Today is June 21: the summer solstice. And it would be fair to say that we will find any excuse to gather and celebrate with food. But the summer solstice is more than just an excuse to party; it’s a party with long-standing traditions.
Since pagan times, the people in the Northern Hemisphere have marked the longest day of the year in all kinds of ways. Generally speaking, the solstice (actually known as midsummer, if you recall your Shakespeare) was a time for great merriment, and festivals that involved heavy drinking and eating of seasonal foods. Throw in a bonfire, a fertility ritual or two, wreaths of oak leaves, flowers and herbs, and you have yourself a fantastic holiday, pre-Christian style.
Even our modern ideas about marrying in June can be traced back to these ancient festivals, when the sun seemed to smile down and bless everything.
So while you may not dance around a maypole, spend the day at Stonehenge, the whole night at a street festival, or weave flowers into your hair, there are ways you can celebrate the longest day of the year, and the official start of summer.
In lieu of a bonfire, just fire up the grill; cook and eat under the stars. Use fragrant fresh herbs and toss some on the grill or in the fire. The summer solstice is a time to commune with nature, so a garden party, or any al fresco dining, is right and proper.
You can eat seasonal fruits, especially those that are red, orange or yellow, to pay homage to the sun. This recipe for Seared Pekin Duck Breast with Orange-Cassis Sauce from the Bromberg Brothers would be a lovely and colorful way to pay tribute.
June is when the best honey is harvested, so honey-glazed pork chops, mead (honey wine), beer or liquor infused with honey, or honey cakes would all work at a solstice party. Even without honey, our orb-shaped Truffle Butter Gourgeres, baked until golden, are welcome at any party. Might have something to do with the truffles.
Looking for summery greens? This Smoked Duck & Cherry Salad from Alison Attenborough has both red fruit and a smoky flavor unrelated to a bonfire. And it doesn’t even require cooking, only chopping and whisking.
And this Bacon, Eggs & Asparagus Salad recipe, from cookbook author and cookie authority Dorie Greenspan, has both seasonal asparagus and lovely soft-boiled eggs that might just remind you of the glowing, golden sun.
However you celebrate the solstice, may you have a long and joyful day.