J A N 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.
The Two Faces of January
January takes its name from the Roman god Janus, who was god of gates and doors, and kept the gates of Heaven. Ianua is the Latin for door. Janus is always represented as having two faces back-to-back, as a door can both let you in and out. This double-nature meant he also became associated with beginnings and endings, looking backwards and forwards, hence his attachment to a month at the end of one year and the beginning of the next.
What's happening in January?
New: Tuesday 8th
- indicates an extract from England In Particular
New Year’s Day / Hogmanay
New Year Gifts were once given to family and friends. Apples were considered lucky presents, based on a tripod of holly or rowan sticks and covered with wheat, nuts and rosemary. In some places, mistletoe is hung in the house all year long only to be replaced on New Year’s morning.
Scotland traditionally celebrates New Year with more zeal than Christmas, which was barely marked at all between the Protestant reformation in the 1600s and the mid 20th century, though the origins of the name Hogmanay remain obscure.
5th - 6th January
Old Christmas Day. Since the calendar change in 1752 when 12 days were ‘stolen’ to resynchronize with the celestial round, Twelfth Night has instead marked the end of Christmas festivities. Christmas decorations should be taken down and disposed of wisely. It is considered unlucky to throw them out with the rubbish, as well as being irresponsible when trees can be replanted or recycled (some nurseries actually offer a replanting service); Some stores will recycle Christmas Cards and raise money for the Woodland Trust, and wrapping paper can be re-used.
Wassailing takes place on January 6th or on Old Twelfth Night 17 January - see BELOW
Plough Monday, the Monday after Twelfth Night was the first day of labour after Christmas if there was any work in the fields. The plough was blessed. A precursory custom, possibly very ancient, prevailed in the east of England Plough Stots, Plough Jags or Plough Plays were enacted, much like mumming plays, for money. Look out for the recently revived Molly Dancers performing in the East Midlands and East Anglia, with their painted or blackened faces and colourful costumes. One of the traditional dancers was the Molly or Betty, a man-woman.
Read about some Norfolk Plough Monday celebrations:
Straw Bear Festival Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire
"On Straw Bear Tuesday, the day after Plough Monday in the Fenland villages and towns on the borders of Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, and around Grimsby in Lincolnshire, a man decked from head to toe in straw was led from house to house in the evening, dancing to music. This was banned in Whittlesey in 1909, and in other places, as a form of begging.
In 1980 folklore enthusiast Brian Kell revived the custom with the help of the Whittlesey Society. Now it takes place on the Saturday before Plough Monday. The focus of the day is the parade of the straw bear, whose role is divided between two men because the straw costume is so cumbersome, weighing five stones. Visiting and dancing outside local pubs, he is accompanied by dancers, musicians, performers and a straw bear from Walldürn, near Frankfurt in Germany, which has its own festival. the following day the costume is ceremonially burnt."
From 'Straw Bear Day', p. 391
Whittlesey now holds a weekend-long festival each year, with the straw bear at its heart. Molly dancing also takes place. For further information see www.strawbear.org.uk
Old Twelfth Night - Wassailing the apple trees
"It is said that most villages had their own wassailing song. With the revival of interest in traditional orchards and the growth of community orchards, wassailing has become a part of the calendar once again.
'Wassail' comes from the Anglo-Saxon waes haeil - to be healthy, so wassailing apple trees was a way of encouraging a good crop in the following season. It usually took place after dark on Old Twelfth Night, 17 January, but could also occur on other days around Christmas and the New Year.
Often farm workers and villagers carrying lanterns, a pail and pitcher full of cider, shotguns and horns, walk to their local orchard, which is sometimes lit by bonfires, and gather round the largest or most prolific tree. This tree is known as the Apple Tree Man and is feted as the guardian of the orchard. Cider or beer is poured on its roots and pieces of soaked toast or cake put in the branches for the robins - guardian spirits of the trees. Often the tips of the lowest branches are drawn down and dipped into the pail of cider.
The wassailers fill their earthenware cups with cider and toss it into the branches. They then refill their cups and drink and sing a toast to the tree ... To drive away evil spirits and wake up the sleeping trees, cow horns are blown, trays and buckets beaten and shotguns fired into the upper branches - as much noise as possible is made ... The wassail bowl went round from house to house in the evenings during the Twelve Days of Christmas and often in the last weeks of Advent. A mixture of hot ale, spices, sugar and roasted apples, sometimes with eggs and thick cream floating on it, was known as Lamb's Wool in Gloucestershire."
From 'Wassailing', p.430.
You can find a list of Wassailing events this year that we know about HERE
Jewish New Year for Trees, on the fifteenth of Shevat. A way of marking the age of trees which was once linked to tithing of fruits and a commandment that fruit from trees should not be eaten until the fifth year. The day is now often marked with the planting of trees.
