First of all, thank you so much to everyone that has offered comments, recipe ideas and enthusiasm for this project! I have a working list of 30+ recipes that I’m hoping to cover (and YES, this does include the pancakes), and I am happy for more suggestions! You can post comments at the bottom of any post (you have to enter your email address just to prove you are a real human, but it won’t display), and you can also email me at the address posted in the right margin.
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Not that there was an official contest, but honorary credit goes to my Uncle John for guessing the next, very important topic on this blog. Before we get into any more recipes, it’s important to acknowledge another very influential woman in our family’s culinary history (also, she may come get me if I don’t write about her!). In researching this I uncovered a surprising, scandalous family conspiracy!¹ (also: a mystery!)² Read on…
About 10 years ago, my husband and I were in a little gift shop in Ohio’s Amish country that was filled with the usual stuff… soaps, fudge, dishtowels, jam… We were not looking for anything in particular, just kind of wandering, when I came upon an item that made my heart jump into my throat.
A Kitchen Witch! I hadn’t seen one since childhood, when she hung in the corner of my grandma’s kitchen, keeping a creepy, watchful eye on children who might be tempted to misbehave, and within threateningly close range of a wooden paddle that was displayed for a similar purpose.
I was usually a pretty well-behaved kid, especially at Grandma’s house, but I was terrified of the Kitchen Witch. Her hold over me was so powerful that occasionally she had to travel to other places where I and my sisters might not be so well-behaved. That time we were getting whiny while waiting for our food at Big Boy’s? A loud thump from underneath our booth let my mom know that The Kitchen Witch was watching. She was also in the doctor’s waiting room when I didn’t want to get my vaccinations, and usually present when my sister refused to finish her dinner.
The Kitchen Witch, in my family at least, was omnipotent, powerful, and totally scary (also, she possibly was able to teleport).
Which is why it was so strange that this lonely Kitchen Witch in Amish country was wearing a cheerful red-and-white dress (Grandma’s was in all black) and came with a cute little poem:
Look who’s landed in your kitchen
Bringing fortune to your home
It’s me the lucky kitchen witch
Your special little gnome
I’ll end burnt pots
I’ll keep meals hot
I’ll do such magic chores
For I’m your lucky kitchen witch
Keep me safe by your kitchen door.
Special little gnome? Lucky?! Bringing fortune??? I guess that rather than intimidating young people into good behavior and generally reigning through terror, hellfire, etc., apparently this kitchen witch made sure your pots didn’t boil over and your food didn’t burn.* I don’t know what became of my grandma’s kitchen witch, but that was NOT her M.O., at least not according to Every Grown-up in My Family, Ever.
Wikipedia offers up a similarly benign explanation: “For centuries, Norwegians have hung this good witch in their kitchen. They believe she has the power to keep roasts from burning, pots from boiling over, and sauces from spilling.”
There’s even a website with instructions to make a Kitchen Witch that is almost hug-gable. Right, like that Cabbage Patch-looking lady would ever stop a kid from doing something. Okay. Good luck striking fear into the hearts of your grandchildren with that smiling little lady riding on a wooden spoon!
Maybe the Norwegian kitchen witches help cooks, while the Slovenian kitchen witches torment children? Either way, this lonely witch in Amish country needed a home, and my home totally needed a kitchen witch. So for close to ten years she’s been hanging out in front of a window with all our pots and pans. I haven’t heard any complaints (or threatening thumps on restaurant booths) but it’s been a very long time since I was unruly. And, I’m basically totally frightened of moving her. Those cute little bows on her dress are not fooling me.
Five years ago, at an outdoor market in Rome, Dan and I came upon a display of dozens of kitchen witches for sale. Unfortunately I lacked the Italian to get a clear explanation from the vendor of what they were for (“terror” and “pot-watching” were not in my limited vocabulary). But guess what my sisters received as gifts when we arrived home? All of them are equally terrifying, and I’m positive Grandma and my mom would be pleased to see the tradition continue.
*in case you were wondering, food still burns. Not that I’d openly criticize the Kitchen Witch, of course.
¹was there at some point a meeting where the adults sat down and were like, “here is what we do to give the kids nightmares and make sure they don’t sneak into Grandma’s Magic Sand closet uninvited?” Was my mom the chairperson of that meeting?
²and WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO THE ORIGINAL KITCHEN WITCH? (asking for a friend)