F E B R U A R Y
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.
February The Pure
The Romans held a festival of purification, called Februa, on what would now be February 15th. The festival subsequently gave its name to the month, which was a late addition to the Roman calendar (first appearing around 700 BC).
What's happening in February?
- indicates an extract from England In Particular
Feast of Lights
Celtic festival marking the coming of Spring, the mid point in the dark months of the year. Also known as Imbolc.This later became St Brigit / St Bride's Day (St Brigit deriving from an earlier goddess of fire and fertility) and was "Christianised" as Candlemas.
The Feast of the Purification of our Lady, and the Feast of Lights. Snowdrops – sometimes known as February Fair Maids, Candlemas Bells and Mary’s Tapers, have started to flower and were traditionally brought indoors to ‘purify the house’. (But as Richard Mabey records in Flora Britannica, bringing snowdrops indoors is considered by some to be unlucky). This was a time for weather forecasting before the calendar changed: "If Candlemas Day be wind and rain / Winter is gone, and won’t come again" (Trad. Warwickshire).
Some think the common snowdrop Galanthus nivalis is native to this country, others that it has spread from monastic gardens. Over the years it has become widely naturalised in southern England. Drifts are often found by streams, high water uprooting and spreading the bulbs along the banks. There are many cultivars as they hybridise readily, but you will have to get down on your knees and turn the flower upwards to appreciate their subtle differences.
Galanthophiles - look out for Snowdrop walks and garden open days that feature this plucky plant. Some churchyards are known for them: Damerham, Hampshire, St Mary’s at Kirk Bramwith near Doncaster, Yorkshire.
Ceremonies for Candlemasse Eve
Down with the Rosemary and Bayes,
Down with Mistleto;
In stead of Holly, now up-raise
The greener Box (for show.)
The Holly hitherto did sway;
Let Box now domineere;
Untill the dancing Easter-day,
Or Easters Eve appeare.
Then youthfull Box which now hath grace,
Your houses to renew;
Grown old, surrender must his place,
Unto the crisped Yew.
When Yew is out, then Birch comes in,
And many Flowers beside;
Both of a fresh, and fragrant kinne
To honour Whitsontide.
Green Rushes then, and sweetest Bents,
With cooler Oken boughs;
Come in for comely ornaments,
To re-adorn the house.
Thus times do shift; each thing his turne do’s hold;
New things succeed, as former things grow old.
Robert Herrick (1591-1674)
From "Trees Be Company – an anthology of poetry"
Edited by Angela King & Susan Clifford for Common Ground.
Green Books, 2001.
Buy a copy from our MARKET PLACE
Festival of Setsubun
Shinto festival to mark the change from Winter to Spring.
Potato Day, Garden Organic in Warwickshire.
Almost 100 varieties will be on offer that span more than 150 years of potato history, from the Pink Fir Apple of 1850 to the new Sarpo, Axona and Mira varieties. 9.30-5pm, see the HDRA website, www.gardenorganic.org.uk, for more information and details of prices.
(A members-only Potato day preceeds this on Saturday 2nd February)
"A 1987 survey suggested that the main criteria for choosing a potato were colour and size, with the South preferring a waxy texture and the North a floury one. The pale-skinned King Edward remains the favourite; it has come a long way from its origins as a Northumbrian seedling called Fellside Hero in 1902. After the Second World War a state-assisted breeding programme, based at Maris Lane in Cambridge, developed a number of new varieties, including the ubiquitous Maris Piper.
The food writer Rose Prince urges us to seek out the less common varieties, exclaiming 'this is an area of horticulture where the lack of diversity is virtually criminal'. Varieties that are recovering against the dominance of the Cara, Estima, King Edward and Maris Piper marketed by superstores include Epicure, developed in Christchurch, Hampshire in 1897, and Sharpe's Express, from Sleaford in Lincolnshire in 1901. About the oldest variety gaining favour once more is the long, knobbly Pink Fir Apple which has been with us since around 1850. We owe much to the campaigning of Lawrence D. Hills and the Henry Doubleday Research Association, and their Good Potato Guide."
From 'Potatoes', p.332.
Shrove Tuesday – Pancake Day
Pancake Day cheers up a dull day in February. Traditionally pancakes were eaten on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent, so that perishable foods such as eggs and butter could be used up before a period of abstinence. The Shriving Bell that called Christians to their pre-Lent confessions became the Pancake Bell (Pan Burn Bell in Daventry and Fritter Bell in Maidstone).
You may not wish to take part in the street pancake tossing races, but most of us enjoy making sweet or savoury pancakes at home. If you don’t eat eggs, it is now possible to join in the festivities by using Orgran, "a natural egg replacer" made by a firm in Australia, available from wholefood shops. (Did you know that Bird’s Custard Powder is also egg-free?).
"Olney [Buckinghamshire] is where the first pancake race is reputed to have been held in 1445; now it attracts hundreds of onlookers. Only women who are aged over 18 (and have been resident for more than three months) are allowed to take part. Wearing skirt, apron and hat or scarf, holding pans out in front of them, they run 415 yards from the Bull Hotel in the Market place down Church Lane, tossing their pancakes at least three times as they go ...
At Westminster School in London there is a ceremonial Pancake Greeze, during which the cook tosses pancakes over a sixteen-foot beam and the boys try to catch them before they land."
