It’s Elementary: Despacho and Afternoon Tea with Inkari

Gosh, it has been a while, hasn’t it? I’ve neither abandoned nor forgotten about the Picnic, I’ve just been busy, and what a time I’ve had of it.

My mother went on holiday abroad in early September, so I was faced with more responsibilities and duties at home. Part of that was making sure my grandfather didn’t burn the place down or paint things strange colours.

Mom returned safe and sound and bearing gifts, and since then, I’ve been working, baking, working, cooking, working, working, working, and dealing with soul-destroying South African bullshit bureaucracy.

Still, I somehow managed to find the time to attend two despachos held by the local Order of Inkari, a spiritual tradition based on the beliefs and practices of Q’ero people of Peru. Both were held in the afternoon, and were followed by a bring-and-share tea.

Put It in a Palmier

I wasn’t prepared to buy snacks for the tea at the supermarket, but was loath to make the savoury palmiers I’ve done twice before, because you’ll all start thinking I’m a one-trick pony or something. Same old with a twist, well, I think one can get away with that, if only just.

I’m not sure how or why I got goat’s milk cheese into my head, but that’s what happened. I Googled goat’s milk cheese flavour combinations, and that’s when something got my attention – a recipe on Foodnetwork.com for Apricot Coins.

I took one look at it and thought, “I can put that in a palmier”. Chaos and panic ensued, but I did it. The pastry hadn’t quite thawed, so they didn’t come out as nice as they could have, but they tasted fantastic. You can read more about them below.

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Apricot, walnut and thyme palmiers

Water and Fire Despachos

The first of the two was the Water Despacho, held at a friend’s house; the other was the Fire Despacho, held at the farm of one of the members.

A despacho is a ceremony that, while honouring all of creation and the powers that shape it, focus on one element in particular as the energy that informs and carries that specific rite.

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A typical rural Eastern Cape village, seen en route to the farm where the despacho was held.

The Water Despacho began with a period of reflection on the element. We sat around a water feature in my friend’s garden, and thought about what water means for us and for the earth, and we thought about its various symbolic meanings.

When ready to begin, the four elements were invoked, and we processed to the area where the second part of the rite was to take place. Duly smudged with the strong-scented smoke of cleansing herbs, we took our seats around a large colourful cloth that had been laid on the ground, and upon which various implements had been placed.

A similar procedure was followed for the Fire Despacho, although whether due to time or inclement weather, there was no reflection on the element prior to invoking the four elements.

The second part of the rite was the same for both despachos, although the flowers and wine used were of different colours. The first used blue flowers and white wine, and the second red flowers and red wine.

The central part of the rite sees the priest, in this case, an Alto Misayoq, build up something like a model of creation on the central square of a large sheet of paper that has been folded into nine squares.

Upon a bed of flowers were laid various items, each of which was representative of a different aspect or element of life. Among them were a shell, a wooden cross, llama fat, incense, seeds and seed pods, coloured sand, sweets, symbols made from clay, and mandrake root.

Each person present was given a leaf, which we had to press against our foreheads and charge it with our intentions. The leaves were also added to the despacho. After being sprinkled with wine, it was all wrapped up and tied closed with gold and silver thread.

The Alto Misayoq then wrapped the bundle in a woven cloth, and wiped it against each person as an additional cleansing rite. We then made our way outdoors.

At the Water Despacho, the bundle was taken out of the cloth, placed on a small pyre, and burned. At the Fire Despacho, the bundle was taken out of the cloth, and buried. It was at that point that a cup of wine was passed around for each of us to pour a libation and take a sip.

The ceremony works as meditation, which requires attentiveness and a spirit of quietude and recollection among the participants. It’s not a path that resonates with me to the extent that I would want to join the Order, but I will say that I found both ceremonies to be moving and meaningful. I’ve also seen a change within my friend as her involvement in the Order has deepened.

It was also refreshing to see that my friend and I aren’t the only people around here who find wearing a bible belt to be most unflattering.

I could not take photos during the despachos, so I visited the Order of Inkari Facebook group, and found a couple of photos that give a good idea of the despachos I attended.

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Fortune Flavours the Bold

These palmiers were inspired by a recipe for Apricot Coins, which are nothing more than dried (Turkish) apricots with a blob of goat’s milk cheese, a walnut, a drizzle of honey, and a sprinkle of thyme. Great, if you’re absolutely pressed for time or are all thumbs in the kitchen.

Palmiers really are worth the extra effort, though. They look good, and are actually very easy to make, and with this flavour combination, they’re capable of stealing the afternoon tea spotlight.

My recipe isn’t perfect, so when I get around to making it again, I’ll implement a few of the ideas I’ve had. I’ll revisit this blog then, update it, and let you all know what happened.

TIP: The folding instructions can be a bit much to take in, at first. Practice first using a tea-towel, just to get the technique (that’s what I did).

I’d also suggest that, if you’ve been liberal with the filling, don’t let the pastry touch in the middle – it makes folding it easier, and helps keep the palm tree-shape as it should be (some of mine went all wonky precisely because I folded it so that the pastry touched).

Apricot, Walnut and Thyme Palmiers

60g dried Turkish apricots

100g walnuts

¼ cup caster sugar

2 teaspoons honey

½ cup crumbled goat’s milk cheese

1 heaped teaspoon dried thyme

1 egg, beaten

2 tablespoons Demerara sugar

2 sheets puff pastry

 

Whizz the nuts, sugar, honey, and thyme in a blender or food processor until it forms something like a paste. Chop the apricots into small pieces.

Sprinkle board with half of the Demerara sugar, and place one sheet of pastry on the sugar. Using rolling pin, press pastry gently into Demerara sugar.

Spread half the nut mixture on pastry, and dot with half of the apricots and half of the cheese.

Fold two opposing sides inwards to meet in the middle. Flatten folded pastry slightly; brush with a little of the egg.

Fold each side in half to just meet in the middle; flatten slightly. Fold the two sides in half again so they just touch in the middle, flattening slightly.

Repeat process with remaining Demerara sugar, pastry sheet, nut mixture, apricots, cheese, and egg.

Enclose rolled pastry pieces, separately, with plastic wrap; refrigerate 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200˚C. When you’re ready to bake, cut the puff pastry rolls into 1cm slices. Put them face up, about 5cm apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper (do NOT forget the parchment paper, because they WILL stick). Bake for 14 minutes, or until golden brown.

It’s best to serve them warm, but if they cool down, they cool down – they’re still delicious.

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Palmiers filled with dried apricot, walnut, goat’s milk cheese, honey, and thyme.
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