A P R I L
This page will change from month to month - perhaps you can help us with information on seasonal fruit and vegetables, seasonal dishes, observations of customs and the natural world. Contact us - e-mail: info[at]commonground.org.uk.
April, the Grand Opening
Some doubt remains as to the actual derivation of April's name, but the general consensus links it with the Latin 'aperire', to uncover or open, and this seems fairly appropriate for the month when, as Phlip Larkin wrote:
"The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said"
From: The Trees, Philip Larkin
What's happening in April?
The Moon in April
- indicates an extract from England In Particular
Tuesday 1st April
All Fool’s Day
Nature's capricious seasonal weather was the original trickster. The Romans celebrated the spring equinox with the feast of Hilaria and introduced the idea of practical jokes. However our modern April Fool's Day (or rather, morning - jokes played after noon rebound on the player) originates in 16th century France where April 1st was also New Year's Day. When new year was brought into line with the rest of the Christian world in 1582, there were still stubborn adherents to the old festivities, the absent-minded and those in the sticks where the information failed to penetrate for years - these were, to the sophisticates of the 'new' calendar' - the original April Fools, and became the butt of jokes and prankery.
Saturday 19th April
Damson Day, Low Farm, Lyth, Cumbria.
"One of our under-sung fruits, a relative of the plum, the 'damascene' may have been introduced from Damascus by returning crusaders. Damsons have certainly been grown and sold in Westmorland since the early 1700s. The fruit is widely cultivated across Europe, but here we have selectively bred it, watching for the sweeter or bigger fruiting seedlings, such as the Farleigh damson found by James Crittenden in Kent in the early nineteenth century."
(From 'Damsons', p.127)
Celebrate this delicious and versatile fruit in gin, ice cream, bread, syrups, chutney, vinegar and pies, and enjoy its delicate blossom in orchards and hedgerows. Contact the Westmorland Damson Association, enquiries[at]lythdamsons.org.uk
Wednesday 23rd April
St George’s Day
"Nothing is known of St George except that he was martyred, possibly in Palestine, possibly in the early fourth century AD. In stories of the thirteenth century he became a Roman soldier from Turkey, who killed a dragon in Libya. His chivalrous tales returned with the crusaders, coinciding with a cultural trend for knightly romance. By 1415 his feast day, 23 April, was England's most important of the year. England shares him as a patron saint with Georgia, Portugal, Venice and many more."
(From 'Saints', p.365)
Salisbury in Wiltshire has notable St George’s Day celebrations. In 1990 Margot Jackson founded the St George’s Society in an attempt to revive the day as a public holiday. She initiated the St George’s Spring Festival with a procession and feast; now there are performances by Morris dancers, mummers plays, maypole dancers, jesters, jugglers, and the odd inflatable dragon ...
Salisbury is a good place to look for St George. There is a statue of him holding a dragon’s head in the cathedral, he is depicted in one of the cathedral’s stained glass windows, there is the George and the Dragon pub and the Old George Mall. Festivities from 10.00-3.00. Further information: +44(0)1722 434681.
Friiday 25th April
St Mark’s Day
The St Mark’s fly (a small black midge) emerge in their hundreds from compost heaps/rotting vegetation around this time – recognisable by its hanging legs when flying.
What's in SEASON?
Fruit & Vegetables
These rather bleak months for home-grown fruit and vegetables are known as ‘the hungry gap’. But we can find asparagus (late April), carrots, cauliflower, celery, chard, purple-sprouting broccoli, perpetual spinach, sorrel, spinach and watercress in the shops.
At the end of the month we can look forward to the first Cornish Earlies and Jersey Royals potatoes. Field-grown rhubarb is about the only fresh fruit (really a vegetable) available at this time of year. Morel (toadstools) can often be found in woodland at this time of year and the St George’s Mushroom emerge around April 23 in grassy, chalky soils.
This is a time for simnel cakes and hot cross buns- the latter are associated with Good Friday, though they are appearing in the shops for longer and longer periods on either side of Easter. It is possible they have pagan roots, the crossed bun perhaps representing the four quarters of the moon, or the sun and our four seasons. Cornish saffron buns were traditionally eaten with clotted cream on Good Friday.
