Last Update: June 2, 2023
Is that chill you just felt down the back of your neck simply a brisk fall breeze? Or could it be something else?
“Whether you’re a witch or not, October is an undeniably magical time of the year,” says Melissa Madara (@saint_jayne). Madara is a witch, botanist, chef, storyteller, educator, and co-owner of Catland Books in Brooklyn, NY. They describe the month of October as a crossroads where the world of the living and the spirit realm meet. “Perhaps for this reason, it is at this point in the year when the witch reigns supreme.”
Even outside of the current bewitched season, magic and mysticism are experiencing a surge in popularity. Madara observes that the occult is seeing a new renaissance in pop culture and social media. “The terrifying mythical witches of history are being replaced by millennial tarot readers, pop astrologers, and Witch-tok influencers,” they explain, adding that, “as more people find themselves drawn to the world of the witch, a widespread revival of traditional pagan practice and ritual sweeps the globe, with Halloween existing at the climax of the magical year.”
We asked Madara to pull back the curtain on the real meaning of Halloween. They also passed along a way to celebrate and share the spirit of the season—a recipe from their debut cookbook, The Witch’s Feast: A Kitchen Grimoire, available in November.
In Europe and the United States, Halloween (also called Samhain in Gaelic) comes with traditional themes of liminality, unveiling what is hidden, and honoring the beloved dead. Because of the historical emphasis on visiting graves, opening tombs, and honoring the dead at harvest feasts during this time, the Halloween season also carries a strong connection with ghosts and spirits, echoed in the Victorian attitude of the “thinning of the veil” between worlds during this time.
[The Halloween season is] a time for witches to perform their divinations—by mirror, glass, or even apples—so that they may peer into their future and know what fate awaits in the coming year. In a more mystical sense, European pagans also believed this time of year signaled the intrusion of gods, demons, fairies, and other dangerous inhabitants of the “Otherworld” into the world of humans. Many Europeans developed masked festivals in response, where wearing terrifying costumes, gathering with others, and singing for food door-to-door were essential charms of self-protection.
As it is one of the last moments before the freeze of winter truly arrives, my magical practice often sends me wandering—through graveyards, through wilderness or aimlessly through the night—so it has become important to my work to carry offerings with me when I’m out on such excursions. I pack a bag of things I’ll need while I’m out, such as harvesting tools, binding twine and a notebook, but a bottle of good drink and a snack to share are never missing from my preparations. This is because these walks are not a purely solitary adventure, but often present an opportunity to connect with the spirits of the land and inhabitants of these places, and I make sure not to show up empty handed.
This practice may seem simply courteous, like bringing a bottle of wine to a dinner party, but in the context of witchcraft and occult spirituality, it can have a deeper meaning. If we accept that food is a vehicle for communion among gods and humans alike, then there is no more suitable offering for connecting with spirit allies than to prepare a meal and share it together.
Of the recipes I’ve used for offerings over the years, these little hand pies are by far my favorite. Apples and rosemary are traditionally accepted offerings to spirits, especially for doing good. As with all food offerings, it’s best to err on the side of what is familiar, rich, and comforting: a small luxury, wrapped in puff pastry. These picnic pies are certainly a perfect parcel for offering as one wanders through the brambles and graveyards.
If you find yourself in the wilds this October, sharing gifts with friends and ghosts, consider bringing treats like this along as you make your way. Trust the body and the intuition to know where they will be received, and be sure to set one or two aside for yourself!
Adapted from The Witch’s Feast: A Kitchen Grimoire by Melissa Jayne Madara, out in November 2021 from Penguin Random House.
Yield: 10 pies (note: yield may vary depending on puff pastry)
Active time: 40 minutes
Total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes
2 tablespoons butter or Thrive Market Organic Ghee
1 large yellow onion, cut into lengthwise slices
Thrive Market Organic All-Purpose Flour, for dusting
1 490g (1.1 lb) package frozen puff pastry, thawed but refrigerated (or try Wholly Wholesome Traditional Rolled Pie Dough; see note)
3 apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
8 oz sharp Cheddar cheese, grated (or use dairy-free)
Leaves from 2 springs of rosemary or 1 tablespoon Thrive Market Organic Whole Rosemary
2 tablespoons milk (or substitute unflavored, dairy-free milk of your choice)
Salt and pepper
Begin by heating your butter in a skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter is hot, add your onion and toss to coat. Turn the heat down to medium and slowly cook the onion, stirring occasionally until caramelized, at least 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, as the onion cooks, assemble your other ingredients. Between two sheets of lightly floured baking parchment, roll out your puff pastry to ¼ inches thick. Using a cookie cutter or tracing with a knife around a stencil, cut out 10 6-inch circles from the pastry. Set these in the refrigerator until ready to use. When the onions are cooked, remove from the heat and transfer to a dish to cool fully to room temperature.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove your puff pastry circles from the refrigerator and lay five onto each prepared tray.
On one half of each circle, lay a single layer of apple slices, followed by a spoonful of caramelized onions, a layer of grated cheese, a sprinkle of rosemary, and a final layer of apple slices. Repeat this process until all of the ingredients are used. Season each with salt and pepper. Fold the other half of each pastry circle over the filling and use a fork to crimp and seal the edges. Use a sharp knife to create small vents on the upper surface of the pies.
Brush each pie with a light coating of milk, and lightly sprinkle sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper over the top of each one. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the pastry is golden and fully cooked underneath.
Note: Using pie dough in the place of puff pastry may require some adjustments (such as using less filling) and will produce a slightly different result. Check out this guide for more information.
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