May Day: The Green Man.

Green man in the garden, staring from the tree
Why do you look so long and hard, through the pain in me?
Your eyes are dark as holly, of sycamore your horns,
Your bones are made of elder branch; your teeth are made of thorns
 Your hat is made of ivy leaf, of bark your dancing shoes
And evergreen and green and green, your jacket and shirt and trous.

From 'Green Man in the Garden' by Charles Causley (1917-2003)

It’s been a long, cold spring, so the turning of the year celebrated on May Day is very welcome. Mind you, given that we’ve barely got used to the slightly warmer weather, summer still seems far away. How much more keenly appreciated must May Day festivities have been for our ancestors, un-cushioned as they were by central heating, cars and the benefits of Gortex?

I’ve been thinking about the Green Man; that spring symbol of fertility and fruitfulness whose face often adorns churches and other buildings and who pops up as an image right across the world.  Like the three hares motif that can be tracked back from the medieval churches of Cornwall and Devon right along the Silk Road to China, the origins of the Green Man are mysterious. Eleventh century masons certainly didn’t think his image was incongruous carved alongside the faces of saints and angels and once you start looking you can see him everywhere. Both these images are of roof bosses in York Minster.

Maybe he was a pre-Christian symbol, or perhaps he stems from the mediaeval taste for weird animals in bestiaries. There is a well-documented connection between illuminated manuscripts and stone carving, so we perhaps should place the Green Man in the company of wyverns, dragons and other mediaeval images of the dark side. Anyway whatever his origins, these days we think of him as the symbol of unrestrained nature that comes with the first warm days of spring.

The Green Man takes life on May Day when up and down the country there are still towns and villages where it is traditional to dress one man from the community as Jack in the Green. Hastings even has a Jack in the Green Festival. In Clun in Shropshire there is a fight between the Green Man and the Frost Queen. In Pilton in Devon, he faces up to the mediaeval Prior of the Abbey and forces his way into the sacred space. In Rochester where the Cathedral has a magnificent painted Green Man, there is a Chimney Sweep Festival – it was often the sweeps who got the role of the Green Man - maybe there’s some symbolism in that too and like dairy maids, sweeps also got a holiday on May Day.

There’ll be lots of Morris Dancing today, May Day being the start of the Morris season and there are two famous dawn events; the annual dawn meet at the Cerne Abbas Giant in Dorset and the singing of the Hymnus Eucharisticus on top of Magdalen Tower in Oxford, followed by the communal jumping from Magadelen Bridge into the river. Although these days, ‘elf and safety decide whether the water is deep enough to jump into.

So I must cook something green.  I've been pulling wild garlic out of my garden. It's a ruthless coloniser down here. What we have in Cornwall is allium triquetrum - the three cornered leek. It's like garlicky chives and not to be confused with what everyone up country calls wild garlic, which is allium ursinum or ransoms. I had wild garlic dumplings in Germany a couple of weeks ago - with wild mushroom sauce and very delicious they were. So inspired by that, I've made wild garlic scones.

Here is the recipe. Use chives or spring onions (scallions) if you are not cursed with wild garlic.

Wild Garlic Scones

8oz plain flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 heaped tsp mustard powder
1/2 tsp salt
2oz cold butter
4oz grated hard cheese
Small handful of finely chopped wild garlic/chives/scallions
1/4-1/2 pint of milk, buttermilk, plain yoghurt or a combo thereof.

Rub the butter into the dry ingredients then add the grated cheese and the wild garlic. Add enough liquid to make a soft dough and rill to about 3/4 inch thick. Cut into squares or rounds - I made cocktail sized ones. Bake for 15 minutes at 200c - I've just got a new oven without a fan so I'm getting used to its gentler heat. You know your oven best.

Split and spread with butter or cream cheese.

The cherry trees bend over and are shedding,
On the old road where all that passed are dead,
Their petals, strewing the grass as for a wedding
This early May morn when there is none to wed. 

'The Cherry Trees' by Edward Thomas (1878-1917)


Helen said...

There are some bench ends at Morrab Church that may or may not be the Green Man. We can't really decide, and Ken (the expert) wasn't sure either.

Pete Thompson said...

There are green men all overthe place - several in Beverley Minster and one hidden away on the wall to the right of the altar in Rudston church. The comedian and folk singer, Mike Harding, has made a study of him and wrote a charming book called The Little Book of the Green Man.

Gerry Snape said...

thankyou for the recipe...I have a super patch of wild garlic at the bottom of the field and made a pesto with them on Monday...really good. ...Happy May day...if that's the appropriate greeeting!

Choclette said...

Now that's interesting Liz, we call allium triquetrum "onion weed" and refer to Ransoms as wild garlic, which is prolific around us in the East of the county. Either way, your scones look delicious. And always good to hear more about the Green Man and know that he isn't forgotten.

Liz Woods said...

Thanks all - and long may the Green Man continue!