The annual countdown has begun, and it will soon be the longest day. From next week, the evenings will get shorter and shorter as we start moving towards the autumnal equinox and then all too soon will come the winter solstice, the shortest day. These sobering thoughts, first voiced to me by an old friend as we sat sipping our wine on my birthday long ago, watching the remains of the sunset over the sea not long before midnight in Brittany, where time is Celtic and elastic, are etched into my subconscious and rise gently each year into my conscious around the 15 June. I shake them off quickly. Live in the present is my motto.
I’m a child of the summer solstice, and have always been extremely grateful to my parents for timing my conception so that I can celebrate my birthday halfway to Christmas. Most considerate of them. As a child, it meant that my sketchbooks, pencil crayons and water paints were replenished at six-monthly intervals. I also got a new summer dress for my birthday and a new winter dress for Christmas, designed and made by my clever mother. What more could I ask?
My birthday is the eve of the longest day, which makes it special. It’s the last day on which the days are still getting longer. A particular birthday treat for me – a tradition we continue to this day – is a bowl of strawberries and cream. The fact that you can get strawberries any time of the year nowadays is totally irrelevant: I have a private taboo on that fruit if there’s an ‘R’ in the month.
Forget Wimbledon, forget Eton mess and the cricket match against Harrow.The most perfect day for a dish of fresh strawberries and double cream (runny or whipped) is 20 June. Sprinkle a little freshly-ground black pepper over the strawberries an hour or two beforehand to bring out the flavour, plus a little sugar if you really have to – in my case, it’s only for the crunch, so I use granulated or even brown sugar, which is probably heresy to professional cooks. If I have one or two strawberries left over, they go nicely in the prosecco with which I toast my own good health and that of anyone else around.
My daughter and granddaughter had the brilliant idea of marrying men whose birthdays flank my own, on the 17 and 24 June, so as a family we have cause for a week’s celebration at the best time of the year. Sadly, we are not all in the same country at present, so this year’s festivities will be rather low-key here, but whoever or whatever may be absent from it, I’m making sure of my summer solstice strawberries.