Posted on February 13th, 2012
Witches throughout history have always thrown the greatest parties. Part of what made them so great was that witches spared no expense, hiring only the best caterers Tattenwang had to offer. More important was their exclusivity. Of course, even in the height of the glamorous 17th century, there were always bitter detractors would spoil it for everyone by telling all.
During one witches’ Sabbath, told a country rube called Anna Pappenheimer, witches from near and far arrived to the party riding on broomsticks and pitchforks. A bit cliché, maybe, but this was Bavaria. She further disclosed that after an amaranthine-robed Satan arrived in a puff of sulfur-smoke and farts, they supped on “disgusting” foods like horse meat and various reptiles and ravens. Disgusting? Isn’t that a bit xenophobic? Sure, the spit-roasted suckling infant was unseasoned. Listen, we’re all concerned about sodium these days. Nonetheless, the name Pappenheimer literally means “from the sticks,” so one might take her word with a grain of (apparently much-needed) salt.
Perhaps Mrs. From-the-Sticks should have stuck to the Scandinavian Sabbath parties. Perhaps their food would more to her sensibilities. Humble peasant fare was a favorite of Swedish devil-worshippers in the 1670s. On the tails of the droll European witch hysteria, English philosopher (and ironic defender of religious freedom) Joseph Glanvill wrote in his 1681 Sadducismus Triumphatus of wild, Satanic sex orgies at Blokulla, Sweden, in which Lucifer himself laid out for his witches a diabolical feast of “broth with colworts [cabbage] and bacon in it, oatmeal, bread spread with butter, milk and cheese.” This meal was followed by dancing and other venereous acts.
This cuisine sorcières was echoed fondly by an adolescent witch named Anna Catherina Weissenbühler of Württemberg, suggesting that southern German witches really did eat something other than toads and crows. During one revelrous evening of bagpipes and other merrymaking, the witches feasted on meat, cabbage, bread and salt. They actually licked the salt from the bread — how delightfully boorish! The Neuchâtel witches always had plenty of good food and wine, and provided their own entertainment. At their last soiree, they all gathered round and sang the delightful new smash hit, Frallalon, Frallala.
For what they lacked in headlining acts, the witches from the British Isles more than made up for in sophisticated comestibles. In Wincanton, the Somersetshire Coven girls had wine, cakes and meat, all on a proper white tablecloth. Most elegant, the Riding Mill witches in Northumberland supped upon the finest boiled capons, beef, mutton, plum broth, cheeses and butter, bottles of wine and brandied “humming” ale.
Anne Whittle, one of the famous witches from Lancaster, told that during a different feast with another witch Elizabeth Southerns, “there was victuals, viz. flesh, butter, cheese, bread and drink.” Those Pendle witches were so two-faced. Whenever the Prince of Darkness came around, they were such sycophantic groupies; they called him “Fancy” and literally kissed his Beelzebuttocks. As soon as he was out of an earshot, they turned into the biggest divas. Ever since that book The Wonderfull Discoverie of Witches in the Countie of Lancaster came out in 1613, fame went right to their heads. One almost wishes that those meretricious shrews had gone to the guillotine rather than the gallows.
Speaking of which, there was definitely one downside to 17th century witches’ parties: after all that feasting, dancing and other corporeal jollity, the host always abruptly disappeared without a word. Call me old fashioned, but it’s just bad form to leave your guests hanging.
This drink is a spin on the Berliner Weisse, a light beer from 16th century Berlin that is commonly drunk with raspberry or woodruff (waldmeister) syrup. Here it’s prepared with a strong, dark dunkel instead of a light beer, hence the name “black Berliner.” I use a Franconian dunkel for its hoppy bitterness; ales were traditionally distinguished from beers by their use of hops.
The humming ale mentioned between the 16th and 19th centuries was so named for the feeling it imparts to one’s head upon quaffing. It could be derived from either the effervescence or the alcohol content; in this cocktail, it is provided by both. Find waldmeister syrup at a German or European deli, or make it yourself with fresh sweet woodruff (*Galium odoratum*). Woodruff, an old witch’s remedy, is high in the toxic, aromatic compound coumarin (also found in cinnamon), which acts as an anticoagulant.
12 ounces cold Franconian-style dunkel (such as Aufsesser or Postbrauerei
1 oz brandy
1/2 tsp waldmeister syrup*
Combine ingredients and stir together.
*To make waldmeister syrup, simmer a handful of woodruff leaves in one cup of water for ten minutes. Strain and dissolve one cup of sugar into the liquid. Alternately, a waldmeister extract can be made by macerating one cup of woodruff leaves in one cup of grain alcohol and steeping for 30-45 minutes. Strain and use within a few days. Mix 50/50 with honey for use as a syrup.