Feasts for the Solstice

Tonight at 7:59 p.m. ET, the skies officially change hands and become the property of Summer, the belle of all the seasonal balls, in this Lioness's opinion (birthday: August 22). It is the longest day, with the greatest number of daylight hours, and it is the brightest and mightiest day, when the sun reaches its maximum elevation.

Yours truly's midsummer night's dream come true, circa 1970. (Family photo)

For the ultimate sun-powered solstice experience, Fairbanks, Alaska sounds like the place to be. Tonight (well, tomorrow morning, actually) at 12:48 a.m. local time, the sun takes a short nap (it doesn't even fall below the horizon!) until 2:58 a.m. when it re-emerges for another day. (And if you've ever participated in a Midnight Sun extravaganza, please share your stories -- I'd love to hear what's it like to play outside at that hour!)

I love the following description of the solstice, found on The Witches' Voice, an online network for Pagans, Heathens, Witches and Wiccans:

Midsummer is the time when everything is abundant and flourishing. Flowers smell their sweetest, colors are their most vibrant, trees are their greenest, berries are their sweetest, and faeries are their most playful, it is the time that nature's lavishness has reached a pinnacle point

So we've got the sun at its maximum, nature spilling over with both visual and edible riches and the longest dang day of the year. Does this mean Fairbanks residents eat four meals instead of a square three? And what would be appropriate fare to pay tribute to the longest, brightest and mightiest day of the year?

Should it be a foot-long hoagie, a never-ending bowl of spaghetti or a ball of licorice string to represent the length of the day, as one zany friend suggested?

Or should we celebrate with food the color of the sun -- a sunny side-up egg, an ear of sweet golden corn, a pot of polenta, a saffron rice pilaf or perhaps an orange creamsicle?

I asked my kid brother Tim, who lives in sultry Key West, what he might eat tonight to celebrate the solstice, and his reply was: "Watermelon. I've been seeing guys selling them on the back of their trucks lately, and it just feels right."

He might be onto something. A ripe, juicy melon, grown out of a tangle of vines, is a product of the sun, encouraged by its mama's warm, intense rays to become fully developed, sweet and beautiful. As a result, whenever I slurp on melon or a peach, I feel like the sun is kissing me on the forehead.

From melon, my mind's eye travels to the vined webs of cucumbers, zucchini (don't overlook their sun-like blossoms, heavenly lightly sauteed and stuffed with a smidge of mascarpone!) and eggplant, then onto peppers, pole beans and basil, standing bright and proud. I move into the orchard, where stone fruit awaits -- cherries, plums and nectarines -- and I can't help but think about the sweetening power of the mighty sun.

Could there be more fitting fare to salute one of the hardest-working planets? You tell me: What's your ideal solstice feast? Who's there, where is it taking place, and most importantly, will there be dancing in the woods like Shakespearean fairies?

Be kind and courteous to this gentleman.
Hop in his walks and gambol in his eyes;
Feed him with apricocks and dewberries,
With purple grapes, green figs, and mulberries;
The honey-bags steal from the humblebees,
And for night tapers crop their waxen thighs,
And light them at the fiery glowworm's eyes,
To have my love to bed and to arise;
And pluck the wings from painted butterflies
To fan the moonbeams from his sleeping eyes.

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act III, Scene I

By Kim ODonnel |  June 20, 2008; 8:31 AM ET Summer
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Now you're quoting from witches, pagans and Wiccans, in a newspaper that supports a Muslin for President? Uh, I think I'm boycotting the Washington Pest from now on.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 20, 2008 9:59 AM

I lived in Sweden and was there for Midsummer (and my birthday on the flip side of the night - June 21). It was pretty neat. It never got darker than twilight! Everyone was out and vibrant is the best way to describe the energy at 2 am. It wasn't a crazy drunken extravaganza, but truly a celebration.

Berries are it for me - really sweet berries, and rhubarb juice. Pink and sweet.

Posted by: md | June 20, 2008 10:28 AM

Last year I spent mid-summer canning raspberry jam. This year, what with the cold spring, I don't have any berries yet. Alas. My garden is about a month behind. It makes for an odd midsummer, thats for sure.

I'll burn a fire tonight, and probably roast some burgers and make smores.

Posted by: RT | June 20, 2008 11:23 AM

zukes & 'maters aren't quite ripe. basil is doing nicely. lettuce is bolting. this is a hard moment in the garden. in about 3 weeks everything should come together. then i'll forget this dry spell under the weight of all my garden's goodies.

Posted by: quark | June 20, 2008 12:06 PM

this little pagan is going wee wee wee out to Annapolis for sushi and ice cream near the water! I'll get in some sailing (air & water) and then go picnic (earth) with a small fire and eat ice cream.

Yumyum. It's a good day for comes-from-the earth types of things.

Posted by: anon for this post | June 20, 2008 1:46 PM

Just came back from the Amish farmers' market in Charlotte Hall, MD, procuring parts of our solstice meal! On the menu: we're firing up the grill for veggie burgers, corn on the cob and green beans. Maybe yellow squash, too. And cherry cobbler for dessert!

Posted by: Troylet | June 20, 2008 2:02 PM

Has anyone adjusted Kim's black bean burger so that it is vegan? I have company coming that are vegan and thought this would be a good dish to make but I'm not sure what to use as the binder. thanks!

Posted by: Ithaca | June 20, 2008 3:17 PM

Grilled chicken with or without barbecue sauce. Eat this all summer long, with watermellon of course.

Posted by: Mithras | June 20, 2008 4:11 PM

What a cute picture of you Kim, eating Cotton Candy!! I am not in sultry, Key West, but I think WATERMELON sounds great to kick the summer off. And a few strawberries, also. Everyone, enjoy the First Day of Summer : )

Posted by: East Coast | June 20, 2008 4:41 PM

Ithaca, I'm at a loss as to what you could use to bind the ingredients for the black bean burgers to make them vegan. I would suggest talking to your guests and asking for their help. I am sure that they would appreciate the conversation and that you are being so very accommodating.

From a non-vegan point of view, the black bean burgers ROCK. Tried them with avocado slices and a smear of sour cream (to die for!), and now I'm waiting waiting waiting for tomatos to come in to season... imagine some sun-warmed toms and basil atop one of those burgers. I. Am. Drooling.

Posted by: con-e | June 20, 2008 9:31 PM

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