A few months ago Rebecca Tamás asked if I had plans for summer solstice; this conversation came to glorious fruition on Friday 21st June. After performing Bhanu Kapil’s solstice ritual at lunch time, as detailed below, we were joined by the poets Amy Key, Emily Hasler and new friend and poet Elley to go swimming on a wild beach a short trip from my house in Essex. We walked into the sea under the sun with a skylark singing overhead; it was a special swim for several reasons. Back in the yard and full of energy everyone talked and drank while I cooked. Just before eating, Rebecca led a powerful and simple solstice ritual in the yard with Sam, too. We spent the rest of the evening feasting, talking and drinking.
Subjects of conversation included: ships, gender, cooking, houses, therapy, gardening, lesbians, Ipswich Pride, love, writing, essays, funding, wine, dads, general gossip, privilege, Svetlana Alexievich. Amy brought the most delicious wine with her; we drank a lot and had to eat eggs fried in butter and sage the next morning with three pots of coffee to recover.
I composed a vital, invigorating and sensual menu to greet the summer and to thrill my guests: an awakening of hot fresh sweet watermelon salad; a dark green interlude (in all senses); twisted, silky and sharp caponata cradled by cool white; creamy sweet rose-scented pudding and brightest orange apricot.
Menu and recipes are below.
Swim in the North Sea under the sun blessed by a skylark at this location —>
Solstice ritual outside in the yard led by Rebecca Tamás, with a smudge made from sage, oregano and lavender from the yard. Also present were the poets Amy Key and Emily Hasler and the writer and my husband the academic, writer and potter Sam Johnson-Schlee.
Watermelon, Tomato, Mint, Chilli, Parmesan
(mix cubed watermelon, halved ripe small tomatoes and a handful of small cubes of parmesan or feta cheese, with chopped mint and chilli, mix together with olive oil, salt, Turkish chilli flakes, and juice of 1/2 a lemon)
(scorch in a very hot pan until the skin is blisterd with a little oil and salt and serve immediately)
Caponata, Ricotta, Ciabatta
The recipe below is a mix of Claudia Roden (The Book of Jewish Food), Rachel Roddy (Guardian Column/Two Kitchens) and Me.
(Lightly sprinkle salt on 1.2kg aubergines in 1 inch cubes, for 30 minutes. Rinse and dry with kitchen roll. Deep fry in a sauce pan (I had 3-4 cm of sunflower oil) until lightly browned then drain on kitchen roll. Boil 3 celery ribs cut into in 1cm slices for 5 minutes in salted water, then set aside.
In a large frying pan, fry 2 medium onions- diced not too finely, in 4 tablespoons of olive oil until golden brown. Then add 4 garlic cloves, finely diced, and when fragrant add 3/4 tin of tomatoes, 2 tablespoons of sultanas (optional), 3 tablespoons of halved green olives, 2 tablespoons of rinsed small capers, and 1 tablespoon of toasted flaked almonds. Stir well, and simmer for 3-4 few minutes on a low heat. Then, add 2 tablespoons of soft brown sugar and 3 of red wine vinegar and simmer until dissolved. Turn off the heat. Add aubergines and celery to the pan and stir. Adjust salt, vinegar and sugar to taste. Leave for at least an hour or two before eating. Eat at room temperature. Top with more toasted flaked almonds.
I served this with two, 250g packs of ricotta, turned out onto a plate, and toasted ciabatta rubbed garlic and sprinkled with salt and olive oil.
Poached Apricots, Rice Pudding, Rose Petals, Cream
(Apricots cut in half, poached in a little water with a sprig of lavender and sugar until soft.
Rice pudding cooked to (one of) Claudia Roden’s recipe(s) in The Book of Jewish Food, p. 152, with added petals from the Gertrude Jekyll rose in our yard. 125g pudding rice or risotto rice e.g. Arborio, salt, 800ml of creamy milk, 125 of sugar (I used vanilla-infused sugar), 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence, 3 egg yolks. Boil the rice in plenty of salted water for 5 minutes, then drain. Bring the milk to the boil (be VERY careful it doesn’t boil over), then add the rice, and simmer on a very low heat, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Add the sugar, vanilla and a few rose petals (optional) and cook for another 5 minutes, or until the rice is tender. Take off the heat. Add a few spoonfuls of milky rice to the beaten egg yolks and stir well. Slowly pour this mixture into the rice (still off the heat), stirring vigorously. Put back on a low heat and stir until it thickens to a custardy texture. DO NOT LET IT BOIL.
Garnish with more rose petals, serve with poached apricots and pouring cream.