Tonight marks the Summer Solstice: the longest day of the year when the sun is at its highest point and here in Scotland barely gets dark before it’s light again. Today marks the official start of Summer and along with Midsummer’s Eve and Midsummer Day (also known as St John’s Day) this Friday night and Saturday respectively, the time of year traditionally celebrates light, sun, growth, fire, fertility, warmth and abundance. Marking such ancient celebrations acts as an antidote to the hustle and bustle of everyday life, a reminder of the bigger picture, the rhythm of the seasons and forces larger than ourselves. Here are five simple ways to celebrate Midsummer (including a bonus seasonal recipe):
1) Say it with flowers
Midsummer is traditionally a time of wearing and decorating with flowers so it’s the ideal excuse to get gathering and fill your house with simple jam jar posies of wildflowers. Blooms are abundant everywhere at the moment, from hedgerow to woodland, garden to roadside. If you have more time then why not make a simple wreath – you can find my tutorial here – or even a flower crown. If you can’t wear one for Midsummer, when can you?!
Traditionally it was believed that witches were abroad at this time of year, so people would light fires to ward off evil creatures and celebrate the sun. If you managed to stay awake all night in the middle of a stone circle, you might see the “Fae” or faeries, and be blessed with good luck the year round. If you can’t find these near you (!), candles are an easy way to introduce Midsummer symbolism. My current fave is The White Company’s deliciously fresh Wild Mint.
3) Enjoy ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’
I remember the first time I read Shakespeare’s comedy in the Summer term of school when I was around 12, being instantly captivated by its magic and wit, and I always think of it at this time of year. I’m lucky enough to be teaching it now myself and reliving its mischief and mysticism. Seek out a performance near you, or watch the fab Michelle Pfeiffer/ Rupert Everett film version. I challenge you not to want to elope to the woods after watching it.
4) Eat al fresco
Somehow, food eaten outdoors seems to taste better. Maybe it’s because we seldom have the opportunity with our climate, but a picnic lunch or mezze supper is pure indulgence at this time of year. There’s no better treat to mark Midsummer than a delicious homemade feast outdoors. Fill an old basket with tupperware and a flask: keep it simple with seasonal salads and fresh berries – guaranteed crowd pleasers.
5) Embrace elderflower season
I don’t need to sing the praises of the seasonal creamy-white blooms as I’ve done so on many an occasion, but elderflower really is at its peak! Last weekend I made cordial and infused vinegar and gin, and I’ve more flowers stashed in the freezer. Bake my elderflower and white chocolate madeleines or follow the recipe below for elderflower ‘champagne’, otherwise known as elderflower lemonade – my new favourite to toast Midsummer. To make it, you will need:
4 elderflower heads in full bloom; 4.5 litres water; 1 lemon, its juice and skin quartered; 650g white sugar; 3 tbsp white wine vinegar.
Simply dissolve the sugar in a little of the water and leave to cool, then mix with all the other ingredients in a large basin.
Cover and leave for four days somewhere cool. Strain and pour into clean screw-top bottles. Leave at room temperature for 4 – 10 days, checking after six to make sure it’s not too fizzy. Keep an eye on the bottles and unscrew a little every few days to make sure they don’t explode (!) and checking the strength – the longer you leave it, the stronger the ferment will be. Once you’re happy, store in the fridge to slow down the fermentation process.
Recipe via Galloway Wildfoods.