Because I was born in an Eastern European communist country, and my husband grew up in Western democracy, our childhood memories are sometimes rather different.
To him, 1st May has always been just the day after Queen’s Day. But in the communist Czechoslovakia it was celebrated as the International Workers’ Day. Each year, huge parades were organized where every company or school had to march carrying banners and waving when passing the communist leaders on a tribune. Although attendance was officially not compulsory, anyone’s absence would have been noted and not appreciated.
One parade I remember especially well, was when I was about twelve and instead of paying attention to the surroundings, I was chatting with my friend Klara. While talking, she absent-mindedly waved the flag we had to carry, not noticing she was hitting our school’s principal standing in front of her.
These days I am thankfully free to choose how I celebrate 1st May. And I do it quite differently: I pick woodruff, steep it in white wine, invite some friends and we toast to love.
Woodruff (Asperula odorata) is originally a forest plant and as such extremely well suited to the conditions of an edible forest garden. It spreads over time (I brought a small plant from friends’ garden and have now more than a square meter worth of woodruff) and creates a pretty ground cover. The sweet scent becomes more pronounced when the plants wilts. It is medicinal too, traditionally used for treating ailments such as poor memory, depression, hysteria, frigidity, indigestion. All I can say is that a glass of May bowl on a May evening can’t fail to cheer you up.
May Bowl (Maitrank)
50 g woodruff (flowering stems)
100 ml brandy
3/4 l white wine
1 tbsp sugar
Put the woodruff in a large jar, add sugar and pur brandy and wine on top. Cover the jar, shake a little to dissolve the sugar and let steep in the fridge, for at least 10 hours (24 hours is even better). Remove the woodruff. Serve chilled.