Beltane Food: 13 Modern and Traditional for the Fire Festival
I can hear the drum beat in the distance. Feel the warm summer breeze rustle my hair. We reach the top of the hill and see the Maypole, standing tall and proud in the meadow. Summer is roundin’ the bend, folks! Let us honor the beginning of Summer by celebrating the Celtic fire festival, Beltane. This is one of those days that boasts old, potent magick – there’s wildflowers everywhere. The scent of wild grass and blooming trees on the air. The birds, bees, and woodland animals are astir with energy and fertility. And what better way to join in on the celebration than by feasting and drinking? Here we offer our favorite 13+ Beltane foods: a plethora of both modern and traditional recipes and meals for the ancient Celts’ Fire Festival.
First, What is Beltane?
Beltane is the ancient Celtic fire festival occurring annually on May 1st. This pagan holy day is essentially the Gaelic version of May Day or the day marking the First of Summer. Now, while most of us think of the Summer Solstice as the first day of Summer, it wasn’t so back in our ancestors’ day. They based their seasons and celebrations off the land, off of an agricultural cycle. Beltane is considered a cross-quarter day in the calendar, as it sits directly between the Spring Equinox and Summer Solstice. And is 6 months away from Samhain (another cross-quarter holiday).
How did the Celts celebrate Beltane? With fire! And fertility, of course. Lots of bonfires, partying, and purification rituals. All of their traditions were done to ensure a bountiful Summer, free of disease and with plenty of resources for all. And let’s not forget, nearly every human culture on every single holiday celebrated with FOOD. That’s what it’s all about, right? Want to learn more about how to celebrate Beltane? Click here.
What did the Ancient Celts eat on Beltane?
If Beltane is based on an ancient Celtic fire festival, perhaps some of you are wondering what did the ancient Celts eat on Beltane? We know in past centuries that a lamb was typically sacrificed and cooked over the fire. Then becoming a main feature of the feast. (Although this depends on how many people are present at the bonfire, so if you’re feeding an entire tribe, I’d venture to say multiple lambs were necessary). In addition, some form of bread was probably made since the long-standing tradition of the Beltane bannock (a flatbread oatcake, of sorts) still endures today. And don’t forget the copious amounts of mead. If we go to other countries and explore their May Day traditions, we’ll find a rich plethora of Beltane foods to choose from.
Types of Beltane Foods
Beltane was the first day of Summer and therefore the earth was plentiful with grain. So grains and oats are traditional – bake bread and eat oatmeal. Because Beltane is a fire festival, anything cooked over an open fire is traditional including meats and baked goods. Beltane is also a fertility festival, so anything spicy is appropriate: hot peppers, hot sauce, and lots of exotic spices. Aphrodisiac foods like cherries, oysters, and chocolate are appropriate Beltane foods. As well as anything traditionally Celtic eaten on this sacred sabbat. Dairy was traditionally protected on Beltane rites, so dishes with butter and milk are customary, too. So if you happen to dislike our suggestions here, feel free to experiment with your own.
7 Traditional Beltane Recipes
1. Bannocks (Oatcakes for Beltane)
Bannocks are a traditional Celtic food, and are basically pancakes, flatcakes, or cake made in a pan with oats. As the oats are plentiful on Beltane, oatcakes like bannocks have been eaten on this sabbat for hundreds of years (as well as on a few others Celtic holy-days). They are even a favorite food of the household faeries, the Scottish Brownie AND the Irish Bean-tighe. Here’s a little more about history of the Celtic bannock bread and a recipe too.
2. Dublin Coddle
An all-time favorite cozy, comfort dish straight from Ireland is a stew called Dublin Coddle. This isn’t just a popular pub dish on the Emerald Isle, it’s the perfect Beltane meal to be enjoyed anywhere in the world. And while it’s appropriate for Beltane, you can truly eat this dish any time of year. It’s hearty and evokes a sense of that old world ancestral energy many of us yearn for. They don’t call it “coddle” for nothing. Don’t forget – you can add some spice if you’d really like to make it a Beltane food. Get the recipe.
