of meal accom- pagnement. Only white wine (dry or semi-dry) can be served with fish : indeed, offering red wine with any kind of seafood results in a disaster. Poultry is another area reserved for white wine, although, as an exception, red is recommended with turkey. There are no exceptions when it comes to fish, though.

White wine in general tends to be milder (in terms of taste, alcoholic strength is a different matter)  than red wine, so it should go with milder dishes : salads,  vegetarian meals or spring and summer cooking, based mostly on vegetables and fruit – these are foods that will work with white wine very well. On the other hand, it will contrast unpleasantly with practically all cheeses. It should always be served chilled : the lighter the wine the colder is should be.
White wine is also the best choice for romantic evenings. While it may seem that red’s deep and symbolic colour would be more appropriate, white wine does not lay heavily on the stomach (making You lazy) or on the head (making You sleepy). It also has the advantage of not leaving a dark, unpleasant patina on the mouth.

  • Red wine

Red wineRed wine is stronger and richer in taste than white. Its aroma can vary greatly, from a sweet aftertaste remi- niscent of fruit juice to heavy-bodied dry wines with a taste of coffee or oak wood. This depends mostly on the grape variety, although You will never be certain of a wine’s taste until You try.
A good red wine should have a very dark colour, almost black. If You have a reasonable amount in a glass and it’s still transparent, looking more like a syrup, then the wine contains too much water. Red wine is never served chilled : the minimum temperature here is 18 degrees Celsius (64.4 Farenheit). If You have been keeping it in a lower temperature – in a fridge, or in the basement – it will need at least three hours’ time to warm up, so if You have guests invited, remember about this.

Red wine has a strong taste, so it should go with strong dishes. The general rule is simple : the heavier the meal, the stronger the wine. (Again, in terms of taste and not alcohol percentage.) While a semi-dry Carignan is my favourite for Spaghetti Napoli or Spaghetti alla Crema,  it is still too mild to go with stronger cheeses like roquefort or a mature camembert. Red meat, especially grilled or roasted, should always be served with a full-bodied, dry red wine that can match the intensity of its taste.

Pink wine is often served with seafood, such as shrimps calamari, though white is also appropriate here. It’s also a good choice for spicier vegetable dishes which might dominate white wine too much. Perfect for aperitifs, especially on a hot day.

  • Magical uses of wine

Practically since its invention, around 6000 b.c., wine has been used in ceremonies. Many religions have adopted it as a sacred drink – in ancient Greece it was one of the things worthy of being sacrificed to the gods, and the libations in honour of Dionysus in ancient Rome are famous to this day. Judaism also has many ceremonies that require the use of wine, such as the time of Pesach, when drinking wine is obligatory. Jewish ceremony of marriage requires the newlyweds to drink wine from the same cup. And, of course, no christian mass can be celebrated without a chalice of wine, which might explain why Vatican has the highest wine consumption per capita in the world.

Enchanted white wineA Kitchen Witch can use wine to prepare various enchanted drinks. The addition of herbs and other magical ingredients to a right wine will make a powerful potion, be it to protect, bring fortune, happiness or just chase the sorrows away, especially if the potion is left to mature, allowing the alcohol to extract the ingredients’ properties. Such an enchanted tincture is definitely more potent than a simple brew.
Together with mead, birch sap and water, wine is also a great drink to be served on celebrations such as the Equinox and the Solstice.

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