Celebrating the Solstice

Janice Sutton concludes this wonderful book with extensive writings about the Winter Solstice celebrations that have occurred around the world for millennia. 

"In the Southern Hemisphere we observe the Winter Solstice on 20-22 June. In the Northern Hemisphere it falls on 20-22 December each year," she writes. "The word solstice comes from the Latin solstitum, from sol ('sun') and sit ('stopped'). This astronomical phenomenon occurs on the longest night of the year, when one hemisphere is tilted farthest away from the sun, and since time immemorial has been a significant time of year for many cultures around the world."

"But in the Western World, many of us have lost our connection to the earth, and to the rhythms of the seasons and nature. We no longer have an intimate understanding of the constellations, or an inherent, deep and intuitive knowledge of the interconnectedness of life that our ancestors once did."

"In ancient times at the Winter Solstice, symbolic meaning was attributed to many deities, and honoring them was an important part of rituals and ceremonies. This was particularly the case for the sun gods that ruled supreme. The Vikings worshipped Sol, Germanic tribes, Sunna, and the Celts, Sul. The Incas worshipped the sun god Inti, the Inuit tribes the sun goddess Malina, whilst the Hopi Indians paid homage to the sun god Mithras. Earth deities were also revered. Whilst the sun symbolized power and prosperity, the earth symbolized fertility and nourishment, also crucial to life."

"Although over the years, many rituals have been lost or absorbed either whole, or in part, into religious ceremonies, or contemporary secular interpretations, some rituals have survived the test of time, and remain incredibly, largely unchanged."

"What fascinates me about these wonderful festivals, ceremonies and indigenous celebrations though, is that despite the shared universal themes of death, re-birth and renewal, each culture's rituals and celebrations remain intrinsically unique."

Probably the newest of the Winter Solstice traditions is being established at the research stations on Antarctica and subantarctic Macquarie Island:

"Celebrating midwinter on one of the coldest places on earth comes with a set of traditions that have evolved over more than one hundred years since famous Australian expeditioner Douglas Mawson stayed there."

"In Antarctica, the difference between light and darkness is extreme. After weeks of living without sun and enduring severe subzero temperatures, the Australian Antarctic expeditioners celebrate the shortest day of the year in style. This entails a subzero dip in the sea in a hole cut into ice. This is then followed by a feast of epic proportions, the giving of handmade gifts and a midwinter play."



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The Winter Wild

Much More than a Cookbook

It’s a hot, sunny day in July, just after the Summer Solstice and the longest day of the year. Even here in northern Michigan the sun’s glare is too bright and it’s too warm and muggy for writing outside, so I’ve moved back indoors. There on my desk is the book I’m writing about, the IPPY Award-winning cookbook, Winter Wild: A Feast of Dark Delights, by Tasmania-based author Janice Sutton.  

I pick up the extra-large tome, as dark and black and heavy as coal. B-r-r, it’s practically cold to the touch, just what I need to chill me out and transport me to a cooler, darker place. When you open the cover, you almost expect steam to rise...This is much more than a cookbook, it’s a masterpiece of culinary journalism that contains not only recipes, but stories, folklore, vivid images and cool, wintry happenings.  

I met my first Aussies in the mid-1970's while traveling in Mexico, and they were among the most friendly and fun-loving people I encountered along the way. Upbeat and energetic, they were “up for anything” and really fun to hang out with. So, I wasn’t at all surprised to learn that during the shortest, most doom-filled days of the year Down Under in Australia and Tasmania, those adventurous souls are not trying to escape, but are actually celebrating the Winter Solstice. (Tasmania is one of the Australian states, but is a very large, separate island and considers itself its own country.)

What better way to light up the darkness with festivals that embrace the long, cold nights with blazing bonfires, burning effigies, and soul-warming food and drink? Winter Wild captures the mood of an entire nation, and not only inspires cooks with exciting dishes, but demonstrates the resilience of communities that through togetherness and strength, find ways – even during the Coronavirus epidemic -- to celebrate what they still have, rather than grieve for what they’ve lost. With names like Dark Mofo, Winter Fire, Feast of the Beast, and WinterWild, these festivals combine local customs with Pagan, Celtic and Nordict raditions, with an attitude of community and inclusivity. Here's the welcome message on the WinterWild festival website:

"Strength lies in diversity and all are welcome around the fire. We don’t care about what your physical representation is on the outside, we are much more interested in what you have going on inside. The individual expression of culture, gender and sexuality is a beautiful thing. Ethics and morals are personal and ambiguous. Hold on to your beliefs and respect the right of others to do the same. Human communities are ecosystems, dependant on complexity in order to thrive. Let’s thrive together."

If you're like me, it takes more than great food to make a great restaurant -- a truly great dining experience has to include personality and storytelling. You want to be welcomed by a friendly and expressive staff, and you want to know something about the who/what/when/why of the place. Feed me, but let me in on your story. That is one of the main tenets of the Farm to Table movement, and one that appears to be strongly embraced Down Under.

