Hogmanay

by Beth Schreibman Gehring 

“The house was bright that night, with candles lit in the windows, and bunches of holly and ivy fixed to the staircase and the doorposts. There were not so many pipers in the Highlands as there had been before Culloden, but one had been found, and a fiddler as well, and music floated up the stairwell, mixed with the heady scent of rum punch, plum cake, almond squirts, and Savoy biscuits…Something of the light of that Hogmanay feast lingered on his face, and I felt a small pang, seeing it.”
Diana Gabaldon – Voyager

Hogmanay fireworks over Edinburgh Castle_Chris Flexen_UnsplashIn Scotland, December 26th marks the beginning of the week leading up to Hogmanay, a yearly celebration of farewell that takes place on December 31st. The history of Hogmanay is somewhat vague, with roots beginning in the 16th century. It’s an ancient celebration of the arrival of the New Year in a way that’s full of fire and ritual.

A contemporary New Year’s Eve celebration has never held much interest for me, so instead, for many years when we still lived on our farm in Burton, we would gather on December the 31st for a Hogmanay inspired celebration, fueled by really good single malt, folk music, celebratory bonfires, soup, roasted meats, and candlelight. I have always felt a deep affinity for anything and everything Scottish, and I married a man with a deeply Celtic soul, a family tartan, and a love of raucous gatherings.

Windesphere, our farm, was built in 1848 by a Scotsman named Samuel McBride, and our home was perched atop a hill lined with willow trees. It was a magical place to gather with my family for any holiday, but the quiet of New Year’s Eve after the hustle of the holidays was perfect. 

Living on that small farm gave me a completely different connection to the natural world and it was easy for me to imagine what it must have been like in centuries past as the days got longer and colder and darker. I am completely sure that the attitude with which the New Year would have been greeted is one of absolute revelry.

Hannah Pemberton for UnsplashLoving any excuse for continuing wassailing and caroling, the week after Christmas would find me preparing for the New Year, making clove-studded oranges and lady apples to simmer in apple cider, red wine, more spices, rosemary, hops,  honey, rum, and ale for my traditional New Year’s wassail bowl. In some parts of Scotland, wassailing is a still a traditional part of the Hogmanay celebrations, and in centuries past the farmers and their families would go out to their orchards, singing at the top of their lungs while drenching the trees with the delicious wassail and hanging wassail-soaked toast in the branches. This ritual would supposedly get rid of any evil spirits lingering, while blessing the trees so that the following year would bring an abundant harvest.

Every December 31st, after a very thorough house cleaning and smudging with a blend of sage, lavender, and pine, out would come the fragrant bayberry and beeswax tapers that I’d been saving for months. They would be lit, infused with our intentions for an abundant year. We’d then lift our glasses to toast the new year and “sain” the house, an old Hogmanay blessing custom from the Scottish Highlands. Years before I even knew what I was doing, I’d take a crystal pitcher and dunk it into the artesian spring by our barn, and then I’d bring the fresh water in to use for the blessing, sprinkling it all over the hearth, rugs, and beds, finishing with hugs and kisses all around. Traditionally in Scotland and in my home, “Auld Lang Syne” is sung to bid farewell to the old year at the stroke of midnight as the wheel turns to the new year.

Beth Schreibman GehringOne of the most well-known traditions of Hogmanay is called ‘first footing’. When the first visitor to a household in the new year appears, he will traditionally bring gifts that are thought to bring great fortune and luck to the house in the coming new year. The person who has the honor of first footing the household (hopefully a dark haired man for the best kind of luck!) gets a healthy dram of whisky, cookies, and plenty of kisses for his trouble!

Living as far out as we did, there weren’t a lot of dark handsome strangers roaming about, so instead, when my son and nephew were still very small, we would pretend that we were Vikings and build a large bonfire up on the back hill. Then we’d wander out into the pastures to look and listen for the first owls at midnight, a new year’s pastime we still call “owling”.

We’d walk through the back woods as quietly as we could, and if we were lucky we’d see deer as well as the occasional fox or raccoon. Suddenly, the three of us would be taken by surprise by a great span of wings overhead, powerful yet unearthly quiet. We’d stand very still, huddled warmly together, and we’d wait for the hoots to begin! It always felt like the very best kind of good fortune with which to begin the New Year!

