Coven Verse | A recipe for elderberry & apple jelly, by Katherine McMahon

Coven Verse is an ad-hoc Sunday night poetry series on Little Red Tarot, sharing witchy and magical writing from our community and beyond. Want to submit a poem? Send it along with a brief bio to

A recipe for elderberry and apple jelly

You pick the dark berries
from the sides of quiet roads alone.
You reach up, feel your muscles
stretch along your side,
you jump to catch the juicy ones
winking from high bunches;
pull the branches down
so you can gather.

You pick up clenched fists
of windfall crabapples from the damp grass,
their hard sourness solid in your hand.

Your bags are heavy with flesh.

At home, you pluck the berries from their pink
stalks, their fractal stems reminding you of lungs.
You worry about the bugs caught in the bowl –
you don’t want to hurt anything –
a flake of skin tickles your leg
and you shiver, thinking it’s an insect.
You guide the spiders out of the window,
then plunge your hands into the bounty
piled like something from an apothecary,
running staccato against your skin,
then squeeze until the juice runs
between your fingers.

You chunk the apples into fingers,
not bothering to skin or core,
chuck it all in a heavy pot.
Boil until the apples are
a lurid, satisfying pink
and then dark chaotic mush.
Strain it until the jelly bag
is stained gloriously
purple, until all that’s left
is debris, like hair in a drain.

You wish you could grow sugar beet
as you pour the granulated
in, boil it until it forms a skin
dropped on a freezer-cold plate,
jar it up.

Your cheek is smudged purple,
your apron pipped,
your clothes sweaty,
your round belly ready.

This is good. Not only do you not care,
but more – it is all yours and you feel good.

You do not need anyone for this.

Not the men in the street who tell you to smile
until it feels like your mouth does not belong to you;
not the people who touch your skin without permission
like you owe them a share of your body;
not the boy who made you feel beholden
to nourish his starving life;
not the boss who insinuates that your job
is a favour they are doing for you;
not the people who say ‘oh but you don’t look gay!’
like you owe them comprehensibility.

You do not have to share these fruits
with anyone who does not
love you properly.

You dream that if society collapsed
and the supermarkets ran out of
everything, you would know what to do.

For this afternoon, you do not have to bargain.
No-one can make you feel beholden.
You have no debts here.

The jar will glow like dark stained glass
and it will be just for you,
for your sacred mouth.

Katherine McMahon

Katherine is a performance poet living and working in London, after a decade of living in Edinburgh. She has performed across the UK, and runs workshops, projects, and weird and wonderful events.

She’s particularly interested in using spoken word to build a more just, kinder world through community and solidarity. Her first solo spoken word show, Fat Kid Running, debuted in May 2017 as part of the Flint & Pitch Presents… series, followed by a Scottish tour. More performances are on the way, in London and beyond! Find her at

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash.

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  1. Nico says:

    Such a good feeling conveyed by this poem… I must take the time again to preserve and to bake…

  2. Mog says:

    “You do not have to share these fruits
    with anyone who does not
    love you properly.”
    Beautiful. I love this poem.

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