Today is May Day, a day traditionally associated with the rites of Spring – a day of rural revelry arising from the slow blending of the sacred and the profane over many centuries. A day to worship trees, gather flowers, light bonfires, eat bannocks, dance around the maypole, and wash ones face in the dew to preserve one’s beauty. A day of prognostications and proverbs about the weather and the crops.
A day, especially if you have German heritage, to indulge in a little ‘Maibowle’ (May Bowl) – a wine cup flavoured and perfumed with Woodruff (Asperula odorata), a little white flowering herb that grows in the woods. Here is a recipe from those lovely ladies, Mrs Leyel and Miss Hartley, in ‘The Gentle Art of Cookery’ (1926)
Put a pint of white wine and two of red into a jug with sufficient sugar to sweeten it. Cut an orange, without peeling it, into thick slices and add it to the wine: then throw in some bunches of woodruff well washed and drained. Cover the jug and leave till next day.
Always drunk in Germany on May Day
Always drunk in Germany on May Day
Which is all very well for the rural inhabitants of the Northern Hemisphere. What about the rest of us? Luckily, in many parts of both hemispheres, today is also International Workers' Day – a day celebrating some historic wins by the labo(u)r movement (work is the same in all countries divided by confused spelling – and we all work, dont we?).
A delightful mid-Victorian publication with the confident title of “Enquire Within upon Everything” advises us on ‘Work, how to accomplish’, in paragraph 436:
It is better to accomplish perfectly a very small amount of work, than to half do ten times as much.
Employers may not agree, and you may end up needing recipes such as this, also from within the book:
An officer’s wife is the contributor of the following: Four ounces of each of the following ingredients, viz. suet, flour, currants, raisins, and bread-crumbs; two tablespoonfuls of treacle, half a pint of milk – all of which must be well mixed together, and boiled in a mould, for four hours. To be served up with wine or brandy sauce, if half-pay permit. From two to three hours we find sufficient. It is an excellent substitute for Christmas plum pudding, at the small expense of 6d. or 7d.
Tomorrow: Dining in State.
Quotation for the Day …
In Paris today millions of pounds of bread are sold daily, made during the previous night by those strange, half-naked beings one glimpses through cellar windows, whose wild-seeming cries floating out of those depths always makes a painful impression. In the morning, one sees these pale men, still white with flour, carrying a loaf under one arm, going off to rest and gather new strength to renew their hard and useful labor when night comes again. I have always highly esteemed the brave and humble workers who labor all night to produce those soft but crusty loaves that look more like cake than bread. Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870)
Above and beyond …
There are two versions of May wine in the English “Cassell’s Dictionary of Cookery” at The Companion to The Old Foodie.
Those half-naked beings would never pass modern-day health codes! Still, it's a romantic image of the baker that will serve me well today. Thanks OF!
You mean to tell me that REAL bakers DONT work half-naked all night! You've ruined a perfectly good fantasy that has enhanced my croissant-eating for decades! Shame on you, Joe!
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