Stephane Juban for UnsplashIn those shared moments, I learned that magic is truly possible when allowed to bubble away happily in the cauldron of your heart. We three had so much fun stalking the wild things ever so quietly under the New Year’s moonlight while splashing cups of wassail all about, tying pieces of wassail soaked toast onto our apple trees and hanging homemade pinecone ornaments of bird seed and peanut butter for the winter birds to enjoy!

Life is very good this year and I am most grateful for it all, especially my husband’s good health and my beautiful new grandson.

As I write, my dog Malcolm is sleeping peacefully in the corner and my cats are curled up on the couch by the fire with not a care in the world, totally stoned on fresh catnip sent by a friend. I’m filled with the peace of another year gone swiftly by, making potato leek soup and watching the snow falling softly outside my kitchen window.

I wish all of you a warm and cheery Hogmanay, filled with love, peace, joy, and everything else that you could possibly desire and more. As they say in Scotland, “Lang may your lum reek.”

I feel so blessed to have all of you in my life. Thank you for reading my words and letting me know that they’ve touched you.

It means everything to me.

See you on the other side of 2022!

Beth’s Wassail recipe:

Pomanders from CanvaFirst things first! Make several pomanders using some of the smaller apples that you’ve picked as the base. You’ll do this by taking the apples and studding them with cloves in all manner of beautiful patterns. While you’re doing this, create patterns that you love and use them as a simple way to make a very good wish for a safe, abundant, and love filled New Year. Then do the same with several small seedless oranges and set them aside. Use as many cloves as you wish, because the fragrance will be absolutely intoxicating! When you’re ready to use them , slice the oranges in half. Remove the core from the apples and halve them as well.

Then in your favorite cauldron (I used to make this in a cast iron pot on top of my wood burning stove when I lived in the country) add one gallon of freshly pressed cider, two cups of honey, one tablespoon of fresh powdered cinnamon, about five large cinnamon sticks, one teaspoon of good vanilla extract and half  a teaspoon of fresh nutmeg, five star anise pods, three tablespoons of dried or fresh rose petals for love (from your garden if you have them), one tablespoon of fresh rosemary for remembrance, about one cup of dried hops flowers for relaxation and fertility, and the pomanders.

Bring this all to a lovely rolling boil and then turn down the heat so it’s just simmering. Add one bottle of very good red wine, a couple of bottles of dry hard cider and about two and a half cups of dark spiced rum, and then stir in one stick of salted organic butter. You can add more honey if you’d like a bit more sweetness, or even brown sugar. Let it simmer for about 15 minutes then turn down the heat. Keep this hot but not boiling and serve it happily and carefully, as this is one potent brew!


Beth Schreibman Gehring is a lover of all things green, delicious, growing, beautiful, magical, and fragrant. She’s also a lifestyle blogger, storyteller, and occasional wedding and party planner who uses an ever-changing seasonal palette of love, life, and food to help her readers and clients fall madly in love with their lives! Beth lives and works with Jim, her husband of 40 years, and is owned by 17 full sets of vintage dishes, hundreds of books, two cats, one dog, a horse, a swarm of wild honeybees, a garden full of herbs, fruit, vegetables, and old rambling roses, too many bottles of vintage perfume and very soon, a flock of heirloom chickens! In 2014 she took a stab at writing a book called Stirring the Senses: How to Fall Madly in Love with Your Life and Make Everyday a Day for Candles & Wine. Available on Amazon! Join her in her gardens at https://bethschreibmangehring.substack.com/, or contact her at  beth.gehring@stirringthesenses.com

The Feeling of Harvests to Come

by Beth Schreibman Gehring

“After Lammas Day, corn ripens as much by night as by day.” – Author unknown

Loaves of bread, piles of grain, and a sheaf of wheatThe ancient origins of the word Lammas comes from the Old English hlaf, “loaf,” and maesse, “mass” or “feast.” Through the centuries, “loaf-mass” became the celebration that many of us know today as Lammas Day, although some refer to this day as Lughnasadh.

Lammas Day or Lughnasadh (August 1st or 2nd) marks the beginning of the harvest season, and is a time to give thanks and count our blessings for the rich and ancient fertility of the land. Our ancestors, people who tended to and revered the land for their very survival, spent this day together, gathering and preparing grains to bake sacred loaves that marked what would hopefully be the beginning of an abundant harvest season. It was a beautiful celebration of nature’s bounty and on this day still, loaves of bread are baked from the first-ripened grain and brought to churches all around the world to be consecrated. Some cultures still call this day “The Feast of Bread.”

