June is true summer: strawberries, roses and rainy picnics, ice cream and sunburnt shoulders. Meteorological summer begins on the 1st, astronomical summer on the 21st, the countryside is full and fresh, and gardens and hedgerows are bursting with colour: if you want your garden to look wonderful in June, then you can hardly fail, for everything flowers in June. June of course contains the most daylight of any month, and the longest day and shortest night. But there’s the rub: here we are, just getting into the swing of things, and suddenly the pinnacle is reached. After Midsummer’s Day on the 21st we start the slow slide towards autumn, and June’s midsummer celebrations are tinged with that knowledge. Happily, however, the thermal lag in the seas and land means that our warmest months are ahead of us. We can cast aside niggling thoughts of the dark half of the year, at least for now, and revel in the warmth and light of the moment.
The month may have been named after the Roman goddess of marriage, Juno, and it is certainly a month that lends itself to optimistic outdoor gatherings and celebrations. The Anglo-Saxons called it sera monath (dry month). Perhaps things were different then, or perhaps the Anglo-Saxons were as hopeful and foolish about June as we are.
Look to the north-east at around 11 p.m. and … you will see Cassiopeia’s distinctive zigzag of bright stars
Constellation of the month – Cassiopeia
As we move through the longest day and the shortest night there is so much light in the sky that constellations become harder to pick out, but the increasing light is matched by an increasing warmth that makes night lingering more enjoyable. Cassiopeia is bright enough to still stand out, and resides in the darker part of the sky at prime star-watching time. Look to the north-east at around 11 p.m. and halfway between the Pole Star and the horizon you will see Cassiopeia’s distinctive zigzag of bright stars. Cassiopeia was a vain and boastful queen in Greek mythology, punished by Poseidon for her wicked ways and forced to wheel forever more around the Pole Star.
The phases of dusk
There are many beautifully poetic names for dusk and twilight – evenglome, dimmet, the gloaming, simmer dim in Scotland, the dimpsy in Devon.
Dusk is also more complicated than you might think, and it has three stages. Civil twilight is the time between sunset and the moment that the sun reaches 6 degrees below the horizon. When 6 degrees is reached (civil dusk), civil authorities traditionally switched on street lighting. Nautical twilight is the spell when the sun is between 6 and 12 degrees below the horizon, and is the time when both the horizon and the principal navigational stars can be seen, so allowing the use of a sextant for navigation. Astronomical twilight is the period when the sun is between 12 and 18 degrees below the horizon: there is still a little light in the sky, and many of the brighter stars can be seen. From 23rd May until 21st July in London, astronomical twilight lasts all night. The same is true for Glasgow from 5th May until 8th August, except for the spell between 2nd June and 10th July, when the even lighter nautical twilight lasts all night.
We hope for ‘flaming June’ but ‘June monsoon’ is sadly a far more likely occurrence. In June, changes in temperatures in land masses and in atmospheric circulation around the world often create a strong pattern of westerlies which drive wet weather across the UK. The month will often start fine and warm and then deteriorate into rainy weather around mid-June, causing misery as it runs straight into the season of summer festivals, fetes and sports fixtures. This feels particularly cruel when June marks both the start of meteorological summer (1st June) and the summer solstice (21st June). Occasionally a heat wave will buck the trend, but nearly three out of four Junes are wet, so hope to need sun hats but take brollies too. Temperatures at least are rising fast.
Average temperatures (°c): London 16, Glasgow 13
Average sunshine hours per day: London 7, Glasgow 5
Average days rainfall: London 13, Glasgow 20
Average rainfall total (mm): London 53, Glasgow 70
During the course of June, day length increases by:
19 minutes up to its longest at 16 hours and 38 minutes on the 21st, and then shortens by 4 minutes by the end of the month (London). 25 minutes up to its longest at 17 hours 35 minutes on the 21st, and then shortens by 6 minutes by the end of the month (Glasgow).