(From 'Pancake Day', p.315)
"Many of our mass-participation street games occur around Shrove Tuesday, when people ate, drank and played before the long abstinence of Lent. Many were prohibited or moved to the fields because they became so disruptive, since any number of people can take part. There are no boundaries and few rules, although they generally involve two teams or factions from neighbouring villages or different parts of town. Rough football is the most popular. Usually the aim is to get a ball to a goal, sometimes over distances through hedges, streams, rivers and woods.
At Atherstone in Warwickshire and Leicestershire the Ball Game has been played for eight centuries across Watling Street, the Roman road that runs through the town ... At Sedgefield in County Durham ... the game has been played for more than nine hundred years ... In Ashbourne, Derbyshire the teams comprise the Upp'ards and the Down'ards, who were born north and south of the Henmore Brook, which divides the town ... Hurling the Silver Ball is the equivalent in west Cornwall. Now it is played only at St Columb Major.
Until the Second World War Shrovetide and Easter skipping was popular all over the country ... Shrovetide skipping has recently been revived at Alciston and Piddinghoe in Sussex, and is still practised in Scarborough, Yorkshire, where mass skipping with long ropes takes place on the Foreshaw Road."
(From 'Shrovetide Games, p.378)
Chinese New Year
Read more about Chinese New Year HERE.
Hindu festival to mark the beginning of Spring, on the fifth Day of the lunar month of Magh. Dedicated to the Goddess Saraswati, Goddess of Learning. Yellow is significant on this day.
St Valentine's Day
The romantic associations of St Valentine’s Day are thought to be derived not so much from the saint, but because, it coincides with the mating season of birds: "For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day, When ev’ry fowl cometh to choose her mate.." Chaucer, Assembly of Fowls.
Hence National Nest Box Week starts on February 14th. You can either make your own (see The Bird Table Book by Tony Soper and/or Chris du Feu’s book, Nestboxes, BTO Guide 23) or order them from the RSPB +44(0)800 731 2820 and other outlets. We have tidied up our gardens and sanitised the countryside to such an extent that birds cannot find nesting places, particularly hole-nesting birds that depend on old or dead trees. We have banished sparrows, starlings and swifts from our roof spaces by putting in PVC soffits around the eaves which deny them access, and scraped off martin’s nests when repainting the house. Putting up nest boxes is a simple recompense, but we should make our surroundings much more bird friendly at the same time. Contact the RSPB for information.
www . rspb . org . uk
King's Lynn Mart Tuesday Market Place, Kings Lynn, Norfolk
The Mart always begins on 14th February: traditionally the opening of the Norwich & Eastern Counties Section of the Showman's Guild travelling season. The fair's first stop of the year is in King's Lynn because it was home to Fred Savage who designed and made most of the rides. In the latter half of the 19th century the event was spectacular with Fred Savage displaying his latest roundabouts and attractions to the travelling showpeople. The first charter for a Valentine's Fair here was given by Henry VIII in 1537. The Mart and the showpeople who attend it are given a blessing followed by the official ceremony performed by the Mayor and other diginitaries. Contact King's Lynn TIC +44(0)1553 763044.
www . kingslynnonline . com
What's in SEASON?
Fruit & Vegetables
Jerusalem artichokes, Purple sprouting broccoli, Brussels sprouts and tops, Savoy, white, green and red cabbages, cauliflower, celeriac, celery, chard, chicory, endive, curly, pink fir apple potato, curly kale, seakale, leeks, rhubarb (forced), salsify, seakale, spring greens, swede, turnips (beetroot, carrots, garlic, onions, parsnips, potatoes, apples, pears in store). Look out for pomegranates (especially the closest grown, from France).
Signs of Spring
Join a Toad Patrol - The first warmish evening in February is often the trigger for common toads (now not nearly so common) to begin their journey to their ancestral ponds to breed (large and deep ponds preferred). In the process thousands get squashed by vehicles. But thanks to volunteer wardens at over 600 strategic crossings, many hundreds are saved. Further information: Froglife www . froglife . org
Lesser celandines – known as Spring Messenger in Dorset – begin to flower around the 21st (some were out in Shaftesbury, Dorset, as early as 27th January). Their beautiful bright yellow flowers reach out eagerly to the sun and enliven the dreariest of places – roadside verges, "wasteland", dull gardens are transformed by their fast-spreading carpets. Gardeners hate them because they are successful. But what could be a sunnier and more welcome sign of spring?
Up the Ivy: "Up the ash-tree climbs the ivy, Up the ivy climbs the sun," wrote John Betjeman in ‘Upper Lambourne". Ivy berries are an important source of food for birds and small mammals from January to May when there are no other berries around. Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Redwing, Fieldfare, Ring Ousel, Robin, Blackcap and Starling are all beneficiaries. Woodpigeons tend to take the fruit before it has ripened. (Birds and Berries, Barbara & David Snow, T & A.D. Poyser, 1988). Many small birds roost in warm ivy bowers when all else is leafless.
Daffodils are getting earlier. BBC's Wildlife magazine lists its "daffodil hotspots" as Farndale (Yorkshire), Lake District (Cumb), Gly Dwr Way (mid-Wales), George's Hayes (Staffs), Dunsford Nature Reserve (Devon), West Dean Woods (Sussex), Dymock Woods (Heref), Newent & Dymock (Forest of Dean), Oyster's Coppice, Semley (Wiltshire), Wesley Wood, Wimborne (Dorset).
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