Pentacost, for those not in the know, is this Sunday, and in our church we celebrate by wearing something red for the occasion symbolising, I suppose, the wind and fire that came to the Apostles when they were visited by the Holy Spirit - am I the only one who has a mind's eye picture of a William Blake engraving when they read Acts 2:1-4? Traditionally, in England, Pentacost is referred to as Whitsun, a word derived from the phrase "white Sunday". Pentacost was a time when many were Baptised and Confirmed, a time when many people would wear white - hence white Sunday, Whitsun. Now, just to be confusing, there was a national holiday (Holy Day) on Whitsun Monday for years and years, but in relatively recent times the holiday has been secularised into Spring Bank Holiday, which sometimes falls on the actual Pentacost and sometimes falls a week before or after. However, people still call the Spring Bank Holiday "Whitsun", and get bewildered by what is what. Have I befuddled you? I jolly well hope not!
I do like a nice hot Whitsun weekend. Not just because fiery weather seems appropriate to the coming of the Holy Spirit, but because Whitsun always signifies to me the very start of the summer. We've had a beautiful day today, and we've done a few Pentacost preparations to help us celebrate the festival as a family. First, we've made a starter for a fiery Ginger Beer, somehow appropriate for Pentacost, but not to be imbibed this Sunday but on Midsummer day, when the whole brew will be ready for a picnic (weather permitting). Oh, and Midsummer often falls on the feast of John the Baptist's birthday - what John the Baptist has to do with Ginger Beer I don't know, even I can't stretch the liturgical food link to that extent! Anyway, here's a pretty traditional recipe for Ginger Beer.
In a large jar put:
1 tbs dried yeast
2 cups of water
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp dried ginger
Feed this every day for 7 days with a tsp of ginger and a tsp of sugar. Keep it in the fridge, it's very volatile in hot weather. Don't stir it. After the 7 days are up, strain it through a jelly bag (or somesuch) and add:
the juice of two lemons
2 pints of boiling water
1 lb sugar
Make this mixture up to a gallon with cold water and bottle it (use plastic bottles if you fear explosions) and pop the beer in a cool place for a fortnight. It will be ready to drink by Midsummer if you make it this week.
Oh, you can keep the residue from the jelly bag and use it to start another batch of beer. Just halve the residue and add 2 cups of water, 2 tsp of ginger and 2 of sugar and begin again (just like Finnegan).
You could be understandably mistaken in thinking that the above picture was a steaming bowl of pond weed, but in fact it is the beginnings of Elderflower Champagne, a grandiose name for a very simple country drink. If your elderflowers are out, now is the time to pick them - a nice, dry day.
1/2 - 1 lb of elderflower and their stemmy parts (no leaves)
6 oz sugar
The rind and juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp white wine vinegar
2 1/2 pints of boiling water
Put all ingredients into a large bowl. Steep for two days and two nights. Strain and bottle. My book says to keep "for some years if you wish a still Bordeaux". However, can be drunk young and fizzy on Midsummer along with the Ginger Beer!
Now, if you don't quite feel up to making hedgerow homebrew you can gather those beautiful, abundant white blossoms and still put them to good use. Why not try this Elderflower and Gooseberry Jam I posted about last year? Or, perhaps my beloved Hugh's Elderflower Cordial (if you're a novice freeze, don't bottle, the cordial, just so you don't have to get citric acid from the chemist...the lady from Boots thinks I run a crack den).
How about a bit of Whitsun crafting? We made a mobile of white doves this afternoon, and they dangle gracefully over our kitchen table. You can find the template for the doves on this site, and you can decorate them in any way you wish.
I suppose it would be obvious to decorate them with the Gifts of the Spirit, but eagle eyed readers will spot that we have the Fruits of the Spirit on our doves, simply because I found it easier to explain the "fruits" to my five-year-old. How can you properly define wisdom? What do you say about speaking in tongues!?! Another option would be to put simple prayers on the wings of the doves. Anyway, I'll list the gifts, and then I'll list the fruits, so if you're new to it all you have a bit of a one-stop-shop of Whitsun dove making!
The Gifts of the Spirit are: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discerning spirits, divers tongues, interpreting tongues.
The Fruits of the Spirits are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control.
Now, are you mystified with all of this talk of gifts and fruit and Pentacost and Whitsun? All right then, you're allowed to go and put your feet up and have a nice, chilled glass of Ginger Beer!
Finally, a great medieval poem I like to think of when I see the sap rising and the sun shining!
Summer is y-comen in,
Loude sing cuckoo!
Groweth seed and bloweth meed
And sping'th the woode now-
Ewe bleateth after lamb,
Low'th after calfe cow;
Bullock starteth, bucke farteth.
Merry sing cuckoo!
Well sing'st thou, cukcoo:
Ne swike thou never now!
Sing cuckoo, now! Sing, cuckoo!
Sing cuckoo! Sing cuckoo, now!
And with that I shall say, anon, gentle reader!