Tomorrow marks the Autumn Equinox, and the very last day of summer. Days grow shorter and nights longer, as the weather continues to cool and the icy shadow of winter creeps into view. The many birds which made our trees and hedgerows home, will begin their journey southwards, following the arc of the sun. The Autumn equinox is one of only two days in the year in which day and night are equal in length.
The Autumn Equinox is traditionally celebrated in Pagan mythology as the festival of Mabon, a day to give thanks for the bountiful summer as thoughts turn to Winter. Centuries ago, for those who lived off the land, this was also a crucial period in which vegetables were ready for harvest and berries and wild fruit could be foraged, to assure survival through the barren winter months.
And although celebrations these days might be more symbolic than anything else, this is still a wonderful time of year to explore the world around us, even if that simply means venturing out into the garden and having a look at what's going on. This is the moment in which vegetables are pulled from the muddy earth (Mabon is the 'second harvest' in Pagan mythology) ready to cooked and baked in any number of delicious combinations. And its not over for the garden yet, as this is the moment to plant cabbages, turnips, onions, peas and other hardy veg, ready for next Spring.
And if you haven't already, this is the moment to get out into the fields with a basket and forage the plentiful hedgrows and trees for berries, hips, and nuts, for jam-making and magical tinctures and tonics to see you through the freezing winter we are apparently going to endure. Remember to pick high if you are in a dog-walking area, and always leave plenty of fruit behind for wildlife. This is a crucial period for the birds who will flock south, and animals preparing to hibernate as the nights draw in.
I think the Autumn Equinox also marks a point in the year in which we need to slow down and take a moment to think back over the year which is beginning to slip away, and look forward to whatever may lie in store this coming Winter. The changing of the seasons always has a profound effect on me, I often find myself slipping into a contemplative slumber at this time of year, and I think its important to be mindful of the changing world around us and our place within it. But this is also a moment to be inspired by nature, for who can failed to be moved by the changing palette in the garden, as deep amber and russet tones begin to take hold?
I'm looking forward to evenings next to the crackling wood-stove with a good book. And in case you get thirsty as you reflect on the year just past, or after a hard days work in your ever-changing garden, here's a scrumptious recipe for my favourite hot apple cider. Enjoy!
Hot Apple Cider (serves 12ish - or 2, with a truly banging headache in the morning)
4 cinnamon sticks
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
8 whole allspice berries
Peel of one orange
Peel of one lemon
230ml maple syrup
1.5 litre freshly pressed apple juice
120ml dark rum
Place cinnamon sticks, ground cloves, allspice berries, orange and lemon peel in a decent-sized saucepan. Add maple syrup and apple juice, then bring to almost a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and generously ladle into mugs. Add rum if you're feeling naughty!