This Sunday will be May Day and not much is going to happen.
May Day, or May 1, is just about the only one of the old pagan holidays that wasn’t successfully recycled for Christian use. Yule morphed into Christmas, Ostara was replaced by Easter, Samhain became All Saint’s Day but Beltaine, (May 1) never got a successful Christian overlay. Pius XII instituted the feast of St. Joseph the Worker as late as 1955 but that just doesn’t have the same pizzazz as Christmas or Easter.
Besides, Pius XII’s choice of Saint Joseph the Worker probably had more to do with May Day having been co-opted by the labor movement in 1886 than matters of religion. Once May Day became associated with workers, it wasn’t long until the Communist Party in the Soviet Union took it up, which should have spelled curtains for maypoles, may baskets and Queens of the May here in the United States.
Surprisingly, all of those things were still going strong here in Cold War America well into the mid-20th century. Glenda Williams Brown of State Road has this memory of the early 60s, “I remember participating in a Maypole celebration at Yadkinville School. Each of us was given the end of a ribbon and we walked clockwise around the pole, weaving over and under each other. We had to take turns because there wasn’t enough walking room for everyone to participate at once. This was in the early 60s when I was in the second grade. That was the only time I can recall doing this.”
Lois Draughn, also from Yadkin County, said, “I was a daisy in the May Pole wrap in the eighth grade.”
Ironically, it was around the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union that these ancient pre-Christian customs finally died out. Jessica Johnson, who was born in 1980, remembers, “when I was a little girl, we had a fabulous May Day ceremony with a maypole at Franklin Elementary school.” Johnson recalls that the festivities ended before she reached the third grade.
But completely unrelated to any recorded history about May 1 and its frivolities and shenanigans, it was most important in these parts as the day that began the barefoot season. Traditionally, one did not go barefoot before May 1 no matter how hot it got before then. Glenda Brown’s 83-year-old mother confirmed that it has been that way her whole life. Jessica Johnson remembers the custom was still in place during her childhood in the 1980’s.
Tammy Beals Morris of Elkin notes that shoes were not the only thing that could be dispensed with on May 1. When she was growing up in the 1960’s, little girls wore undershirts in the winter which had to be worn until May 1. Sherry Holbrook Call confirms the custom of “those God awful undershirts” and their tediousness which had to be endured until the beginning of May.
All holidays have their special food, and May Day is no exception. Flowers, fruits and honey were front and center after the long, bleak winter. Locally, May Day started picnic season and outdoor tea parties, according to Johnson. She remembers, “when I was a little girl, my mom would make us Kool-Aid and do little fruits and cheerios on plates, or if I was really lucky, she’d create a little girl using all fruit and veggies, like a peach for the head with raisins for eyes, cheese for hair, etc. Picnics were always homemade food, or simple sandwiches, but using as many garden goods as possible as well as strawberries or some kind of berry.”
Recipes follow for your May Day tea party, an informal affair with shoes and undershirts not required.
Bread overflowing with raspberries, either fresh or frozen, can set the tone for May Day. Raspberries symbolize the season’s coming bounty.
2 cups plus 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
pinch salt, optional and to taste
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
2 tsp. vanilla extract
10 to 12 ounces raspberries, about 2 cups
Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray one 9×5-inch loaf pan with floured cooking spray, or grease and flour the pan; set aside. In a large bowl, add 2 cups of the flour, sugars, baking soda, optional salt, and whisk to combine; set aside. In a medium microwave-safe bowl or glass measuring cup, melt the butter, about 45 seconds on high power. Allow butter to cool momentarily so you don’t scramble the egg. To the butter, add the egg, buttermilk, oil, vanilla, and whisk to combine. Pour wet over dry and stir until just combined; don’t over-mix. Batter will be somewhat lumpy and don’t try to stir the lumps smooth or bread will be tough; set aside. In a medium bowl, add the raspberries, 2 tablespoons flour, and toss lightly to combine (coating berries in flour helps to reduce sinking while baking). Add the raspberries to the batter and fold very lightly to combine. Turn batter out into prepared pan, smoothing the top lightly with a spatula and pushing it into corners and sides as necessary.
Baking time will range greatly based on if using fresh or frozen berries. Fresh berries can be done in as little as 45 minutes. Frozen berries could take as much as an hour and twenty minutes. Tent the pan with foil (lay a sheet of foil over top of pan) at the 30-minute mark. Bread is done when top is set in the middle, slightly domed, springy to the touch, and a toothpick inserted in the center (if you can find a patch without hitting raspberries) comes out clean or with a few moist crumbs, but no batter. Allow bread to cool in pan for about 15 minutes before turning out on a wire rack to cool completely before slicing and serving. Bread will keep airtight at room temperature for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 6 months.