What's in SEASON?
Vegetables: Jerusalem Artichokes ... beetroot ... purple sprouting broccoli ... Brussels sprouts ... cabbage ... Savoy cabbage ... winter cauliflower ... carrots ... celeriac ... celery ... chard ... chicory ... kale ... leeks ... parsnips ... salsify ... seakale ... spring greens ... turnips ... Onions and potatoes in store ...
Fruit: Seville and Blood oranges ... make sure they are organic or they will contain pesticides.
Apple varieties ready for eating (d = dessert) and cooking (c = culinary) include: Barnack Beauty (d), Cornish Aromatic (d), Brownlees Russet (d), Crawley Beauty (d), Kings Acre Pippin (d), Lanes Prince Albert (c), Beauty of Kent (c), Bedfordshire Foundling(c), Cockle Pippin (d), Upton Pyne(d/c), Woolbrook Russet (c), Beauty of Stoke (c), Camelot (c). Their colour should be rich and variegated, not bright green which generally denotes they have been starved of oxygen and are effectively near death instead of aromatic and living luring us to partake of their goodness and deposit their pips in another part of the forest. The birds will thank you for apples a little beyond use - blackbirds in particular thrive on them. Let them lie beneath the trees or store some for the birds too. A tithe for nature.
Seasonal eats ...
At Bolton New Year Fair, hot black peas, a traditional delicacy of the Lancashire mill towns, used to be sold. Are there any other foods associated with New Year?
Chinese New Year brings the consumption of much dim sum, the Lion outside ceremonially eats lettuce offered with paper money from upstairs windows to bring fortune upon the givers.
Twelfth Cake may be worth reviving at Twelfth Night - a huge cake extravagantly iced and containing a bean or coin, the finder of which became King of the Bean or Lord of Misrule for the celebration which might include all manner of games and plays. Reclamation of these elements which have gravitated to Christmas might be a relief for the waistband.
Common Ground’s Apple Punch for an aromatic and tasty, hot, alcohol-free drink for cold dark days
To one litre of (preferably) organic, single variety apple juice
1 cinnamon stick
half teaspoon ground nutmeg
heaped teaspoon or more fresh grated ginger
a few curls of orange or lemon zest
a small apple stuck with about 20 cloves
Bring to the boil and simmer gently for 15 minutes, leave to stand for 2 hours. Really mull before rewarming to whatever temperature below boiling you wish.
For bigger quantities experiment - add larger amounts but do not multiply, try leaving to steep for longer.
Trees, our mute companions,
looming through the winter mist
from the side of the road,
lit for a moment in passing
by the car's headlamps:
ash and oak, chestnut and yew;
witnesses, huge mild beings
who suffer the consequence
of sharing our planet and cannot
move away from any evil
we subject them to,
whose silent absolution hides
the scars of our sins, who always
forgive - yet still assume
the attributes of judges, not victims.
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
Bulletin from the Ministry of Frost ...
… the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet moon.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Frost at Midnight.
Coleridge effortlessly acknowledges the conditions needed - dry, windless, cloudless nights.
During the intense frost of December 1784 Gilbert White and his friends were struggling to make sense of their thermometer readings. What worried White was that the high ground largely escaped the freezing temperatures he experienced near his house in Selborne, Hampshire. He assumed that his thermometer must be faulty. The explanation came in 1814, when Dr William Wells demonstrated that in the absence of wind, cold air, being heavier, sinks and collects in the hollows. On many a calm, clear night, an English valley is chillier than a hilltop up to as high as 2,600 feet. Sandy regions are particularly prone to frost.
Despite odd cold snaps we are unlikely to see another Frost Fair on the River Thames because the old London Bridge with its 19 arches helped to impede ice flows and aid the freezing process. The new bridge of 1831 with only five arches allows the water to flow too quickly for it to freeze, and along with the heat island effect from the city, and warmer winters generally, it makes al fresco river skating unlikely in the capital, lots of small outdoor rinks offer a taste. However in East Anglia, Fen skating enthusiasts long to be able to take part in the speed skating championships again, last held in 1996-7. The championships can only take place when ‘entire fens at Welney, Bury, and Whittlesey in Cambs freeze safely enough to carry racers’.
Reedbeds are one of the starling’s favourite winter roosting places. Although starling populations have halved in the last 20 years, thousands of them, including migrants from the continent, can be seen in winter gatherings at a roost, forming magnificent twists and turns like aerial shoals of fish that divide and re-unite in huge liquid shape shiftings. Are they still clinging to the remains of Brighton West Pier? A great place to see them is at Shapwick Heath on the Somerset Levels. Come well before dusk to see them arrive. Contact your County Wildlife Trust / RSPB Group for good starling roosts local to you.
