I am not going to lie, I am NOT a fan of summer. Humidity, excessive sweating, the million bugs in my face that always seem to find their way into my eye, ugh! Even the exhaustion seems to set in so much quicker when I am doing yard work in the summer versus spring or autumn. I have learned that looking for the positive in every situation not only lessens the suffering, but it usually allows to me have fun and enjoy life no matter what. With the summer solstice only two days away, it's time to start counting the blessings summer affords me.
The Summer Solstice, Midsummer or Litha occurs Sunday, June 20th at 11:32pm EST this year for us in the Northern hemisphere. This is the point on the wheel where we experience the longest day (or shortest night) of the year. The word solstice is derived from the Latin word solstitium, meaning "sun standing still." The Sun's energy is at its peak right now and appears to hang out here for a few days until it begins its descent. From this day forward the sun's presence will decrease by about a minute each day until the Winter's Solstice (in December). It is officially summer, so let the festivities begin!
I am a social creature by nature (COVID quarantine definitely confirmed that;); it makes my heart happy to bring people together and feed them. The long, lazy days of summer just seem to invite these types of gatherings, cookouts, tubing trips down the river followed by a potluck in the garden. The summer season offers a huge variety of fresh herbal goodies to create a plethora of treats for these get-togethers. I thought I might share some of my favorite seasonal recipes with you with the intention of inspiring some backyard shenanigans in your neck of the woods.
Elderflowers are in bloom right around mid June in our area, so the solstice is the perfect time to harvest them. We want to be careful not to harvest too many flowers as these are where the berries form in August/September. Some people will dip the blooms in their favorite fritter batter and deep fry up some elderflower fritters, but I am partial to using these beauties in cock/mocktails. Create this Elderflower Cordial and let your imagination run wild with the possibilities of creating endless concoctions.
10 large elderflowers
2 lemons, sliced
2.5 L of water
4 cups of sugar
Shake the bugs and dirt off of the flowers, but do not wash them. If you are working with dried flowers you do not have to worry about this;)
Put flowers and lemon slices in the water in a large stock pot and bring to a boil.
Remove from heat, cover and allow to sit for 4 hours to overnight.
Strain out the flowers and lemons and return the liquid to the saucepan. Add the sugar and bring to a boil.
Simmer for 5 minutes, stirring frequently to dissolve the sugar.
At this point you can bottle it while hot in a canning jar to create a seal. Or allow to cool and refrigerate. If not sealed, it is best used in a few weeks.
You could mix into your favorite cocktail, or just mix in with seltzer water in a 1:5 ratio (depending how sweet you like it).
This time of year is also when garlic scapes are in abundance and they are my FAVORITE! We plant our garlic in the late fall and let it over winter. It is one of the first plants to start to emerge in the spring. Right around the first to second week in June the plant will produce a long, thick, curly stem-like shoot out of its center called a scape. If left alone, this stalk will produce a flower and the garlic will "go to seed." BUT if you cut that deliciously pungent delicacy, the plant will send all of its energy back down into its root (the garlic bulb). About two weeks after the scapes are cut, the garlic bulbs are ready to be harvested and hung to cure/dry. What do you do with those scapes? The questions should be, what can't you do with scapes?!?!? You can replace the use of garlic bulbs with scapes in any recipe. One of favorites ways to enjoy this summertime treat is in some wild greens pesto, sometimes adoringly called "front lawn pesto."
The beauty of this recipe is that you can use ANY combination of ingredients, there is no wrong answer here.
Wild Greens Pesto
1 cup greens (you can just buy from the grocery store, or better yet forage your front lawn for whatever is popping up at the time). Basil is the traditional one here, but you can use garlic mustard (this invasive can be found in abundance along a wood's edge), dandelion greens, lamb's quarter and chickweed can usually be found in most people's yard. You can use just one kind, or do a mix of whatever you harvest.
5-6 garlic scapes (if you like it really garlicky like me). If you do not grow your own garlic or are not lucky enough to have access to a farmer's market, you can always just use 1-3 cloves of garlic in place of scapes.
1/4 cup of nuts. Pine nuts are commonly used in pesto, but I love to swap them out for walnuts or pecans depending what is in my cupboard at the time.
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, or keep it vegan and substitute nutritional yeast.
1/2 cup of olive oil
Blend all of this in your food processor, blender or if you want the full homesteading effect, use a mortar and pestle. While the motor (or your arm) is running, drizzle in the 1/2 cup of olive oil until you achieve your desired consistency. Enjoy this summer spread on bread, crackers or mix in with your favorite hot pasta.
Even this winter baby can't deny that these tasty treats invoke a child like wonder that helps me appreciate iced beverages, hammocks, good books and summer siestas. How do you plan on spending the summer solstice?
Not a social person? No worries, they are live streaming the solstice at Stonehenge again this year. You can check that out here. Whatever you find yourself getting into on the longest day of year, enjoy!