High spring and the asparagus king
Posted by the Cake Shop
The wheel of the year has turned again and brought us to Beltane: celebration of high spring, traditionally associated with fire, smoke, pageantry and fertility rites. The cold is stubborn this year, but the bloom in the hedgerows and new leaves on the oak trees mark an undeniable shift. Here at the Cake Shop we’re thinking about rituals, old and new – big and small ways of marking the magic.
Beltane is both cleansing and cleaning, a celebration of the fecundity of the earth. At its heart it’s about feeling the rising sap of it all – say what you like, but you can’t deny the rising sap. All of these ancient practices – May Queens and Green Men, the crowning of the Green King, Beltane bonfires and the dressing of wells – are ways of holding a specific moment up to the light and celebrating it. They’re also about shaking out the old energy of the crabby winter months, feeling that joyful release, and taking the time to think about what fertility and creativity means to you.
When I lived in Australia, we were aware of the pagan calendar and would mark it in different ways, but Beltane really came alive for me when I moved. There’s nothing in Oz quite like how spring happens here – how the light changes. There is no green like May green; it’s unique in the colour scheme of the year. On spring evenings, when that light shines through those radiant green leaves, it feels like the veil is thin – like you could step through into another world.
I’m a big fan of creating your own traditions, and finding personal ways of marking these changes. You could connect by planting something, by doing a spring clean, or by going out and collecting some green stuff and bringing it inside; with a bonfire, a barbecue, a sage smudging of the house, or a trip to your local jerk chicken stand. A trip to Hyde Park, to walk underneath all those big pollen-dripping trees with a lover or a friend or by yourself. A ride on your bike through the Mary Poppins streets of Kensington, full of those pink ruffles of blossom – even though riding through those wealthy streets makes me feel more than usually broke, I can’t help but be romanced.
It’s also the time of year for asparagus. The English asparagus season is a little ripper, short but potent. I’d say eating asparagus definitely counts as a celebration: they’re fat, they’re juicy, they’d be great on a Beltane barbecue, but keep an eye out because they cook in a flash.
Last year I made an asparagus pesto, but this year, still deep in my vegan tart fixation, I’ve been making a vegan asparagus tart with truffle oil, tarragon and a touch of orange – if you’re not vegan, throw in a little Stinking Bishop or garlic Yarg for a strong cheese hit. It’s also the time of year that cheddar strawberries begin to come out. So tiny; so tasty. I popped some in a bread and butter pudding I made with the last of the easter Colomba cake for my local boys, as a sweet high spring surprise.
Now I’m back from my spring vacation, you’ll see the asparagus tart on the Cake Shop menu; a perfected recipe will follow …