June. Month of blue skies, swifts swooping, fledgling birds emerging from their nests, trees fully clothed, teens taking exams, teachers and mothers just hanging on till the end of term.
Long light evenings tempt us out to share a drink with friends and for a brief while we become a bit more relaxed, a little more “Mediterranean”. It may even be summer. Some years the hottest days are June days and we wonder if they will last through July and August.
Gardens are in full flower and in the veg patch the baby broad beans are ready – try blanching them and serving on toast spread with a mild goats cheese and a lemony vinaigrette – and first early potatoes appear from warm soil ready to be served simply with butter and chives or a salsa verde. Fresh young peas are delicious simply podded & eaten within minutes of picking. With an aperitif on a warm evening nothing beats their sweet green liveliness. In the markets soft fruits abound and begin to taste properly of themselves; glorious doughnut peaches, cherries and strawberries – eat them at every meal – with yoghurt at breakfast, in salads at lunch, and naked or with cream for evening dessert. Dip strawberries & cherries in chocolate for a sweet treat. All seems possible, all seems permissible in this delicious month of June!
In the church we celebrate Pentecost. The birth of Christianity, the early beginning of the church, the time when the Holy Spirit came to the 12 disciples just as Jesus had promised. What a wonderful gift we have? The Holy Spirit who in dwells; who convicts us and gives us strength; our guide in life and the confidence of our faith.
June 2017 is turning out to be a horrific month in the U.K. There have been terrorist attacks, devastating fires, and political chaos. Let’s cover it all with prayer. In churches, in small groups, in private prayer.
Jesus said, ” For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Matthew 18:20, so let’s pray with great fervour and compassion for the pain and the suffering this month.
May. Month of flowers blooming, sun warming, and chickens brooding; lighter moods, bank holidays, RHS garden shows and busy garden centres.
Anything seems possible, the mantel of winter is long since forgotten, and we look forward to summer with renewed hope, as if for the first time discovering the pleasure of sunlight touching skin. Spring blossom may be almost past but instead baby fruits begin to appear, tiny cherries, gooseberries, blackcurrants. The herbs are fresh and verdant, beautiful chive flowers dancing on the breeze, mint thrusting up strong and carelessly, thyme flowering daintily, oregano bold and reliable.
Rhubarb is still performing and the Rhubarb Gin has been made. It is quite sweet and could be drunk on its own although caution is recommended! Such a pretty light pink, mixed with a deeper pink rhubarb syrup, some lime, an egg and a couple of drops of vanilla it makes a beautiful cocktail, we have decided to call Rhubarb and Custard.
With the chive flowers we’re making chive flower vinegar, a lovely addition to the store cupboard and lovely for salad dressings. Other herb vinegars will no doubt follow suit. Asparagus and Jersey Royals are abounding in greengrocers and supermarkets alike and with the abundance of eggs I’m thinking of asparagus, new potato and herb frittatas making lovely light lunches.
Christians will celebrate the Ascension this year in May (with Pentecost coming shortly on its heels at the beginning of June.) The Ascension represents Christ’s glorification and exaltation following his resurrection from the dead, the time when he is reunited with his Heavenly Father, resuming his rightful place. It is the beginning of a new phase of ministry through His church, empowered by the Holy Spirit.
“6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” Acts 1: 6-10
April. Month of lengthened days, brisker steps, glorious sunsets and peach tinged sunrises, feathery clouds, flourishing hedgerows and chattering dawns.
The light has a new openness to it, inviting us out, as if to spiritual contemplation, and it stirs from deep within a corporeal admission of awe at the wonder of creation. The hedgerows are burgeoning with Blackthorn blossom, and the undergrowth is full of fresh nettles looking good enough to make into soup, not yet defiled by animal or traffic. In the garden ornamental cherries are making deep and meaningful promises with buds so much darker than the blossom that will follow, and plum trees are displaying their first delicate white blossom buds.
Spring has definitely sprung full on and with a warmth around the edges of the days thoughts may turn to summer, but beware! Whilst there’s work to be done in the vegetable beds old Jack Frost may still yet nip at tender plants, undoing the work done in greenhouses and coldframes.
With the rhubarb in full growth I’m thinking about rhubarb gin, followed by boozy pies or crumbles made with the gin infused pink stuff. I’m planning a favourite spiced lamb shoulder for an epic Easter feast. If you can find wild garlic in shady spots – often by rivers – then use it in fabulous pestos or stir fries, or with those nettles in a mild hedgerow soup. There may be the first of the Jersey royals – fabulous in warm potato salads with tender purple sprouting broccoli shoots – or simply dressed with butter and mint alongside a grilled trout fillet.
And Easter tells us the main Christian story, what it’s all about. It’s not about a manger, or a miracle, it’s not about a teacher and his disciples, it’s not about a donkey or the palms or even raising the dead. It’s all about the cross. So with deep solemnity we contemplate and share in Jesus’s last supper or Passover, with deep sorrow we bow our heads at Jesus’s agony on the cross, and with the deepest joy we praise God for the good news of the resurrection, and His promise of salvation to all who believe.
In John 5:24 Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.”
March. Month of lightened hearts, budding shoots, flowering bulbs, colour at last, bluer skies.