Pax cakes (biscuits) are passed around the congregation in three Herefordshire villages, Hentland, Kings Caple and Sellack on Palm Sunday, Biddenden cakes, (biscuits stamped with a picture of the Biddenden (Siamese) twins), are given to visitors on Easter Monday. Easter or Dock pudding, containing the leaves of common bistort, is still eaten in the north Pennines.
Chocolate eggs, of course, are synonymous with the season and have been since the 19th century; before that real chicken, goose and duck eggs were used. In some places they are still hard-boiled and hand-painted as decorations or to be given as gifts.
Signs of Spring
Look out for the first brimstones and orange-tip butterflies, for the first swallows and listen for the songs of the cuckoo and nightingale.
"It was Izaac Walton who called the swallows 'half-year birds'. suggesting that they are 'not seen to fly in England for six months in the year, but about Michaelmas leave us for a hotter climate'. Spring would not be the same without the arrival of these migrants, some having survived a perilous 3,700-mile journey from South Africa and Namibia to be here ... Bird observatories around the coast, including Portland in Dorset, Dungeness and Sandwich Bay in Kent, Landguard in Suffolk, Holme in Norfolk, Gibraltar Point and Spurn Point in Lincolnshire, Filey Brigg in Yorkshire and Walney in Lancashire, keep detailed records of arrivals and departures ... They are all 'site-faithful', returning to the same nesting areas, sometimes the same nests,each year. We look out for the swift, house-martin and, particularly, the swallow to announce the official arrival of spring."
(From 'Half-Year Birds', p.215)
Find out what birds are arriving, on the Portland Bird Observatory web-site:
Rooks have been refurbishing their nests for some time now. Their rookeries are conspicuous while the trees are bare. Individuals can be seen guarding their nests from twig stealers, while their mates fly in carrying more nesting material in their beaks.
Enjoy the spring blossom - find "blossom days" and walks.
Many more blossom days and walks happen in May - return here in a few weeks to find out if there are any near you.
Two plants associated with Easter are the moschatel, a modest woodland plant with small yellow-green flowers, which is known as the ‘Good Friday Flower’ in Somerset because it flowers at this time of year, and the pasque flower whose name means Easter. This rare chalk grassland anemone was once used to decorate hard-boiled eggs at Eastertime – the purple petals producing a green dye.
April is a good time for bluebell walks - try a visit to Bucklebury Common (Berkshire), Cotterill Clough (Cheshire), Arlington (Sussex), Hawkes Wood (Cornwall), Arley Hall (Cheshire) or find another walk in your area.
In praise of the humble dandelion:
A Woodland Seat
"In every trifle something lives to please
Or to instruct us – every weed & flower
Heirs beauty as a birthright by degrees
Of more or less through taste alone hath power
To see & value what the rest pass bye
-This common Dandelion mark how fine
Its hue-the shadow of the days proud eye
Glows not more rich of gold – that nettle there
Trod down by carless rustics every hour
Search but its slighted blooms- kings cannot wear
Robes prankt with half the splendour of a flower
Penciled with hues of workmanship divine
Bestowed to simple things denied to power
& sent to gladden hearts so mean as mine"
From: A Woodland Seat, John Clare
If dandelions were rare, we would eulogise about them. Their problem is they are too successful – they will germinate on almost any soil where the seeds land – that is why we dismiss them as ‘weeds’ and spend so much time removing them from our gardens. Yet their handsome yellow-gold flowers are rich in nectar and are an important source of food for early-flying bumble bees and almost 100 species of insects, and goldfinches seek out their seeds.
Dandelions have important nutritional and medicinal qualities. Their toothed leaves (dent-de-lion) are rich in minerals and are used in salads or can be steamed like spinach or fried with bacon, and for making beer. They were often fed to young turkeys, and can also be used like dock leaves to alleviate nettle stings. The milky latex from the hollow stems is purported to cure warts.
Their bright ‘shock-headed’ flowers are still collected on St George’s Day to make dandelion wine, and the seed heads, known as Clocks, Clocks and Watches, Tell-Time, Time Flower, (Somerset), Old Man’s Clock, One O’Clock (Devon) are used by children to help them tell the time by blowing and counting how many puffs it takes to send the tiny parachute seeds on their way.
The long tap roots were roasted and used during the last war as a substitute for coffee, and it can still be bought in health food shops today. They can also be eaten as a vegetable by lightly steaming and sauteing them in oil.
