Quotes from The Virago Book of Food: The Joy of Eating
'Many folk stories warn of the dangers of accepting a gift of food, especially a luxury food such as fruit or cake, from a woman outside the immediate family. In 'Snow Drop', the earliest version of the tale which became better-known as 'Snow While', the wicked queen, who plainly has magical powers, prepares one last trap for her victim: a poisoned apple. 'The outside looked very rosy and tempting, but whoever tasted it was sure to die'. 'Hansel and Gretel' is the best known of a group of stories to which two children are victims of their own and their parents' terrible hunger. These two children, abandoned by their (step)mother, find an alternative and apparently miraculous source of food, a house made of luxury items: 'the cottage was made of bread and cakes, and the windowpanes were of clear sugar'. The magic house is inhabited by a witch; it embodies and represents her magical power that she can create such an impossible dwelling and symbol of plentitude. The witch at first seems kind and considerate, but later reveals herself to be the opposite of the nurturer she seems; she is a devourer, not a substitute mother but an antimother:
The old woman, nodding her head, said "Ah, you dear children, what has brought you here? Come in and stop with me, and no harm shall befall you; and so saying she took them both by the hand and led them into her cottage' A good meal of milk and pancakes, with sugar, apples and nuts, was spread on the table, and in the back room were two little beds, covered with white where Hansel and Gretel laid themselves down, and thought themselves in heaven...
The witch decides to eat Hansel and to keep Gretel to work, and as a result it is Gretel's feminine linkage with the kitchen and cooking that allows her to take the witch from consumer to meal, baking her in the oven she prepares for Hansel.
The Witch in History
Hansel and Gretel by Arthur Rackham