Average sea temperature
Mackerel migrate around the coastline in June and throughout the summer months. There are two roughly distinct groups: the North Sea stock overwinter in deep water along the edge of the continental shelf to the north and east of Shetland, migrate south to spawn, and spend the summer in the central North Sea close to the east coast, before returning to their overwintering areas in late summer; the western stock overwinter off of the Irish continental shelf, and migrate to spawn and summer in the Celtic Sea and along the west coast. Mackerel are plentiful, easy to catch and delicious.
Planting by the moon
Full moon to 3rd quarter: Harvest crops for immediate eating. Harvest fruit.
3rd quarter to new moon: Prune. Harvest for storage. Fertilise and mulch the soil.
New moon to 1st quarter: Sow crops that develop below ground. Dig the soil.
1st quarter to full moon: Sow crops that develop above ground. Plant seedlings and young plants.
Full moon to 3rd quarter: Harvest crops for immediate eating. Harvest fruit.
Plants will quickly switch into seed-producing mode if left unpicked, so make sure you always have a jar of sweet peas on your table
Jobs in the garden
• Sweet peas are flowering now and you must pick them frequently in order to keep them flowering. Plants will quickly switch into seed-producing mode if left unpicked, so make sure you always have a jar of sweet peas on your table. Such a trial.
• Plant plumbago, asters, Japanese anemones, heleniums, rudbeckias and helianthus now for autumn flowers to keep your garden’s bees and butterflies happier for longer.
• On the vegetable patch direct-sow carrots, beetroot, peas, mangetout, kale, Florence fennel, French beans, swede and turnip. Plant out winter squashes and pumpkins, tomatoes, aubergines, courgettes, sweet potatoes, peppers and chillies.
Glut of the month – gooseberry
Lip-smackingly sour gooseberries are swelling now. Thin them out early in the month, using the small, sharp, pectin-filled early ones for jam and allowing the rest to ripen, soften and sweeten.
• Pork and mackerel have their fattiness and oiliness offset by the sharpness of a gooseberry sauce. Simmer a pan full of berries with a few tablespoons of sugar and a few of water.
• Elderflower adds hints of floral and lemony flavours that rub along very happily indeed with gooseberry. Simmer gooseberries, a little sugar and a head of elderflower together to make the filling for a summery crumble or pie.
• Roasting gooseberries in a little honey sweetens and softens them while caramelising them slightly and allowing them to hold their shape. Tip a spoonful or two of them, still warm, onto thick Greek yoghurt.
Garden task – plant scented pelargoniums
Rub the leaf of one and bring a waft of lemon up to your nose, try another and it is spice and cinnamon, yet another and… cola? Each cut with the sharp tang of the geranium cuttings in your granddad’s greenhouse. Scented geraniums are more correctly, though less frequently, known as pelargoniums, and they are the cream of the summer bedding plants. Garden centres are overflowing with little plug plants of fuchsia, petunia and lobelia, all of which can be thrown into a pot or a hanging basket now and will explode into growth and colour, vanishing with the first frosts come autumn. Scented geraniums are similar in temperament and in use, but they are the understated cousins with hidden depths. They make classy temporary basket and pot-fillers, flower delicately and prettily all summer, will waft deliciously as you brush past, and can even be used as a flavouring, the leaves infused in summery drinks, jams and milky puddings (and even in gooseberry crumbles).
‘Queen of Lemon’ (surely named by an excited five-year-old following their first sniff) is one of the best citrusy varieties, but there are others, among them ‘Pink Capitatum’ – lime-scented – and ‘Orange Fizz’. ‘Lady Plymouth’ is one of the best-looking and most delicious, with grey-green and gold variegated leaves, pale lilac flowers, and a rose-mint fragrance. The leaves of ‘Rose of Attar’ emit a subtly different oldworld rose fragrance when faintly crushed, those of ‘Ardwick Cinnamon’ are spicy, ‘Birdbush Nutty’ smells of roasted almonds, ‘Candy Dancer’ of Turkish delight and so on. There is a whole world of bizarrely and beautifully fragranced pelargoniums, and this is the time to explore it.
Fresh, unmatured cheeses … are at their finest, as herds are eating abundant young grass and herbs
• You can start picking broad beans, globe artichokes, French beans, peas, lettuce, Florence fennel and carrots, and you may dig some new potatoes. Watercress, spring onions and radishes are all ready.
