Two Fridays ago was the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. I don’t usually do anything special for solstice, but my friend Emily and I decided to make a weekend of it, using solstice as an excuse for a bit of girly bonding over some good eating and traipsing around the countryside. But by the end of the weekend, solstice was much more than an excuse. It became an adjective, a verb, a noun and a mantra. It was “solstice”.
But what is solstice? The word itself comes from the Latin solstitium, ‘sol’ being ‘sun’ and ‘stir’ meaning ‘stopped’ or ‘stationary’. And so it seemed that Emily and I, and the cohorts (solstice sisters, really) we enlisted throughout the weekend, were also stopped in time. This is not to say we were still, but rather in a state of suspended animation, where time didn’t matter. And free from the pressures of time, be it time passed or time running out, things happened.
Yes there was the usual amount of Orchard Cottage food and revelry, but solstice brought with it an added dimension. And while food was very much a part of our experience, it wasn’t the focus. If anything, it was a mirror.
I guess it started with elderflowers. When Emily arrived on Thursday, we took a stroll and I pointed out the elderflowers and mentioned that I wanted to make elderflower cordial for the weekend. So we picked a few and left them to steep in hot water with orange and lemon zest over night (following Pam Corbin’s excellent recipe – the secret is in the orange zest!).
The next day, we finished the process by boiling the infused liquid with sugar and citrus juice. The result was more than we expected. Yes, the cordial was tasty, but it also got our minds spinning on the possibilities. And the elderflowers seemed to respond in kind, blooming before our very eyes. Every time we went for a walk, there were more and more elderflowers to be had, and we felt compelled to gather the bounty and do something exciting with them.
We made Prosecco Elderflower Jelly from Yvette van Boven’s Home Made Summer (a terrific tome for solstice, and summer in general).
Emily invented “The Pimmily”, her signature cocktail: 1/2 cup (125ml) of Pimms, 1 cup (250ml) of lemonade [fizzy if possible], 1 cup of ginger ale, a handful of mint, a handful of lightly crushed raspberries, cantaloupe if you have it, plus 50ml elderflower cordial.
My signature cocktail was the “Monica Mule”: gin, ginger ale, elderflower cordial and lemon juice (proportions adjusted to taste – I have a much thirstier thirst for gin than Emily, especially when Hendrick’s is on the cards).
I made elderflower ice cream to go with the penultimate elderflower experience: Elderflower Fritters, aka “nature’s funnel cake”.
But like I said, this wasn’t all about the food. Elderflowers were more a vehicle for creativity than the sole focus of attention. Where there were elderflowers, there were also ideas, brainstorming, action and “mood padding” (our solstice spin on the mood board). We didn’t just talk dreaming, we talked doing. And again, without the pressure of time, it all seemed to flow freely. It was the opposite of time. “Lost time”, almost. Like being abducted by aliens, only we were abducted by solstice.
Or as Emily put it: we were on “solstice time”.
So, speaking of time, and speaking of elderflowers, I feel compelled to do more with them during their brief season. I’ve got elderflower champagne on the go, and Gloria’s gooseberry elderflower jelly high on my agenda. And I want to the preserve the bounty, just like I want to preserve solstice. And what is elderflower cordial (or jam, or syrup, or jelly, etc) but bottled sunshine? Bottled solstice, if you will? And a mirror of that happy solstice weekend to remind me to “make it solstice” all year long.
More pictures from Summer Solstice 2013 on Flickr