“No mid-Winter celebration would be complete without procuring a soupçon of bacchanalian pleasure," says Sutton. "But Australia’s Winter Festivals and Feasts – and in particular, Tasmania’s thrilling Dark Mofo Winter Festival – are not just about surrendering to the infectious hedonism, gluttony and edible thrills held within...though surrender one should!. The celebration of community and the stories behind the food are as important as the food itself – dishes inspired by many different cultures from around the world and that celebrate ingredients that are seasonal, locally grown and sustainably sourced.”

“Winter is a time for roaring bonfires and fireside feasts, with whole splayed beasts smoked and basted to delicious mouthwatering perfection; fire-grilled seafood and charred winter vegetables; comforting, invigorating and fortifying dishes, packed full of flavor. It's also time to dive into the preserves – the jams, chutneys, jellies, sauces and dehydrated, frozen and fermented fruit and vegetables stored in the pantry."

The author enhances her recipes with this kind of enticing storytelling, and between sections of the book she includes more long-form essays and descriptive writing on topics such as fire roasting, cocktail creation, and the winter nightlife in Hobart, Tasmania. "Smoke billows and swirls, and flames flicker and glow as the aroma of delicious fire-cooked dishes fill the air at the Dark Mofo Winter Feast, enticing you in," she writes to open the "Unholy Smoke" chapter. "Cooking with fire is one of the most ancient forms of cooking there is, practiced for thousands of years by numerous cultures around the world...but today, other than the sheer joy, simplicity and spectacle of cooking this way, it's all about the extra flavor that cooking with fire imparts."

A chapter entitled "The Dark Fringe" describes Tasmania's "great restaurants, bistros, distilleries, breweries and bars, many which unholily embrace Dark Mofo's dark spirit during the festivities." The "Corpse Revivers" chapter introduces the cocktail recipe section, with many local stories and how to make The Perfect Martini. "This is a drink that will take you from the depths of winter and transport you straight to the fireside," writes Alastair Broadhurst, the mixologist whose rum/fig/chile creation called "Jesus Juice" was a winner in one of the Dark Mofo cocktail contests.

How can one resist such creative cocktail names as "Aurora," "Coffee + Cigarettes," "Hot, Dark + Dirty," or "Smoking Bishop?" Or how about these irresistible-sounding food dishes: ”Duck Fat Smashed Potatoes with Garlic Aioli + Rosemary Salt," "Cider Braised Pork Belly with Apple Barbecue Sauce," or "Whole Baked Pumpkin with Sage Salsa?"

The most unexpected (and my favorite) section, "Storytelling Tent," inspired by Willie Smith's Mid-Winter Festival's storytelling element, includes written versions of two fantastic tales -- one a Russian folktale retold and the other a bloody version of Jack & Jill -- that are just spooky enough to make you gulp your hot toddy and inch a little closer to the fire.

"Dark Indulgence" opens the section of a "smorgasbord of wintry desserts to indulge our sweet cravings" that "give us a massive warm hug -- they comfort and soothe us, and they deserved to be lavished and loved." Dark chocolate abounds, along with many other boozy, fruity and creative ways to cap off a long winter's night.

“Whether you are partial to a sumptuous dark chocolate layer cake, gooey fire-toasted marshmallows, or a hearty apple pie packed with sweet crisp layers of apples, Winter is a time for gluttony, and to satiate our guilty pleasures and sweetest desires," says Sutton. "So, dive into the blood orange crème brulees, buttery pastries, and warm sugary donuts, full to bursting with tangy blackcurrent curd. Winter is here!"

The seasons of the northern and southern hemispheres may not match up, but we do share many rituals and the same humanity. I am now looking much more forward to our upcoming Winter Solstice this December, and thanks to this fantastic cookbook, we Northerners will be inspired to eat, drink and celebrate well. Are you ready? Let the Winter banquet begin! 

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About the Author

Janice Sutton was born in Scotland and grew up in Somerset, England, enjoying numerous trips over the years to Europe and other far flung destinations that instilled in her a love of travelling and an appreciation for food inspired by different cultures around the world. Janice began her career as a BBC National Radio 4 journalist in London before moving to Australia, where she began creating books for gastronomic travelers and adventurous home cooks, inspired by the ruggedly beautiful island of Tasmania. Due to its temperate climate and pristine air and water, Tasmania grows and produces some of the freshest, healthiest and tastiest food on earth. 

All this has resulted in three IPPY Award-winning cookbooks: Garlic Feast: delicious garlic-inspired recipes for the quintessential garlic lover; Tomato: know, sow, grow, feast, and Winter Wild: a feast of dark delights.


Find out more: https://www.janicesutton.com/