In Ireland, it is still completely customary to give lovely baskets of freshly picked blueberries to your sweetheart to honor this ancient harvest festival. Many begin to make sweet meads and ales on this day, another way of preserving the abundance of the ripening fruits. Kneading and baking lovely breads and baking old fashioned fruit-filled pies are a traditional Lughnasadh activity. You might try to make a delicious blueberry boxty, which is a traditional shredded potato pancake topped with butter, sugar, and a fresh blueberry compote!

A basket of blueberriesThere is still an ancient county fair held in Ballycastle Ireland called the Auld Lammas Fair. This fair is held every year on the last Monday and Tuesday of August and is associated with the Lammas harvest festival. It has taken place for nearly 400 years, and it dates back to the 17th century. Interestingly enough, this timing is familiar to us. So many of our own county fairs are held during this time, and it is lovely to think that we are continuing these ancient celebrations from a time when legend and magic blended with everyday life well into our own time. A brief video of the fair can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f4zfmrT-OdU

Lughnasadh was named for the ancient Celtic god Lugh, who has long been associated with the powerful energies of fire and the sun. This was the time to begin preparing for the cold and barren winter months, by harvesting the first grains and beginning the long and arduous process of preserving meats, cheeses, fruits, and vegetables so that there would hopefully be enough to eat as long as the cold weather endured. It would be easy enough to know whether the coming days would be of feast or famine because one look at the branches and vines would tell you what you could expect. Very often the harvest would be scarce, and new plans would have to be made and resources parceled and shared with the entire community.

People sitting in chairs outside, eating under treesHowever you celebrate it this year, Lammas or Lughnasadh begins on the first of August, falling halfway between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox. I celebrate this day as a harvest celebration, sometimes by myself and sometimes with my neighbors. It is always such a beautiful time of year. The first soft fruits and vegetables have begun to ripen and the trees are heavily laden with lavish canopies of pears, plums, apples, and more.  It is high summer and the days are slowly beginning to shorten, but the warm evening air is always filled with such sweet garden scents and the coming promise of autumn’s abundance. Everywhere you turn or step, the hum of honeybees and other pollinators surrounds you. At night, all of the fireflies begin to dance around, lighting up the sky and making even the oldest of us long to catch a bit of that light for a minute in a glass mason jar, the same way we did when we were children.

In these modern days, it’s easy to forget just how dependent we are upon the whims of our climate with its quick and violent changes. I am reminded of this right now because most of my fruit trees, which are usually quite abundant, are just not producing. One badly timed snowstorm in the middle of springtime’s full bloom destroyed almost everything but the late blooming apple blossoms. Because of the extreme cold and ice prior to that storm there were less dandelions than normal, and because the dandelions are the first food sources of spring, there were no bees for quite some time. My potager is really beautiful this year but alas, my orchard is bearing very little fruit.

Raised garden and flower beds in a backyardCenturies ago, I would be relying on my community to help feed my family in a time when my harvest failed, but with supermarkets to rely upon we live with a false sense of security about our food. That being said, climate change and its hazardous impact upon our food system is no longer an abstract concept. Extremes in temperatures, drought, and wind patterns are forcing us to study the phenology of our personal and public landscapes so that we can make decisions based upon an almost unknown and uncertain future.

During this time of Lammas or the first harvest, which is traditionally a time of celebration, I think that we have an amazing opportunity to join hands with our communities and co-create our futures.

I was reminded of this just recently when I was in New York City visiting my daughter-in-law. We were walking her dog past a school and I was thrilled to see a beautiful children’s herb and vegetable garden, playful and colorful but very beautifully planted and obviously well-tended. When I asked her about it, she told me that it was her nephew Romans’ school!

Right before I left, I asked him if he got to work in it. He told me excitedly that he did and he loved to plant in it, that it was a “really special place for him”. He told me about his preschool graduation in the garden and the dancing they did in it. I was practically moved to tears thinking about it, this young beautiful child that I know and love and his connection to the land through this city garden.

We need to keep asking ourselves in this time of earth changes – what is it we value personally and for our families? For our unborn grandchildren? For future generations that we’ll never know? What do we want to manifest in our lives? What is our vision for the future of our public lands and our gardens? Lammas is a time to set our intentions for all the harvests to come.

I feel that gardening gives us a precious and tangible gift for creating beauty both in the landscape that surrounds us and the landscape within us. It’s as if the sunshine, water, and soil are just symbols for the thoughts, feelings, and actions that, when properly tended to, ensure the same richness of experience in life as a well-tended garden, bringing to our senses the most wonderful sights, tastes, and smells!