May Day Crullers
These are like funnel cakes served at carnival and fairs. You will need a squeeze bottle or a pastry bag with a small tip and a coupler. Serve with Sima.
1 envelope active dry yeast
2 tbsp. warm water
1 tbsp. granulated sugar
1 cup milk, scaled, cooled
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
oil for deep-frying
powdered sugar, for dusting
Stir yeast in to water and let stand 5 minutes. Meanwhile beat eggs and sugar until blended. Stir in milk, yeast mixture and salt. Whisk in flour mixture until smooth. Cover the bowl with a dry towel and let set 45-60 minutes or until bubbly. Heat 1-1/2 to 2 inches of oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Bring to 375°F. Pour some of the batter into the squeeze bottle. Squeeze batter into oil in a swirling circular pattern, about 3-4 inches in diameter. Fry one minute on each side or until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel to drain. Dust with powdered sugar. Serve hot.
Sima, (pronounced ‘see-mah’), is a Finnish May Day Drink usually served with May Day Crullers. Recipe makes 5 quarts.
2 large lemons
1/2 cup plus 5 tsp. granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/8 cup dark corn syrup, optional
5 quarts boiling water
1/8 tsp. active dry yeast
15 or so raisins
Peel lemon and remove any of the white pith from the peel. Slice lemons as thin as possible. Combine lemon slices, lemon skins, 1/2 cup sugar and the brown sugar in a large enameled or stainless steel bowl. Pour boiling water over the mixture, stir then let cool to tepid. Stir in the yeast and allow the sima to ferment, uncovered, at room temperature for 12 hours. Bottle it: use 5 one-quart bottles with tight covers or corks. Place 1 teaspoon of sugar and 3 or 4 raisins in the bottom of each bottle. Strain the sima through a sieve and pour liquid into bottles. Close bottles tightly and let stand at room temperature 1 to 4 days until the raisins have risen to the surface. It will then be ready to drink, the raisin will rise according to the temperature of your home. Chill the bottles until ready to serve. Serve well chilled.
Live woodruff plants may be found in most nurseries; the dried herb is available in gourmet stores and through mail order.
1 bottle German white wine
1/2 cup sliced strawberries
12 sprigs of sweet woodruff
Pour wine into carafe. Add strawberries and woodruff and allow to stand no less than one hour. Strain and refrigerate.
SmokedTurkey Tea Sandwiches with Arugula Mayonnaise
What’s a tea party without tea sandwiches? Arugula celebrates the first offerings of the spring garden.
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup (packed) coarsely chopped arugula leaves plus 30 whole arugula leaves (about 4 large bunches total)
1 tbsp. minced shallot
1 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1/2 tsp. grated lemon peel
12 thin slices firm white sandwich bread, crusts trimmed
10 ounces thinly sliced smoked turkey
Mix mayonnaise, chopped arugula, shallot, parsley and lemon peel in small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Place bread slices on work surface. Spread mayonnaise mixture on each slice, dividing equally. Top 6 bread slices with turkey, dividing equally. Place 5 arugula leaves atop turkey on each. Top with remaining 6 bread slices, mayonnaise side down, pressing to adhere. Cut each sandwich diagonally into quarters.
Fried Honey Cakes
Honey and honey cakes are a recurring May Day theme. These cakes are not unlike those made on the night before Beltane at the turn of the last century and left in the garden to please fairy visitors. Humans like them too.
1/2 cup sweet white wine
2 tbsp. sugar
1 cup honey
2/3 cup flour
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1/8 tsp. cinnamon
Oil for frying
1/8 tsp. salt
Beat the wine and egg in a medium bowl. Combine the flour, cinnamon, salt and sugar in a small bowl. Stir into the egg mixture. Let stand 30 minutes. Combine the honey and nutmeg in a small bowl. Heat 1/2-inch of the oil in a frying pan until hot, but not smoking. Drop the batter into the oil 1 tablespoon at a time; fry until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Dip into the honey.
Wildflower Pound Cake
Alternatively, garnish your favorite pound cake, or even a purchased one with fresh edible flowers. Be careful to only use flowers that have not been treated with chemicals.
1 cup butter
1 1/2 cup flour
1 tsp. vanilla or lemon extract
5 eggs separated
1-1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1 c assorted edible flower petals- small pieces
Cream the Butter. Sift flour and add gradually to the butter. Beat the egg yolks until thick and lemon colored, add sugar gradually. Combine mixtures. Beat egg whites until stiff to add to mixture. Sift baking powder over mixture beat thoroughly. Fold in fresh flower pieces. Turn into a buttered deep cake pan, bake one hour at 350 degrees. Note: Garnish with fresh flowers.
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Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699, on Twitter @BillColvard.