Druid, Pagan or not, the Summer Solstice or Midsummer, holds a significant position in the calendar. The sun, reaching its apogee in the northern hemisphere, puts paid to memories of long, drawn in winters and frosty starts. Midsummer, in Scandinavia, is one of the biggest festivals second only to Christmas and, although celebrated in many cultures, I’m sure the knowledge of iron hard earth and cold darkness makes it all the more sweeter. You only have to look around you to see fields, hedgerows and gardens verdant, fragrant and in full bloom. Certainly worth celebrating in my view.
Sometimes, it just isn’t practical to get to Stonehenge or the standing stones in Avebury. Although, if you do have the time and inclination, it really is something to experience. Instead, we visited The Ethicurean, to join in with their Summer Solstice feast and marvel at the beauty of the walled garden.
After presenting our ticket at the bar, we were positively encouraged to try one of their steadying cocktails. Between us, we tried a Nepalese Espresso Martini -a rich roasted coffee shot spiced with black cardamom added to a gin based Martini and, A Rheum With A View. Again gin based, this time with hot and sour rhubarb syrup to pep things up. Sadly, the sun had disappeared behind grey cloud, but these delicious cocktails kept the chill at bay whilst we sat on the terrace and listened to gramophone records.
Food was served at communal tables in the glasshouse and, digging in to each platter certainly broke the ice. Slices of excellent sourdough and seeded rye bread with seasoned butter kicked things off. A generous heap of salad leaves, charred little gem, flame roasted peppers, boiled potatoes and coriander arrived on a large salver. This bitter-sweet melange had a wonderful Dorset Blue Vinny dressing to pull everything together and was a lovely accompaniment to the pie and pastry yet to come.
Generous wedges of pork and lovage pie were accompanied by chunky piccalilli and cucumber flavoured blue-purple borage flowers. Even the hot water crust pastry, which I’m not usually a fan of, tasted good. Pearled spelt, mushroom and rainbow chard terrine followed; the plump grains, earthy and savoury, were held together by a wrap of wilted chard leaves.
Cabrito goat meat sausage rolls in a butter rich flaky pastry, had the subtle addition of sage, and the woody, vanilla sweetness of maple syrup. Possibly my favourite element of the meal, with the sticky, caramelised end bits tasting oh-so good.
Toasted elderflower marshmallows and dense, torte-like squares of lavender flavoured bitter chocolate brownie, pierced with a lightening bolt of salted caramel, concluded the meal. Just heavenly.
Outside, on a makeshift wooden stage, there were Puckish hi-jinks when the Ten Minute cabaret began the evening’s entertainment. Starting with a physical conundrum, then a ten minute stand-up skit; it was followed by ten minutes (you get my drift) of the indomitable Gloriator and her long suffering assistant who performed a condensed version of Gladiator, in French. With mimed subtitles and minimal props -it had me in hysterics. Finally, Angus Barr performed a few of his comic songs with banjulele, including the heartfelt lament, ‘Oh Plastic Bag’.
As darkness fell, The Barley Wood Mummers took to the stage to perform A Straw Boy Story; a cautionary tale about the perils of the pursuit of everlasting youthfulness. Be careful what you wish for. Performed by torch light, with the backdrop of the garden and, masks of willow and corn (created by Jim and Leah Parkyn), there was a touch of faerie about it. Rather fitting for a Midsummer’s night.
Back in the glasshouse, Mark Gurney from 2nd Drop Records played some mellow tunes whilst the hip young things arrived to party into the night. We stayed a while, head bobbing wallflowers, supping at a Pedro Ximenz, Bourbon and Smoke (the recipe of which is in their cookbook). But after a long and busy week -all too soon, we had to head off home. Magical, relaxing, Midsummer feasting and The Ethicurean at its best; I was truly sorry to have to leave.