As we move into August, we pass the half way point in the calendar between the Summer Solstice and the Autumn Equinox. The long days of Summer are drawing in and we are making our way towards Autumn. On the Wheel of the Year, this point is Lammas, a celebration of the first harvest, the Grain Harvest. The word 'Lammas' comes from 'loaf mass' and indicates how important and meaningful the first grain and the first baked loaf of the harvesting cycle are.
We are now at peak Summer when the harvest season begins in earnest. Growth of early Summer is visibly slowing down and the power of the sun goes into ripening grain and fruits. We don't grow grain here but this time of year when we gather baskets of homegrown veg and fruit is a celebration all the same, the culmination of what our self-sufficient (ish) life here is all about. Our veg patches and polytunnels are abundant right now and it's a busy time for us harvesting and processing the foods we have grown over the last few months, feasting on our fresh produce gathered daily and also preserving some for the months ahead. I have added to the pantry shelves jams, jellies and bottles of cordials made from our homegrown soft fruit. This year, I have also had a go at making fruit vinegars: raspberry, redcurrant and rosemary as well as blackcurrant. I also picked some unripe walnuts mid-July (we were determined to beat the squirrels to them this year!!) and have some "vin de noix" doing its magic in large jars in the kitchen.
As well as homegrown produce, I have picked some herbs and flowers to dry. We have an abundance of mint, oregano, rosemary and thyme and they are hanging in little bunches on the Sheila Maid before I chop them up and store them in little containers; in the fireplace in the dining room, bundles of cornflowers, feverfew, grasses, lavender and marjoram flowers are hanging upside down to dry and I plan to arrange them into a rustic wild wreath in the Autumn.
Just like that first loaf of bread made with the new grain of the season was traditionally honoured and shared at Lammas, picking and eating our first ripe tomato is very special indeed, a real celebration of all our labours since the seeds were sown in early Spring. Magical and full of wonder too, for each sheaf of grain - or tomato - contains within itself the seeds of future harvests. There are many legends and stories that illustrate the festival of Lammas and its deep meaning of death and rebirth: at harvest time, the grain dies so we can feed from it and provides us at the same time with the seeds of harvests to come. The tale of John Barleycorn who suffers greatly and eventually surrenders his life so that others can live, sustained by the grain that has come from him is one. The myth of Demeter and Persephone is another. They are all rich in metaphors that explain the cyclic nature of sowing, growing, harvesting and then death and are worth reading.
I admit to having mixed feelings at this time of year and myths and stories associated with Lammas help me shed light on them. The energy of the sun is beginning to wane and days are drawing in as we shift towards Autumn and the darker days of Winter. Yet, now is also a time of celebration for a successful harvest of foods that will sustain us throughout the coming year, a bringing to fruition of plans and ideas that we have nurtured for many months. Such is the dichotomy of Lammas, an ending that was inevitable the moment we committed seeds to the soil but one that not only is necessary to sustain us but also holds potential for a new beginning next year.
What really helps me in my approach to Autumn and darker days is the feeling of fullness and gratitude for the bounty of Summer, both literally and metaphorically speaking. Feeling that the harvest has begun and the pantry shelves are filling leaves me with a sense of accomplishment and security that our foodstores will be able to sustain us when food is scarcier. This runs deep within me, a remnant of ancient times when harvesting foods and storing it for leaner times was vital. These days, my life does not depend on what I grow and harvest, even though this is the whole purpose of living on our smallholding, yet I can easily feel as if it does. Similarly, I find that this season offers me plenty to top up my emotional pantry with the joy and contentment I will need in darker times. 2020 is a challenging year and I am mindful that my emotional stores will need to be well topped up to help me through. Not being able to see friends and family as much as we normally would, because of the Covid19 pandemic, has a big impact on my wellbeing and I need to ensure my emotional pantry is well stocked up in other ways. As always, being out in nature is a good source of joy and wonder that I can "bottle up" for later. As I write this, I can hear the goldfinches feasting on the dry grass seed heads, I can see the apples on the trees are swelling and a courgette chocolate cake is baking in the oven. All these sights, sounds and smells of Summer ground me in a way that I know will nourish and sustain me when Winter comes. Making something with the drying flowers in the fireplace will be a good way to remember Summer and make it last beyond its time.
I leave you with this Lammas blessing: “May your harvest be bountiful and sustain you through the cold winter months. May the love of family, friends and Mother Nature warm you always”.