Dandelion extract is used as a diuretic – many of its local names refer to the untimely consequences of using it – pee-a bed (Somerset), pissimire (Yorkshire), pittle bed (Suffolk), wet-a-bed (Somerset). In his Dictionary of Plant Lore, Roy Vickery relates how many children were frightened of even picking the flowers in case they wet their beds in the night.
Newts return to their breeding ponds April-June. Adders, grass snakes, slow-worms and lizards can be found basking on south-facing slopes in field corners, hedge banks, on heathland etc. Hedgehogs and bats are coming out of hibernation too.
ACTION & NEWS for April ....
World on the Move: Great Animal Migrations
Launched in February, Radio 4’s most ambitious wildlife series is following and exploring the migration of animals during the year
The programme will include species from around the planet, from the movement of toads in Britain from their feeding grounds to their ancestral breeding ponds – their journeys may involve the crossing of a busy road – perhaps the equivalent in their terms to the albatross’s 10,000km excursions to find food, or the swallow’s 3,700 mile perilous journey from South Africa to Europe to breed.
Animal migration is an extraordinary phenomenon – a feat of endurance and mystery. How can Monarch butterflies travel 2,000 miles from southern Canada and northern USA down the east coast of America to Mexico and back again or the Painted Lady butterfly from North Africa, the middle East and central Asia to Britain and Ireland? How do cuckoos born in this country know how to fly back to sub-Saharan Africa without their parents?
Their arrivals and departures signify much more than temporal landmarks. In ‘Season Songs’ Ted Hughes wrote of swifts: ‘They’ve made it again/Which means the globe’s still working.” Perhaps this is what the producers of these 40 programmes are really trying to help u to think about. The intricacy of our connectedness to all creatures has its dramatic sides.
World on the Move can be heard on BBC Radio 4 on Tuesdays at 11am, repeated on Wednesdays at 9pm.
How can we help our spring and summer migrants?
Help toads across roads.
Put up nest boxes for swallows, house martins and swifts.
Encourage nettles to grow in sunny patches for Red Admiral butterflies to lay their eggs on.
World on the Move: www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/worldonthemove/
Common Ground project news ....
Forthcoming talks from Sue Clifford in 2008
Oxford Literary Festival
Hexham Book Festival, Northumberland
Grand Designs Live, London
Hay on Wye Festival of Literature, Brecknock
Frome Festival, Somerset
Ways with Words, Dartington, Devon
Orchards and Groves, their History, Ecology, Culture and Archaeology, Sheffield Hallam University
Friends of the Lake District, (TBC)
Slow Food, Devon (TBC)
The Apple Source Book
particular uses for diverse apples
by Sue Clifford and Angela King
with Philippa Davenport
for Common Ground
Hodder & Stoughton
4 October 2007
hb 304 pages, b&w illustrations £16.99
The Apple Source Book is a celebration of nearly 3,000 varieties of apple we can grow in these islands, with their distinctive flavours, uses, places of origin, stories and associated customs.
Recipes from 52 chefs, food writers and gardeners are complemented by a wealth of useful information about apple identification, orchards, wild life, specialist nurseries, suppliers of fruit, blossom routes, Community Orchards as well as ideas for Apple Day, wassailing, juice pressing, cider making and a 40 page county by county gazetteer of where varieties originated.
Taking the apple as a symbol of the physical, cultural and genetic diversity that we should not let slip away, The Apple Source Book demonstrates how anyone can make a difference.
Download more information (word document, 500KB) or READ MORE
England in Particular
HAVE YOU BOUGHT YOURS YET?
Published by Hodder & Stoughton. Read more HERE.
Particular News No. 8
Winter 2006 issue is still available, including articles on Reinventing the Local; Winter; Apple Day 2006; The Longest Peel Competition; New merchandise from Common Ground; West Sussex Parish Maps and the late Roger Deakin.
Summer 2006 is also still available, covering England In Particular and the Campaign for Local Distinctiveness.
All issues are available from this site as PDF downloads :
Winter 2006 No.8 (2833 KB)
Summer 2006 No.7 (628 KB).
Our latest PARTICULAR NEWS BULLETIN is available to read on this web-site. CLICK HERE for more.
Producing the Goods
Book 3 - SOUVENIRS IN PARTICULAR - is still available. Read more about locally-distinctive souvenirs on our PRODUCING THE GOODS pages.