A field of corn at sunrise or sunsetWhether you’re a solitary gardener or a community gardener, we are all connected through the soil, sunshine, wind, and rain. We are all connected through our dreams of our beautiful gardens, large or small. We all depend on the same resources and they are not infinite. I feel compelled to take a moment today to give thanks for the harvest, and to remember those who have gone before us, who have traditionally worked the land and brought forth its abundance for our pleasure.

Wishing all of you a blessed Lammas filled with an abundance of everything and everyone that you love.

Photo Credits: 1) Loaves of bread (Canva.com); 2) Basket of blueberries (Canva.com); 3) Breaking bread with friends in my community garden after a long morning weeding together (courtesy of author);  4) Part of my potager, or kitchen,  garden (courtesy of author); 5) Roman talking to me about how much he loved his school garden (courtesy of author); 6) The Children’s garden in the Queens Preschool (courtesy of author); 7) Cornfield at sunrise (Canva.com)


Beth Schreibman Gehring is a lover of all things green, delicious, growing, beautiful, magical, and fragrant. She’s also a lifestyle blogger, storyteller, and occasional wedding and party planner who uses an ever-changing seasonal palette of love, life, and food to help her readers and clients fall madly in love with their lives! Beth lives and works with Jim, her husband of 40 years, and is owned by 17 full sets of vintage dishes, hundreds of books, two cats, one dog, a horse, a swarm of wild honeybees, a garden full of herbs, fruit, vegetables, and old rambling roses, too many bottles of vintage perfume and very soon, a flock of heirloom chickens! In 2014 she took a stab at writing a book called Stirring the senses: How to Fall Madly in Love with Your Life and Make Everyday a Day for Candles & Wine. Available on Amazon! Join her in her gardens at https://bethschreibmangehring.substack.com/

Magic Mushrooms May Power Santa Claus

Magic Mushrooms May Power Santa Claus

By Mary Nell Jackson, Guest Contributor

red mushroomWhen I was researching Winter Solstice I learned that Amanita muscaria mushrooms play a meaningful role in today’s Christmas tales. In fact, these red and white mushrooms may have had a significant influence on the depiction of Santa and his reindeer. It’s possible they directly or indirectly inspired Clement C. Moore’s The Night Before Christmas.

The late ethno-mycologist James Arthur listed many connections. One of the most simple is the colorful mushrooms appearance under pine and birch trees, similar to the Christmas tree. Another is Santa’s ruddy complexion, which could be caused by eating the mushroom. Yet another is his joyous ‘ho ho ho’ as ethno-botanists describe an ecstatic laugh in people who partake of these mushrooms.

My research took me to historic Siberia where Koryak people ate these mushrooms in small doses for hallucinogenic properties. A shaman would gather and prepare the mushrooms, then transport them to a ceremony in a white sack, much like Santa’s toy bag.

To reduce toxicity a shaman would hung mushrooms from tree branches to dry. This is a lot like hanging ornaments today.

IMG_8162And, it’s interesting to note the Koryak people lived in yurts. When the front door was hidden by snow drifts, they entered through the chimney.

Legend has it that Santa’s reindeer ate mushrooms as they grazed near pine trees. Thus, their odd reindeer behavior becomes explainable.

On NPR’s Morning Edition, commentator Richard Harris shared the following story about touring Harvard University’s Herbarium. At tour’s end, Harris eyed a glass case containing Christmas decorations shaped like red mushrooms with white flecks — amanita muscaria. He asked curator and biology professor Donald Pfister “Why?”  Pfister told Harris that each December he gathers introductory botany students and tells them about Santa and the psychedelic mushrooms.

IMG_8163Unconvinced? Anthropologist and professor John Rush from Sierra College in Rocklin, Calif., shares yet another tale. A few hundred years ago Arctic shamans handed out psychedelic mushrooms on the Winter Solstice. People often hung them on trees or at the fireplace to dry. Rush also points out that the traditional dress of the shamans was red suits with white spots … which factors into the Santa tale.

These are, of course, speculation. I must say it has given me pause to think about the relationship of Santa Claus and these colorful magical mushrooms.

 

 

Give Thanks with Herbs

Give Thanks with Herbs

By Maryann Readal, Secretary, The Herb Society of America

20170515_180816The holidays are here. The glossy magazines tempt us to add stress to our holiday preparations with their gorgeous photos of decorator-inspired table settings and culinary dishes that require hours of working in the kitchen. If you grow herbs or just like using them, your holidays can be special without all of the fuss and stress – thankfully. Here are some simple ideas using common herbs to create a special Thanksgiving celebration.

