November has returned, its path lit by millions of glowing jack-o-lanterns and the vibrancy of early fall that is now mellowing to a muted, earthy palette just waiting for a blanket of winter snow to cocoon the present season.
To those of us who bide our time patiently each year for our beloved October, November can bring about a certainly melancholy stemming from the reality that we must begin that long wait over again.
And yet, November’s presence is neither a bad nor an unfortunate thing. Regardless of what the weather may get up to, November is still fall time in the Northern Hemisphere.
In fact, it is the last full month of the present season, which will officially conclude when the Winter Solstice comes calling in December.
Instead of viewing November merely as the first step on the journey until next October, I consciously choose to bask in the lingering afterglow of my favourite month and to celebrate each precious moment of autumn while it is still here.
Since time immemorial, for those in colder climates, fall has often meant a return to heartier fare. One needs sustenance, fortitude, and flavours that both warm the belly and the heart alike as the mercury plummets.
To my mind, few cuisines anywhere on the globe can deliver that quite like the classic offerings that hail from the Celtic lands.
With the nights dropping well below freezing, arctic winds screeching past like frenzied owls, and the near-certain promise of multiple months of bone-chilling winter ahead, November means it is time for me to reach for an especially beloved book once again.
And, moreover, to share some of my thoughts on that very title here with all of you.
The book I’m speaking about is Celtic Folklore Cooking by Joanne Asala.
This title is not particularly new, having first been released in 1998 (I currently own the fifteenth printing, which came out in 2017). Yet, like many an excellent book, it has qualities that make it both endearing and timeless.
As we will soon dive into, Celtic Folklore Cooking is much more than “just” a compendium of excellent Celtic recipes.
This book is also chock-a-block with engaging Celtic folklore, proverbs, and poetry from countries such as Scotland, Ireland, and Wales; and is by far one of the most compressive looks at traditional Celtic cuisine that I have come across.
Name: Celtic Folklore Cooking
Author: Joanne Asala
Page count: 384
A feast for the tastebuds and imagination alike
Have you ever walked into someone’s kitchen, be it for the first time or the five hundredth and instantly felt comfortable, at peace, and warmed from the inside out before you’d even eaten a single morsel of food?
Just as some kitchens and the home cooks behind them are able to impart this sense of nurturing serenity, so too are certain books pertaining to the culinary arts.
Celtic Folklore Cooking by Joanne Asala is one of those books.
Asala is the author/compiler of more than 25 books pertaining to folklore, fairy tales, cooking, and traditional customs from various parts of Europe. A native of Chicago, she has travelled across the continent extensively to learn and gather information for her books. This point shines out vibrantly in the depth and scope of knowledge that she imparts throughout Celtic Folklore Cooking.
Clocking in at a touch under 400 pages, this hefty paperback title features more than 200 traditional dishes hailing from the land of the Celts.
While this book does not have any photographs or (save for the front cover) colour illustrations, it does house a selection of charming black and white illustrations that accompany some, but not all, of the recipes and tales that this engaging book includes.
No doubt Celtic Folklore Cooking would have been an even more captivating book with colour photos and/or illustrations. Yet, the strength of the author’s writing and the breadth of fascinating folklore covered here adds proverbial colour to each delightful page in its own right and as such, I rarely find myself longing for photos or drawings when reading this book.
On top of the 200+ dishes included in this cookbook, one also finds an enchantingly selection of folktales, poems, proverbs, and customs hailing from traditional Celtic lands, such as Scotland and Ireland.
Before we go any further this review, I should mention that though this book will find favour with many a witch, Wiccan, and Pagan, it was not written solely for that audience.
And while Asala begins her introduction by stating that, “The goal of Celtic Folklore Cooking is to help you select foods to serve at your celebrations of the Sabbats and Esbats”, the dishes and captivating folklore contained within this book can just as easily be utilized for every other day of the year as well.
Celtic Folklore Cooking is a culturally rich, expansive, captivating look at the traditions and history of Celtic cuisine and is bound to appeal to a wide range of readers, both inside and out of the Pagan/witchy sphere.
For those who fall under the former header, you will be interested to know that the author does make a point of mentioning which Pagan sabbats she feels best suit each recipe in the book.
Broadly speaking, I agree with the majority of her choices for corresponding sabbats and if anything, wouldn’t so much change her suggestions as add on an additional sabbat or two in some cases.
Of course, these recipes – like nearly any recipe, for that matter – can be utilized whenever you desire, be it for the sabbats, esbats, or otherwise.
Celtic Folklore Cooking is arranged into the following nine chapters:
-The Celtic Wheel of The Year
-Beverages (which includes recipes for numerous homemade alcoholic beverages such as Mead, Blas Meala, Welsh Posset Cup, Eggnog, and Wassail)
-Breads, Porridges, and Breakfast Foods
-Milk, Eggs, and Cheese
-Soups and Stews
-Fish, Shellfish, and Seaweed
-Meat and Wild Game
In addition, there is an introduction, bibliography and related reading, glossary, and index. The latter of which is especially handy if you’re keen to look up recipes for a specific ingredient.
Speaking of which, a good many of the ingredients called for in these recipes are classic ones that strive to mirror the traditional cuisine of the Celtic nations.
In the very earliest days of our relationship, Tony and I lived in Ireland (ROI) for a couple of years. Getting to experience both contemporary and traditional Irish firsthand in its homeland stands out as one of my most treasured memories from our adventure in the Emerald Isle.
Each time I dip into Celtic Folklore Cooking, I feel as though I am reliving our time in Ireland and the incredible food we got to experience there.
The recipes in this book are accessible and welcoming. Many are relatively simple and quite a few are fairly budget-friendly.
