Alice Tarbuck is a PhD student at the Scottish Poetry Library, and the University of Dundee. Most recently, her writing appeared as part of Timespan Festival, in a collaborative commission with visual artist Alison Scott. She is writing her first novel, and considers herself dangerous, both in and out of the kitchen.
I am interested in the idea of nourishing the body as a radical feminist act. To enjoy eating and also sourcing, preparing and cooking food that allows our bodies to get out everyday and protest, fight, right wrongs, change the world.
Food is both fetishized and problematized in the media. Trends like ‘clean eating’ categorise foods according to morals, and obscure scientific nutritional data. We live in a culture of food fear and fascination. To de-mystify food, to uncouple it from associations of indulgence, punishment, maternal provision, discipline, allows our bodies to take in nutrients, to enjoy and understand food in new ways.
Everybody needs to eat: what women eat is constantly scrutinized. The idea of ‘kitchen magic’ and ‘kitchen witching’ is to create feminine spaces for learning, creating and eating, in a supportive environment, as part of a crucial step toward community building and self-love.
My Grandma can tell how many times a piece of pastry was rolled out the moment she bites into it. Her mother had the whole range: hatches, matches, dispatches. My skills are seasoning, stirring, unusual additions. I am not interested in babies. The women I know gather along scrubbed pine tables and work magic with stand mixers, paring knives, rolling pins.
Cookery is alchemical. Consider it a parallel craft: one was shown to be nonsense whilst the other developed. Both are secret, suspicious, undertaken by the less respectable. Of course, measuring exactly the quantity of lead to thrust into the white-hot heart of the crucible is satisfying, but the result will never be gold. The same is true of yeasted dough that never rose, of blackened pans and flattened cakes: what is missing is the magic.
Kitchen magic is easy. You need so few things. A quiet mind. Something that you like playing at a volume through which you can still read a recipe book. Your senses at medium-high. Clean hands. A source of heat; ingredients; a very slight, but perceptible sense of danger. You are here for nobody but yourself, and you are here to practice ancient magic. In or out of the kitchen, proficiency makes women dangerous. We work miracles with bags of rice, splashes of milk, scraps of meat. We are necessary, but perhaps not quite to be trusted.
Cleaning hands quiets the mind. Anger sours milk. Tears curdle cake batter. You can ruin a soup by salting it out of spite. Let those things be washed away alongside the soap. Let your mind be like a good wooden chopping board: a clear, wide, scrubbed space on which things are placed for careful consideration.
To be a kitchen witch is to nourish your body, and perhaps the bodies of others. It is to understand, then, that despite what thousands of media outlets tell you every day, your body is a good body. A body that is allowed to be in the kitchen, to make food that nourishes, to feed the self and feed others. Your body is allowed to work magic both inside the kitchen and outside. But we can begin in the kitchen: it is the altar, and is a sacred space where you are in power. You may call the four corners, if you wish. Salt pot, pepper pot, sugar and vinegar. The door swings and we leave behind everything beyond it, for as long as it takes to do whatever we came for.
Do not be afraid to play music that makes you want to take your clothes off, to hold someone. Kitchen magic is sex magic. Mouth and finger and elbow crook and waist. Watch someone you love move through a kitchen and it becomes clear: a long dance, a series of arc and turns. Magic is a way of coming home, and the kitchen lives in the middle of the home. Occupy it. Tap into the life force. We are of the same particulates of yeast, and we too, can bubble and grow under warmth.
Learn about cooking and eating naked. It can be enormously helpful on hot summer days, when the windows are open and a breeze, barely existent, winds in to kiss you on the shoulders. Outside cooking, too: bonfires and barbeques and tea made in the sun. Fry an egg on an overheated car. Perform small miracles in the great outdoors.
Keep your knives sharp. Measure things in advance. Learn to trust your taste buds, the gas flame. Some people find it useful to buy a timer. Repeat things until they come out as you wish: recipes are never sacred, dismantle them and rebuild them until they work for you. There are goddesses of the kitchen, fat and happy, dwelling above the extractor fan, or just behind the Tate and Lyle cans. Give them good greeting, and count yourself amongst them.