Sage – Whether your stuffing is store-bought or made-from-scratch, add fresh chopped sage to enhance flavor.

Mixed Herbs – Brining turkey has been the culinary rage.  Try this easy dry herb brine recipe for a turkey that turns out flavorful, moist and tender.

Rosemary – Fasten a sprig to each dinner napkin so that the rosemary fragrance entices guests as they sit down at the table.  Or tuck rosemary sprigs in your Thanksgiving centerpiece to add fragrance and interest.

20170511_191248Chives – Mince chives and mix them into softened butter for Thanksgiving rolls. Be creative and add other herbs to the butter as well.

Dill – Add chopped dill to a sour cream dressing for a cucumber salad.  Or add chopped dill to a favorite dip to add another taste dimension.

Mint – Dress up holiday drinks with a sprig of mint. Make minted water to serve with iced tea or water at dinner.  Simply steep a handful of mint leaves in some boiling water for a few minutes and chill.

Basil –  Pick the last basil from the garden. Toss leaves into your Thanksgiving salad. Use basil leaves on post-Thanksgiving turkey sandwiches. Or make a basil pesto and serve over cream cheese with crackers for a holiday appetizer. Use leftover pesto on turkey sandwiches.

Rosemary winter groupThyme – Sprinkle thyme into your Thanksgiving vegetables for a fresh spring-like flavor. And remember this is the “thyme” to give thanks for all the fragrant herbs growing in your garden.

Lavender – Tuck a lavender sachet in your pillowcase to ensure a restful night’s sleep before and after Thanksgiving Day. Remember to pamper your guests with sachets, too.

Lemon Balm – Use fresh lemon balm leaves or purchase lemon balm tea for a calming and uplifting drink at the end of your Thanksgiving meal.

Whether you have one or 20 guests for the holiday, choose one or choose several of these ideas to make herbs a part of your Thanksgiving.

 

 

Herb Society Open House Nov. 19, 2017

Herb Society Open House Nov. 19, 2017

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Join The Herb Society of America from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday, November 19, 2017, for an Open House full of holiday cheer with a wonderful selection of holiday herbal-themed gifts. Items and vendors include:

  • Wood Road Farm – Fresh Wreaths & Table Arrangements
  • Natural Skin Revival – Natural Skin Care Products
  • Thistle and Twill — Handcrafted Keepsakes and Gifts inspired by Nature
  • Sandi’s Kitchen – Culinary Herb & Spice Blends
  • Western Reserve Herb Society — Herbal Gifts & Culinary Delights
  • O’Neil’s Handmade Artisan Chocolates – Delicious Herbal Chocolates
  • Storehouse Teas –Handcrafted Certified Organic and Fair Trade, Artisan Loose Leaf Teas
  • Cupcake Me — Decadent Cupcakes and Cookies
  • The Herb Society of America – Holiday & Herb-related GiftsStorehouse tea

The Herb Society of America
440.256.0514
http://www.herbsociety.org
9019 Kirtland-Chardon Rd.
Kirtland, Ohio 44094

2016 Holiday Open House at HSA HQ

holiday-open-houseJoin The Herb Society of America from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday, November 20, for an Open House full of holiday cheer with a wonderful selection of holiday herbal-themed gifts. Items and vendors include:

  •  Wood Road Farm – Fresh Wreaths & Table Arrangements
  •  Natural Skin Revival – Natural Skin Care Products
  •  Light Footsteps – Handcrafted Botanical Wellness Products
  •  Sandi’s Kitchen – Culinary Herb & Spice Blends
  •  Floral Elixir Co – Natural Botanical Drink Mixers
  •  Maria Zampini – Author of Garden-Pedia: An A-to-Z Guide to Gardening Terms
  •  Lynne Griffin, WRHS member – Herb Vinegar Demonstrations & Culinary Delights
  •  O’Neil’s Handmade Artisan Chocolates – Delicious Herbal Chocolates
  •  Cakes by Kelly – Specialty Cupcakes
  • The Tea and Honey Company – Specialty tea blends and honey
  •  The Herb Society of America –Holiday & Herb-related Gifts

HERB SOCIETY BUILDING (2).jpgThe Herb Society of America
440.256.0514
http://www.herbsociety.org
9019 Kirtland-Chardon Rd.
Kirtland, Ohio 44094