This book is not geared specifically to any one type of diet (such as vegetarianism or eating gluten-free, for example) and, as with the bulk of generalized cookbooks pertaining to almost any cuisine, if you follow a specific type of diet for medical, cultural, religious or other reasons, some of the recipes in Celtic Folklore Cooking may not work for your dietary requirements.
Or, perhaps, in certain instances, you could alter them so that they were able to work. Switching out, say, animal dairy products nut, plant, or seed options instead. Those (like myself) who eat Low FODMAP could also make certain substitutions, such as using the green parts of scallions/spring onions or leeks in place of onions.
These are just a couple of examples, of course. You know your diet and health best, so should hopefully be able to determine if some of the recipes in Celtic Folklore Cooking are able to be adapted to your specific dietary needs or not.
If the answer is “not” across the board, that is 100% okay, naturally, and you may still enjoy the culinary history and folklore that abounds in this book all the same.
It is worth noting that there are some ingredients in this book that were not native to the lands the ancient Celts inhabited and others that have become commonplace mainstays of these corners of Europe in more recent centuries.
This point doesn’t bother me personally, as I feel it is generally unrealistic to expect most 21st century cookbooks to ask readers to solely use ingredients that were available in a given part of the world during a specific long-ago time period.
Another element of this book that does not trouble me, but which might put some readers off a touch is that not all of the recipes are presented in the same format. Some are arranged in paragraph form, while most are laid out in the usual contemporary way of presenting recipes (as in the photo above), starting with their ingredients and then how to prepare and cook a given dish.
I am a massive proponent and long-time adoptee of eating traditionally/ancestrally, eschewing heavily processed foods whenever possible and seeking out healthy local offerings for as much of what we consume as is realistically (and economically) possible.
This book embraces traditional foods, cooking methods, and meals that, in many instances, take longer than a few minutes to bring to the table.
That isn’t to say they are challenging or require ages to prepare or make. With relatively few exceptions this is not the case.
Instead, they are homey, classic dishes (think soups, stews, and hot breakfast cereals, for example) that benefit from decent cooking times and which may taste even better when reheated in the following days after they have been prepared.
These are recipes that encourage you, if so desired and if such is feasible, to live (or to live all the more) in tune with the seasons and the foodstuffs that are most readily available through each chapter of the year.
As you lap up the recipes in Celtic Folklore Cooking, you are treated to a multi-course meal for the mind via the delightful array of folklore tales, proverbs, poetry, and general folk wisdom that Asala has generously peppered throughout the book.
Even if one opted to never cook a single recipe from this book, the Celtic lore, charming folk wisdom, and history that call this title home would make reading Celtic Folklore Cooking more than worth it.
Celtic Folklore Cooking is a terrific year-round cookbook. It boasts an impressive selection of over 200 delicious recipes from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Cornwall.
This point is especially refreshing, as it is fairly common for books pertaining to Celtic culture (be it Celtic cuisine or otherwise) to lock their sights on Ireland and budge nary an inch from that one country, when in truth the lands that the Celts called home spanned multiple modern-day countries.
How Celtic Folklore Cooking rates with me
Cooking, the culinary arts, and food history have been some of my greatest passions in life since I was a young child.
Even though the scope of my own diet is profoundly restricted due to needing to eat for/around several different chronic illnesses and I have a metabolism that’s so slow it makes a snail look like a supersonic rocket by comparison, nothing life has thrown my way has dulled this important interest.
I am the kind of person who reads cookbooks with the intensity and interest many reserve for their favourite novels.
Toss not only culinary history and traditions but also folklore into the mix and my head nearly explodes with joy!
Celtic Folklore Cooking by Joanne Asala ticks each of those boxes and more. It is wonderfully well suited to Pagan/witchy individuals, while being no less appealing or accessible to those who are neither of those things.
The layout of its chapters invites you to read this book cover to cover, eager not only to see what recipe comes next, but to savour the captivating Celtic folklore, proverbs, and traditional writing this book houses in abundance as well.
There are many excellent books on Irish, Scottish, Welsh, (broadly) Celtic and similar cuisine to be had these days, but few marry folklore and wisdom with 200+ recipes – nor do so with the same level of knowledge and passion that Asala liberally garnishes each page in this fantastic book with.
Learning more about the traditions and/or folklore associated with each recipe in this book further endears it to my heart – just as I’m sure it will for many fellow readers as well.
This is the kind of cookbook that you don’t just read once, try out a recipe or two from, tuck it away on a shelf and pretty much forget about.
It is an engaging, beautifully written, well-presented book that honours the culinary traditions of the Celtic lands and presents a true feast’s worth of inviting recipes that are sure to appeal to a wide range of people from around the globe.
With autumn out in full force and winter barrelling around the corner, this is the kind of book I reach for time and time again, not only for our own daily meals, but also when we entertain company and when I’m asked to bring a hearty dish to a meal elsewhere.
In addition, I love that as someone whose ancestry is comprised almost exclusively of Celtic, Norse, Germanic, and Slavic origins, the recipes in this book are likely not far off from some of those that were enjoyed by many generations of my ancestors.
Not to mention the fact that this book is many a kitchen witch’s dream cookbook – particularly if you work with The Wheel of The Year and/or British, Scottish, Welsh, Irish or similar branches/traditions of Druidism, Wicca, and/or witchcraft.
If I could only pick one book about Celtic cookery to work with for the rest of my days, Celtic Folklore Cooking by Joanne Asala would surely be it.
And as such, it warms my heart every bit as much as one of the truly delicious traditional Celtic recipes it contains to bestow my highest rating on this book.
Working on a scale of 1 – 5, with five being the highest possible rating, I would give Celtic Folklore Cooking 5 stars out of 5.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Have you read Celtic Folklore Cooking by Joanne Asala? Are you a fellow fan of traditional Celtic cuisine? 🌿📖🍞