Blog

OSTARA

Gypsy Girl says: Ostara is the time to look at your life and acknowledge what has ended, and what is beginning. It represents death, rebirth, new beginnings, creativity, new life and new growth. It’s my personal favourite time in the garden — there are so many beautiful English cottage flowers unfurling (bluebells, hyacinths, daffodils, forget-me-nots, tulips, lilac, poppies), blossoming trees and butterflies. All those bulbs that were planted in the dark, frosty months suddenly appear in the most surprising and magical places. Lawns are freshly mowed and the sunshine returns, while nights remain crisp and mornings are dewy and misty. There are rainbows and storms, glorious sunbeams and vegetables growing. The garden is humming away, and it’s a time that makes me feel glad to be alive. This was the time that maidservants traditionally baked Simnel Cakes (pictured below) for their mothers; you can read more about Simnel Cakes here. Celebrate the return of the sun!

Here’s a collection of Eastertide baking, celebrations and egg hunts
Click on image below to view gallery.

Ostara

Wild garlic
At this time of year, wild garlic (Allium triquetrum) grows profusely all over Gypsy Garden and the surrounding countryside. I pull it up, roots and all (below), and slice the bulbs to add to salads, sauces and stirfries. It is not as pungent as regular garlic; it offers a subtler and fresher taste.
Click on image below to view gallery.

Garlic Bulbs

MAY DAY

Two weeks before May Day, the hawthorn trees are blooming splendidly in the countryside all around. One afternoon I went out to make Hawthorn Flower Essence and found the neighbours’ old trees full of a heady fragrance and buzzing bees in the hot spring sunshine. Hawthorn is such a beautiful bloom, with its pretty scalloped leaves, but it has the funniest scent — and when picking it, you’re either getting stung by bees or prickled by its super-long thorns! I’ve always felt that hawthorn is the ultimate ‘Wheel of the Year’ plant, with its white blossoms at May Day, green foliage at Midsummer, red ‘haws’ (berries) at Harvest and skeleton branches at Yuletide. Indeed, this magical ‘Mayflower’ held lots of significance in olden times (see my May Day page), being one of the twelve Druid ‘Ogham’ (sacred) trees. Its powers were said to be fertility, chastity, protection, caution, relaxation and happiness. Hawthorn, in folklore and magic, opens the heart. Part of the ancient and sacred triad of ‘Oak, Ash and Thorn’, the hawthorn has always been a tree of magic and enchantment. In old England, people planted hawthorns to mark and protect holy wells, and hung ragged pieces of cloth and little trinkets from their branches to appease the fairies. On May Day, the branches were carried in procession from house to house to share the Thorn Spirit’s blessing. Young leaves were eaten raw (hence the nickname ‘Bread and Cheese Tree’) and both flowers and haws were used in hedgerow jellies, wines and herbal medicines.
Hawthorn Tea can be made by pouring boiling water into a cup with two teaspoons of crushed, dried berries, leaving it for 20 minutes or so to infuse, stirring occasionally, then straining before drinking. Sweeten with honey if desired. Dried leaves or dried or fresh blossom can also be used.

MIDSUMMER

Gypsy Girl says: On a glorious Midsummer day when the many-coloured roses in Gypsy Garden were blooming profusely, I decided to experiment with rose petal jam. Flower petals, of course, can be eaten in many different forms: lavender seeds in tea and cakes, nasturtiums in salads, sugared violets on cakes. Rose petals are traditionally used for rosewater. As a keen jam maker, I was sure that crystallised rose petals would work just as nicely in a jam or compote form. I stewed the petals exactly as one would stew orange slices or raspberries, and bottled the resulting dark and highly aromatic jam. This would be perfect slathered on Persian rosewater cardamom cake (aphrodisiacs!), or simply with fresh scones, melting butter and whipped cream… enjoyed with a cup of tea in a porcelain cup in a rose garden, of course!

