Friday, June 16, 2006

Midwinter Celebrations and a recipe for Butternut Soup

I’ve been slaving over a hot stove, preparing vats of butternut and lentil soups. Tomorrow we are having our midwinter celebration and it looks like being a loaves and fishes occasion...well maybe not five thousand turning up but getting close to fifty!

We started this, when we first arrived here. As an English girl in South Africa, finding the seasons all topsy turvy, I felt that we should have some of the traditional winter/Christmassy things when it is really winter here. Things like mulled wine, mince pies, bonfires and sparklers don’t really ring true in the middle of summer. So we decided to have a Christmas in winter weekend – a bonfire and lantern celebration on the Saturday night and a traditional Christmas family lunch on the Sunday, with the roast turkey, sausages, bacon, roast potatoes, stuffings and all the rest.

Over the years it has evolved from a few friends to loads of friends...people who have been once want to come again next year. The children love it. A festival of fire. We make lanterns from jam jars covered with red crepe paper, with night light candles in and at dusk, carry them in a procession to our ‘sandpit’, a natural sandy depression in the middle of our farm, they arethen hung aroung a circle of sticks in the centre. The way is lit by more candles in brown paper bags with sand to weight them. They glow with a warm light. Then the bonfire is lit. For the kids there is a magic in all this – light out of dark – the fire they helped build, roaring skywards. Then they have the thrill of sparklers too, writing in the air, the youngest ones slightly afraid to hold this madly fizzing fire-stick but fascinated nonetheless.

There is a spiritual feeling to all this too. Giving thanks for the sun and all the life it brings, that the days will soon start getting longer, bringing blazing light into the darkest time of year. Everyone can take what meaning they will from it. I think the meaning is felt in the heart rather than the head, people have a deep connection to the passage of the seasons and what they bring to the earth.

Last year we cooked sausages on smaller fires nearby and drank the mulled wine watching the fire. This year we’ll take the soup out there too and stay out as long as we can under the stars (pray for a fine night!), before coming inside for pudding.

This is my butternut soup recipe, which I have multiplied by four today to make an enormaous stockpot full.

1 butternut squash
1 large onion
1 clove of garlic
2 small apples
20g/1oz butter
½ teaspoon cinnamon
salt and pepper
1 litre/2 pints stock

Chop the onions roughly and saute gently in a generous amount of butter. Add the peeled garlic. Peel and chop the butternut into cubes. When the onion has softened without becoming brown add the butternut. Continue to saute gently. Peel, core and chop the apples and add to the pot. Sprinkle over the cinnamon, salt and pepper. Stir well then add the hot stock and simmer until the vegetables are soft. Puree the soup and reheat to serve. Sprinkle parsley over if you like. I use a stock left from our Christmas gammon, but chicken stock or vegetable stock would be fine too.

Now I need to bake the loaves for the five thousand, sorry , fifty expected tomorrow and do another layer for my sun jelly – stripes of red, yellow and orange with peach slices to make a sun shape in the middle. Very festive. Then my sister in law makes wonderful mince pies and we have to have guava fool and chocolate pudding too...just in case. Our family is always terrified of not making enough, so we usually have left-overs...I’ll let you know on Sunday how full the fridge is!


  1. Oh this sounds like so much fun! What a wonderful way to celebrate the season! Winter solstice in June in your neck of the woods and I am going to borrow these ideas and recipes for our solstice in December! The butternut soup looks delicous! I'd love to see photos of all this! Your lanterns and regalia sound so festive! Have a wonderful time celebrating with your family and friends!

  2. This soup looks like one I make with roasted beets and apples, but no cinnamon.


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