Other winter migrants to look out for are the big thrushes - redwing and fieldfare - that arrive from Scandinavia, northern and eastern Europe from October, and can be seen spread out in fields listening and probing for insects, or feasting below trees in an orchard or on hedgerow fruit.
Don’t forget to feed the birds in your garden – they desperately need your help over the winter months. Bird feeders with different kinds of seeds will attract a wide range of species. Goldfinches cannot resist sunflower seeds and nyjer seeds; sunflower seeds are popular with house sparrows, bullfinches, greenfinches, great, blue and coal tits too – as well as other mixed seeds. Depending on where you are you may find that greater spotted woodpeckers and nuthatches feed on peanuts, and if you hang them in orange net bags, siskins may be attracted to them as well. Scatter them on the ground and the jays may fill up their crops with them or take them off to stach them for later. Blackbirds love ripe apples and currants – as do the robins the latter. The starlings and pied wagtails go for the grated cheese first and the soaked bread second. Fat balls provide energy.
Fresh water for drinking and bathing is vital for birds as well as food, and ideally it needs to be replenished daily.
RSPB advice for feeding birds: www.rspb.org.uk
NEWS for January ....
New Year's Resolutions
A new year may be simply an arbitrary contrivance of calendar, but it is ingrained in all cultures (regardless of when in the year they actually hold it) as a time for fresh starts and taking stock. Resolutions have been part of this for around 4000 years, since the Babylonians first began making them. Their persistence in recent decades have had the desultory air of self-denial, the "giving up" of guilty pleasures - which inevitably collapse as the pressures of everyday life re-assert themselves.
For 2009, why not make positive resolutions? Not so much "giving up" things, as doing them differently for yours and others' benefit.
What can you do? Think and act in a more "green" way!
Use more local stores and farm shops rather than superstores. Visit your town's farmer's market.
Certified Farmers' Markets: www.farmersmarkets.net
If you eat meat, switch to organic and free range. If you find it too expensive, eat less of it. You might even consider becoming a vegetarian.
Soil Association (for information on organic foods): www.soilassociation.org
Vegetarian Society : www.vegsoc.org
Walk more - think twice before using your car (especially for short hops).
Cutting Your Car Use: cuttingyourcaruse.co.uk
The Ramblers Association: www.ramblers.org.uk
Recycle all you can - better still, avoid packaging. Always take a reuseable bag to the shops.
Reuseable bags: www.reusablebags.com
Make your mark on greenhouse gas reduction - switch to a green tariff with your power provider, or find out about solar and wind energy.
Green energy: www.greenelectricity.org
Feed the birds!
RSPB advice for feeding birds: www.rspb.org.uk
It's Panto time ….. Oh no it isn't ...... Oh yes it is!
Boxing Day is the traditional start of the pantomime season, which lasts throughout January and into February. The pantomime as we know it had become a part of the Christmas calendar by the early 1900s.
Its history is eclectic – Simon Callow describes it as encompassing "17th century Frenchified comedia dell’arte, 18th-century anglicised German burlesques and early 19th-century comical classical mythology and mechanical prodigies…" with the influence of Joseph Grimaldi the famous clown as the cross-dressed dame, and the music hall which created the principal boy and celebrity pantomime guests, mixed in.
From the Old Vic in London to the amateur dramatic societies of small towns across the county, Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Aladdin and Dick Whittington are being played out, with topical and local references and jokes thrown in to ground them in time and place.
Common Ground project news ....
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 by Sue Clifford & Angela King. Our big book published by Hodder & Stoughton, 2006. Read more HERE.
Our last PARTICULAR NEWS BULLETIN (Winter 2007-8) is available to read on this web-site. CLICK HERE for more.
Back copies of Particular News are available. No. 8 (Winter 2006) includes 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. Contact info[at]commonground.org.uk for information on how to obtain copies, or to be added to our mailing list for future issues.
All issues are available from this site as PDF downloads
Producing the Goods
Book 3 - SOUVENIRS IN PARTICULAR. Read more about locally-distinctive souvenirs on our PRODUCING THE GOODS pages.
Individual A5 printed copies are available for £1.50 plus postage from our MARKET PLACE (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 ...
RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch
"Taking part in the Big Garden Birdwatch is simple and fun. All you need to do is watch your garden or local park on either Saturday or Sunday - date to be announced. Simply spend an hour counting the birds, recording the highest number of each species seen in your garden (not flying over) at any one time. It's important you don't count all the birds you see because some birds will return to your garden many times in the hour. Seeing the same blue tit come back 10 times does not make 10 blue tits. You can do your Birdwatch in your garden or a local park. Either way it's best to decide on a place where you can see the birds well and where you can sit quietly so they are not disturbed."