Making rose petal jam

Click on image below to start step-by-step gallery.

Making rose petal jam

The height of Midsummer is the perfect time for ripe tomatoes. There really is no other way to eat a tomato — refrigerated, out-of-season tomatoes are tasteless. A thick red ‘beef’ tomato or tiny sugary cherry tomatoes are best chopped up and enjoyed as bruschetta — which should always be served at room temperature. (Note: this recipe doesn’t include crushed garlic, but that would make a tasty addition… if you’re not worried about evening kisses.)

Making bruschetta
Click on image below to start step-by-step gallery.

Making bruschetta



LAMMAS

Gypsy Girl says: Baking a loaf of Lammas bread from scratch is a very spiritual ritual. Firstly, it is an ancient practice, something millions of human beings have done every day for thousands of years. Secondly, it requires you to truly slow down and respect the process involved. Kneading a lump of dough non-stop for 10 minutes is surprisingly tiring and takes some stamina. It’s a meditative, therapeutic ritual; you can release suppressed anger while pounding the dough, and process the mental chatter in your mind as you quietly reflect and unwind. You can also place much intention into the dough as you turn it through your hands, imbuing it with blessings, love and gratitude. The dough must be set aside to rise before another session of kneading, followed by baking — all up, a process that requires time, patience and perseverance. The same day I baked my Lammas loaf, I stopped by a supermarket later that afternoon and watched as the woman in front of me casually tossed a plastic packet of bread rolls through the check-out. I thought to myself, Here is a busy woman who has no idea how many hours her grandmother, great-grandmother and other ancestors would have spent baking their own bread rolls. How much we take for granted the quick-fix, processed, fast food that we churn through in our modern world. The 21st-century Western world would look and feel very different if householders everywhere had to set aside a couple of hours per day to produce their family’s own bread. Perhaps more conversations would take place between family members. Perhaps more children would willingly assist their parents in the kitchen in making their own food from scratch. Perhaps the wonderful, steaming, butter-melting bread — once aromatically pulled from the oven — would draw everyone around a shared dining table to ‘break bread’ and enjoy its heart-warming goodness together.

Making Lammas bread
Tip: the best way to tell when the loaf of bread is cooked is to tap it on the base with your knuckle — if it sounds hollow, it is cooked.
Click on image below to view gallery.

Bread making

Corn dolly
On an overcast day late in Lammas, I decided to take a walk around my country neighbourhood to collect the dried grasses, pods, seeds and dried flowers that filled the fields and hedgerows. This dried bouquet was the result — something of a rustic corn dolly, capturing the spirit of the fields. I hung the bouquet in my kitchen to keep the sweetness of summer present all winter long.

A walk through my neighbouring fields during Lammas
Click on image below to view gallery.

Lammas landscape

 

HARVEST

An afternoon spent searching old orchards and hedgerows for treasure!
Click on image below to view gallery.

Blackberrying

Gypsy Girl says: My neighbour directed me to her Satsuma plum tree. “Please go and gather as many as you like,” she said. “There’s so much fruit, and they’re simply superb, you must take some.” After finally walking up a steep hill behind her cherry orchards, I found the incredible tree she had described. It was absolutely loaded with fruit, heavy as solid rubies, frosty blue-purple plums clustered on every branch in such a display of abundance that it literally took my breath away. After gathering as many perfectly ripe plums as I could carry, I stood back and looked at the tree. I thought to myself, “This tree could easily provide enough fruit for every man, woman and child in a town or village — this single tree alone!” I thought some more about how truly over-generous nature is to us, her earthly children. One single tree, enough fruit for SO many people! And inside every single one of those hundreds of plums, more plum stones just waiting to be planted to provide one hundred times more nourishment and abundance! And that’s just plum trees! We can have SO much of anything we like, if we grow it and nurture it and tend from it and harvest it and remain thankful for this delightful, nourishing cycle of life. There is absolutely more than enough for us, and the birds and animals too… more than we even need, more than we want. My neighbour’s overloaded plum tree is the most beautiful metaphor for abundance in our universe: it is always within arms reach, it is happily and freely shared, and there’s more than enough for everyone – now and in the future. We must remember and trust that this is a Divine Law of Nature, and being born of the natural world ourselves, such riches will always be available to you if you simply ask, believe, and show gratitude.
basket

Left: Fresh dandelion greens, apples and walnuts gathered from Gypsy Garden in autumn. Together they make the perfect salad.

