When solstice d’été meets le Jour de la Saint Jean

The nights have been short and the days have been long. But this week that’s all changed with the summer solstice. Most years it’s something of a tipping point in our season on the canals. A night when the earth turns on its axis in time honoured fashion. Let’s be honest – if it didn’t we’d all be in trouble!

A bit of poetic pagan licence - then again it is the solstice!

A bit of poetic pagan licence – then again it is the solstice!

This year the concept of ‘mid-summer’s day’ is something of a non-event. When you’ve had frosts and hailstones in May it’s hard to believe summer has even started – although it’s been reasonable weather. Quite bizarrely, due to pagan culture (and there’s plenty of that in France!) the solstice d’été, which is the longest day and shortest night, isn’t celebrated on the same date as mid-summer’s day.

You might not know this but the solstice occurs at an exact moment, when the earth decides to turn back on its axis. The time and date vary slightly every year – this year it was at 34 minutes past midnight, central European time, on June 21st. Midsummer’s day, which in France is known as le Jour de la Saint Jean, is celebrated 3 days later on June 24th.

The Saint Jean in question is Saint John the Baptist and by the time his day comes around we’ll legitimately be able to say ‘the nights are drawing in’. It’s a benchmark in the year but from our point of view it’s a day when everybody in Burgundy thinks ‘the best is yet to come’.

Essentially Burgundy is a late summer and fall sort of place. We’re a long way from the sea in European terms and the land can take some time to warm up. This last week, cruising the waterways, life is noticeably suddenly more fecund – the greenery that has been coming along slowly up until now has suddenly kicked into overdrive. Not before time, but then who are we to question Mother Nature.

Of course this year le Jour de Saint Jean has a unique dimension – it’s the day after the United Kingdom votes whether or not to stay as part of Europe. As dyed in the wool Europhiles ourselves we hope they will vote to retain the status quo. If not the world (or Europe at least) certainly will turn on its axis.

Interesting times, and pivotal ones indeed. By the time we come to write next week’s blog the world may look a very different place. And not just because the nights are getting shorter. All things considered we might need some comfort food that keeps our feet firmly on the ground – in which case there are few things better than Ellie Garvin’s crushed potatoes with mustard and chives.

Pommes de terre ecrassées a la moutarde de ciboulette

Crushed potatoes with mustard and chives

Pure de pommes de terre, ciboulette et Salade

12 small Yukon gold or other waxy potatoes

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 tablespoons crème fraiche or heavy cream

3 tablespoons full-grain mustard

4 tablespoons minced chives

Peel the potatoes and put them I a large pot of cold salted water. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and cook the potatoes until they are easily pierced with a knife. Drain and return to the warm pot. Add the butter, crème fraiche, mustard and chives. Season with salt and pepper, then crush them gently with a large fork, leaving sizeable chunks. Mix well and serve hot – whatever you serve it with it’s the sort of dish that brings stress-busting comfort.

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