The air feels lighter, as if stretching its shoulders after months being hunched up, the edge has gone off it, and we imagine it’s Spring proper. Hellebores and narcissi tell us it’s Spring, the chickens are back to regular laying and we’re overrun with eggs once more. Yet the risk of snow is not past, and even with 11 hours of daylight the hedgerows still have some work to do.
Thoughts turn to spring cleaning and there’s an urge to declutter after the hunkering down of Winter. Out with the candles and in with the flowers. Fling open the curtains and the windows as well, breathe deeply, relax, Spring is just around the corner.
In the kitchen I’m already thinking of lighter dishes – less stew, more fricassee; less steaming, more stir-fry. And salads may emerge again from winter hibernation – not the light and frothy salads of summer, but more robust, interesting slaws and salads with carbs, perhaps warm or with warm additions. Perhaps we’ll get the first of the purple sprouting broccoli and serve it simply – pan fried with butter, garlic and lemon, or dip it, like soldiers, in softly boiled eggs. I’m already thinking about spring lamb although it may be a tad too early for that.
In the church calendar it’s the beginning of Lent, time of fasting and reflection as we run down to Holy Week. Kicking off with Ash Wednesday, Lent represents the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert, and its purpose is to prepare the Christian heart through prayer and repentance and other acts of atonement. It’s a time for spiritual discipline, daily devotion, a time to draw near to God. It can be solemn although not uninspiring, a time to think deeply about what it means to be Christian; what it means to follow Christ.
“Now is the healing time decreed for sins of heart and word and deed, when we in humble fear record the wrong that we have done the Lord.” (Latin, before 12th century)
February. Month of nascent hope, damp skies, hanging air, sodden ground, flooded fields.
It’s mostly grey, yet tinged with the faintest blue. Still light beyond 4.00p.m. adding length to the day, time for more jobs and a little hope to the soul. The chickens have noticed the additional light and now and then pop out the odd egg. Feathers begin to puff out and scarlet combs deepen, standing tall. And in the borders worms abound for chickens and pigeons alike. Robins visit often.
It’s time to start thinking about seed sowing. Seed catalogues arrive, tempting with their perfect produce, promising far more we can deliver, teasing with abundance spilling out from every page. What will we grow this year?
In the kitchen new hope brings experiments. Chinese New Year at the end of January got me thinking of cooking takeaway style favourites and so there’ll be my experimental version of Char Sui Pork – sticky, sweet, and lush. And having recovered from the excesses of Christmas and survived a more frugal, worthy January, it’s time to bake again. Everything in moderation of course, but a brownie here and a biscuit there will not do much harm, so there’ll be recipes for those. In season, parsnips, and winter squashes; celeriac, swede and other root veg are still around so I’m thinking warming roasts, gratins and braises with those. And whilst it’s still cold there’ll be more winter warming stews and casseroles, maybe a game style pie with venison still in season. For lighter suppers I’m heading to the fishmongers – perhaps I’ll pick up the last of the mussels, clams or cockles and make a seafood broth, or some lovely skate wings to poach and serve with a brown butter. And there will definitely be blood oranges and forced rhubarb in there somewhere!
In the Anglican church calendar February is a period of “ordinary time”; so a time to reflect on what is going on in the world, to ask the question, “What would Jesus do?”, to consider Christian themes of forgiveness and grace, and to learn how to be better disciples of Christ. On Valentine’s day I’ll be thinking about the real meaning of love, and trying to get to grips with the magnitude of God’s love. So this month’s prayers will reflect on that love and those Christian themes and worldly issues.
January. Month of melancholy, short days, dark mornings, cold drizzle, cloddy earth, bare trees.
There’s not much in the veg patch and the chickens have stopped laying. Christmas is but a dim memory, and many may slump into a gloomy depression.
And yet, looking carefully at the ground there are new shoots emerging and little bulbs forming. Soon there will be hellebores, and narcissus, and new shoots of rhubarb. The sun, low in the sky, offers tantalising glimmers and an often ethereal light, and there can be hope of new beginnings and better fortunes; a sense of closing the door on all that was bad in the old year and starting a new chapter.
In the kitchen I’m thinking about healthy eating having over indulged as usual over Christmas. It seems to me Christmas and New Year can feel like one long round of meat gorging. And we Brits love to do meat with our meat! So we stuff a bird with another bird, or we cook a ham as well as a turkey, or at the very least we add bacon wrapped sausages to our meat feast. So eating less meat in January just seems to happen naturally. Eating more frugally, more vegetarian based meals, or with only a bit of meat as accompaniment rather than the main event. There’ll be some meat free dishes in the Recipes section. In season are some great cabbage family members – sprouts, cavolo nero, kale – and roots – beetroot, celeriac, swede, parsnips, turnips – and I’ll post some great little weekday simple suppers based on those. Also in season are many fish and shellfish – low in fat, high in essential oils, tasty, nutritious and worthy! So I’ll get something fishy up there too. And of course it’s Seville orange season. So preserving is on my mind too.
In the Christian calendar we celebrate Epiphany, and then begin the journey to Easter via Christ’s presentation in the Temple, and the Annunciation (or announcement) to Mary that she would give birth to Jesus. In the Prayers section there’ll be prayers reflecting on the new year, on the major topical issues affecting our world, and thematic prayers for those seeking solace, or forgiveness, and prayers of thanksgiving.