 

 

 

 

A sunlit afternoon in the old apple orchards
Click on image below to view gallery.

Apples

Gathering walnuts in the garden
Click on image below to view gallery.

Walnuts

HALLOWTIDE

Gypsy Girl Says: My three-year-old son has just begun asking a lot of questions about death, and Hallowtide just happened to be the perfect time to take him for a tour of the garden and show him how natural things all wither and die, entering their necessary dormant periods. We pointed at crumbling, dried flowers, grape leaves that had turned red and poplar leaves that had turned yellow, and scuffed them where they blew along the ground. I explained how apples come, we eat them, they fall and wither, and then “a long time later” they come back again. I also showed him little shoots and buds that were still in their infancy of growth, so he could see the true contrast between ‘alive’ and ‘dead’. The natural world and it’s physical, visible cycles is such a wonderful tool and teacher. It’s also deeply and profoundly reassuring: Yes, everything dies and goes away eventually. And yes, after a period of dormancy, it all miraculously revives and comes back again. When? At just the perfectly right time — never too early, never too late. To famously paraphrase, ‘Nature never hurries, and yet everything always gets done.’ How we have forgotten these simple age-old wisdoms in our own hectic modern lives.

Radish ‘toadstools’ and ‘spiderweb’ soup for Hallowtide treats

 

hallowtide-soup

 


YULE

A delightfully festive winter craft that will have all your Yuletide visitors talking!
Click on image below to view gallery. These are small images, so click each image again to view ‘Next’.

Ice ornaments

Spicy smells and candlelight…
Decorating for Christmas is something I have loved since I was a very little girl, when I believed that Christmas Eve was the most magical night of the year. My mother is American, so she had great boxes filled with garlands, wreaths, stockings and pieces she had purchased from her time living in Germany. She always insisted on a real Christmas tree, for the heavenly smell, and baked all sorts of traditional Christmas biscuits and gingerbread men which she packaged up with ribbons and cards for anyone who stopped by the house. I have continued all these traditions in my own home; my children check their stockings on Christmas morning, there is mulled cider for the adults, and my house is buried under the many decorations I have lovingly collected — and inherited — over the years.

Yuletide at Gypsy Cottage
Click on image below to view gallery.

Yuletide decorations

Clementine candles
This ancient European tradition has been passed down in many homes, and is undertaken each ‘clementine season’. They look gorgeous when placed in a line down your Yuletide table centrepiece, wound with berry sprays and garlands. All you need is a clementine and fire (or a mandarin and a match!) — and a bottle of olive oil. Cut the clementine in half and carefully peel away the fruit, leaving the white part, called the pericarp or albedo, exposed. Pour a small amount of olive oil into the “candle.” I say “a small amount” because it really doesn’t take very much, plus you want your “wick” to remain exposed and not drowned in oil. It might light right away or it could take a few tries. If your pericarp “wick” chars rather than lights, then rub a bit of olive oil into it and try again. Once the candle lights, it burns very cleanly. The bottom of my candle did not get hot, but you may wish to place the candle on a heat-safe surface, just to be safe. My candle went out on its own once it exhausted its oil. NOTE: The tough part is getting the “wick” to light. You really need a nice bit of clementine “flesh” sticking up in the middle, which you then soak for a minute in the olive oil. If your clementine doesn’t have any flesh in the middle OR if you rip it, you’ll need to start with another one.