3. Roast Leg of Lamb
As mentioned in the historic section of this post, the ancient Celts were known to sacrifice a lamb on Beltane. Therefore, leg of lamb or mutton is indeed traditional and appropriate on this sacred day. Pair with finely pureed parsnips and roasted grape tomatoes for an entire Beltane meal that’s hearty and reminiscent of the days of olde. Here’s the roasted leg of lamb recipe and a pureed parsnip recipe. Don’t forget to set a plate to the side for the Celtic gods and ancestors.
4. Soda Bread
My Irish-American Grandmother has made soda bread for as long as I can remember. A tradition she acquired from her Irish-American grandmother…whose family hailed from County Cork, Ireland. It’s a great traditional Beltane food for any time of the day. Especially if you have Irish American ancestors you’d like to honor with a slice. How is this bread different from regular bread? It’s made with baking soda as the leavening agent, instead of active yeast. Hence the name baking “soda bread”. There is no kneading of the dough and the bread is denser. Grandma baked it in conjunction with a big pot of stew…the bread is perfect for sopping up the leftover juice in Irish Stew or even a thinner-made Dublin Coddle.
5. Fisherman’s Pie
Seafood is traditional along Ireland’s coastlines, including white fish like hollock, cockles, mussels, and brown crab. If you don’t live in Ireland, you likely won’t be able to get your hands on Irish mussels or brown crab. So make do with what you can access at your local seafood market or wild caught. Summer means seafood, so making a traditional Irish Fisherman’s Pie is evocative of the perfect Beltane meal. It’s an especially good option for those who don’t eat red meat and are looking for an alternative to the classic shepherd’s pie. Mind you, because this dish is made with cream and potatoes, it is heavy. So you might not be ready to dance round the fire after eating a bowl o’ this. You’d be more likely to go for a haboo (a sleep).
6. Scailtin: Irish Whiskey Milk Punch (A Beltane Beverage)
This traditional Irish whiskey drink is a great beverage for Beltane. And is often drank around this time. This is a drink similar to a hot toddy, except it uses milk…which easily fits into the dairy-driven sabbats of the Celts including Beltane. When fire burns, milk quenches. And then the whiskey burns again! Scailtin dates back to at least the seventeen hundreds, with some recipes being served in a punch bowl and some being bottled and sold to the masses. However you decide to drink it, drink it on this sacred of Celtic sabbats. Here’s a Scailtin recipe.
7. Faery Bread (or Cakes)
Fairy bread in Australia is something entirely different from Fairy Cakes in the Celtic countries. Fairy bread is essentially white bread that’s been coated generously in butter and covered in sprinkles. Or as the Aussies call them “hundreds and thousands.” Not to be confused with fairy cakes from Ireland…basically plain, vanilla cupcakes of an old timey style. Whatever you choose to make this Beltane, make it in honor of the faeries. Give them the first cupcake or first slice of fairy bread before partaking of it yourself.
I just published a book on Enchanting the Witch’s Home!
6 Modern Beltane Foods
1. Shrimp and Peppers as a Beltane Meal
This is a simple, healthy dinner that’s quick to make and reminds us of all the good things in Summer: shrimp and peppers. Substitute the red and yellow peppers for green, if that’s what you have, and don’t forget to add your own garden-fresh herbs to make this your own Beltane dinner food. I prefer to add garden-fresh tomatoes and spoon the concoction over a bed of rice.
2. Herb Roasted Chicken and Garlic Asparagus
It’s one of my go-to recipes and one that I suggest often for sabbat meals. Herb roasted chicken with garlic asparagus. Add a starch like mashed potatoes or roasted sweet potatoes and you have a delicious Beltane meal. To get my herb roasted chicken recipe, click here. As for the asparagus, it’s pretty simple. Sautee half-stick of butter over medium heat on the stove. Add a clove of minced garlic. Then cook the asparagus over medium to low-medium heat for approximately 10 minutes (longer if the asparagus spears are thicker).