Pamphlet 1 (local produce) and Pamphlet 2 (markets and market places) can now be downloaded as pdf files (5.3MB and 6.9 MB, respectively). Pamphlet 3 will follow soon. These downloads require Acrobat Reader, a free download from Adobe.
Individual A5 printed copies are available for £2.50 inc. postage (discounts are available for orders of 50 or more; contact info [at] commonground . org . uk, for details & prices, +44(0)1747 850820).
Visit the PRODUCING THE GOODS pages on this site ...
Local Food Festivals in April:
Saturday 5th - Sunday 6th April :
The Bedfordshire Festival of Food, Shuttleworth, www.shuttleworth.org.
Lancashire Food Festival, Accrington Town Hall, www.lancashirefoodfestival.co.uk.
Friday 11th - Sunday 13th April :
Exeter Festival of South West England Food & Drink, Northernhay Gardens, Exeter, www.visitsouthwest.co.uk.
Saturday 12th April :
Wear Valley Food Festival, Auckland Castle, Bishop Auckland, www.bishopaucklandtown.org.
Thursday 24th - Sunday 27th April :
Real Food Festival, Earl's Court, London, www.realfoodfestival.co.uk.
Tuesday 1st - Friday 4th April
Rural Futures conference: Dreams, Dilemmas and Dangers, The University of Plymouth
A conference which aims to "provide an opportunity for sharing contrasting visions of rural life, work and environment, while at the same time exploring the resulting conflicts, compromises, and pitfalls: ‘dreams, dilemmas and dangers’. We are ... aiming for an event which crosses boundaries between: Disciplines (social sciences, natural sciences, arts and humanities, economics, engineering, health and social work, etc); communities of practice (involving academics, public- and private-sector professionals, voluntary workers and rural citizens); and geographical arenas (local, regional, international)."
Friday 4th - Sunday 6th April
Wind and solar electricity residential weekend course, LILI, Buckinghamshire
" This course provides an overview of the basic principles and the technology of solar and wind electrical systems offering participants the theoretical knowledge and practical experience required to design and install small renewable energy systems. It is aimed at the general public, those in the business, non-profit, public and academic sectors who wish to get an introduction to renewable energy electrical technology in general, as well as those wishing to install renewable energy systems in both urban or rural settings. The emphasis will be on how things work and what it is practicable to do, and participants will have the opportunity to discuss their own projects. No previous electrical knowledge necessary."
Monday 7th - Friday 11th April
Tackling Climate Change at Home, Schumacher College, Dartington, Devon.
"Bookshops and magazines are full of tips on how to live in a more environmentally friendly way and reduce your carbon footprint. This course will take this further, helping participants engage with these practical in-depth issues through understanding and applying solutions to their everyday life. Participants will hear from leading UK experts in the fields of sustainable energy and water usage, green consumerism and socially responsible travel and tourism." Tutors are Peter Harper, Julia Hailes & Alastair Sawday
Tuesday 22nd April
"Earth Day was created in 1970 to spark a revolution against environmental abuse."
Wednesday 23rd - Thursday 24th April
CF National Conference 2008 - Carbon Lean UK. A role for our trees, woods and forests? Pollock Halls, University of Edinburgh
"Carbon Lean UK will explore new opportunities and challenges, exchange the latest thinking and gather information in a series of conference sessions led by experts from the UK and abroad looking at energy and carbon accounting, carbon trading and the forestry sector’s contribution to a carbon-lean society."
Saturday 26th April – Monday 5th May
Haltwhistle Walking Festival, Northumberland
"For the last 5 years twice a year Haltwhistle has hosted a walking festival which includes 10 days of walks guided by local volunteers. The next event will be our eleventh. The April/May programme is now complete and includes many special interest shorter walks that include Woodland Birds, Dawn Chorus, Working Horses, Ancient Woodland conservation, Red Squirrels, Green Energy, Wartime Babies (born at Gilsland Spa). In addition there are the more conventional 8-12 mile walks around some of the most spectacular sections of the Roman wall and along the beautiful and remote South Tyne Valley." Contact Haltwhistle Partnership +44(0)1434 321242.
Common Ground can accept no responsibility for the accuracy of the information given on this page. Events may be altered or cancelled without our knowledge - Always check first with organisers before travelling.