3. Mississippi Roast Beef and Vegetables (Slow Cooker OR Instant-Pot)
Mr. Kobold and I love our German and traditional Irish dishes, but we also tend to go coo-coo over American recipes too. One of our favorite slow cooker recipes is also one of our heartiest and spiciest. And aligns perfectly with the Beltane energy. It’s a Mississippi-style Roast Beef with Veggies. I tend to add a beef bouillon cube to the cooker, and add my veggies after the meat has cooked almost through. I add green beans, carrots, onion, celery and potatoes. You can make this recipe in your slow cooker, prepping it before even leaving the house in the morning (if you have to work that day). OR pop it into your instant-pot and let the pressure cooker make you and your guests a perfectly spicy meal in a fraction of the time!
4. A Beltane Charcuterie Board
Sounds weird adding the Irish word Beltane to the French word charcuterie, right? Sorry, Dear Ones. We here at the Kobold Kitchen are American, hence our delightful smorgasbord of various cultural recipes. We said these were modern Beltane foods, didn’t we? Now that that’s out of the way. Who doesn’t love a beautiful board array with artisanal cheeses, meats, preserves, and crusted bread? Charcuterie is a wonderful Beltane appetizer or lunch, for that matter. And if you’re throwing a Beltane feast or party, this won’t disappoint your guests.
Meats and Cheeses to Include:
- Goat cheese
- Blueberry goat cheese
- Smoked salmon
Crackers, Fruits, Nuts, Olives and Preserves:
- Rosemary artisan crackers
- Thinly sliced french baguette
- Raspberry preserves
- Honey (local is best)
- Salted almonds
- Green grapes
- Red cherries
- Olives (black, calamata, a few of your favorites)
5. Green Man Salad
I can’t take the credit for this Beltane food idea: Green Man Salad was inspired by Joanne Asala’s Celtic Folklore Cooking Cookbook. Since the Green Man is supposedly extremely active on Beltane and thereafter all Summer long, we have to dedicate at least one dish to him. And what’s a better Beltane food than a fresh Summer salad? Choose a mixture of spring greens and romaine. Add sliced strawberries, avocado, salted walnuts or pecans, and poppy seed dressing. If you’d like to forego the fruit, stick to mostly green ingredients: greens, avocado, green peppers, heirloom tomatoes, and green goddess dressing.
6. Cherry Pie: An American Beltane Dessert
Since cherries come into season in Spring, we thought what better way to add an American flare than to bake and eat cherry pie on Beltane? Never mind the fact that cherries SCREAM sexuality and fertility. Add them to a pie, and…yes, you’re celebrating the human body and an ancient fertility festival with these little red fruits. Add vanilla ice cream on top and really kick up the decadence. Every time I bake a pie, I remember my grandmother setting a cherry pie in the windowsill to cool while the grandkids played outside. There were many times we wanted to make off with the pie like one of those old cartoon movie characters. And yes, I recall it was definitely Spring or early Summer.
Other Modern Ways to Celebrate the Fire Festival
Besides eating amazing Beltane food, what else can we do on May Day? There are SO many traditions to choose from, but don’t forget to make your own traditions. Spending this day in the comfort of your own preferences should go without saying. If you’re unsure what else to do besides feasting, here’s a few suggestions:
- Brew your own mead
- Take a long nature walk
- Leave offerings for the fae in the forest or garden
- Erect a maypole
- Dance like no one is watching
- Play Celtic music all day long
- Invoke your Celtic ancestors
- Invoke your Celtic gods and goddesses
- Light a candle in honor of the Sun’s return
- Have a bonfire (ancient tradition)
- Purification rituals: bathing, smoke-cleansing, etc.
- Honor the Green Man
- Decorate your home and altar in wildflowers