• Summer herbs – basil, mint, chives and dill – are fresh and perfect now.
• Strawberries, raspberries, cherries, apricots and gooseberries are at their best this month. Blackcurrants, white currants and redcurrants are fruiting.
• Crab, mackerel and sardines are plentiful.
• Fresh, unmatured cheeses such as ewe’s curd, chevre, ricotta and feta are at their finest now, as herds are eating abundant young grass and herbs.
Ingredient of the month – brown crab
Although there are 65 species of British crab, the one you are most likely to find yourself eating is the brown crab, Cancer pagurus, with its reddish-brown carapace, pie-crust-shaped top, and black-tipped pincers. Summer is the season, as in winter they are breeding and moulting (the shells do not grow so they have to cast them aside, during which time they are not good eating). They can be found all around the British Isles but Norfolk is particularly famous for them – Cromer crabs are particularly sweet, with a higher proportion of white to brown meat than those caught elsewhere, perhaps due to the presence of a chalk shelf just off of the coast. But crab is pretty wonderful all around the coast. Buy them from the fishmonger as ‘dressed’ crab, with the meat picked out for you, and use the white meat in salads and pasta dishes and the brown meat spread onto hot buttered toast.
The midsummer fire June contains a great turning point in the year, as the sun reaches its highest point, pauses there for a moment and then begins the descent back towards winter. Midsummer was a vastly significant date to our farming ancestors – although it was traditionally celebrated on the 23rd or the 24th of June, rather than on the actual longest day on the 21st – and it was a date regarded with a healthy dose of anxiety, perhaps necessary to spur on preparations for the darker, less bountiful months.
While the idea that our ancestors gathered at Stonehenge and the like to welcome in Midsummer’s Day is much disputed, there is far more evidence for the popularity of the midsummer fire. Throughout Britain and Europe bonfires have long been lit as the sun set on Midsummer Eve, in the streets, on high hills, and on farmland. These widespread celebrations generally had three common features: bonfires, torchlit processions and the rolling of a burning wheel. Bones and rubbish were burned to create smoke to drive away bad spirits, and midsummer fires had a magical quality. Cattle would be driven through them and young men would leap over them for luck. Long-burning kitchen hearth fires would be put out and rekindled using burning brands from the midsummer fire, as if to hold on to the height of summer and to stave away the coming dark for as long as possible. And the burning wheels would be driven down hills by whooping boys, directly representing the sun making its descent, and to fatalistic applause from gathered onlookers: if it is going to happen, let’s send it on its way in style.
Don’t miss the oh-so-brief chance to create one of the hedgerow delicacies of the year. Pick elderflower heads in the morning, before the bees have stolen all of the sweet nectar, and from trees well away from busy roads. This recipe is quick, easy and a little wild as it makes use of unpredictable natural yeasts.
2 l boiling water
650 g sugar
2 l cold water
Juice and skins of 4 lemons
15 heads of elderflower
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
5 g champagne yeast (if needed)
In a bucket pour the boiling water over the sugar and stir to dissolve. Add the cold water, the lemon skins and juice, and the elderflower heads and cover everything with a muslin. Check it after three days and if it has not started to froth up, add the champagne yeast. Once it has fermented for six days sieve it through a sterilised muslin into a sterilised bucket. Allow the sediment to settle for a few hours and then siphon it into screw-top plastic bottles or swing-top-stopper glass bottles. It is ready to drink after about a week. You can keep it longer – it is beautiful after a couple of months – but it is a good idea to release the pressure once a week to avoid explosions later down the line or to store it in the fridge to slow the build-up.
Atayef stuffed with walnuts – a recipe by Nisrin Abuorf
The Muslim holy month of Ramadan involves fasting from dawn to sunset, and while areas of Britain with large Muslim populations may be quieter than usual during the day, just before sunset the restaurants start to fill up with hungry customers anticipating the moment they can finally break their fast. At the end of the meal many will have atayef for dessert. This stuffed pancake is well loved but almost never eaten outside of Ramadan, a sort of Muslim equivalent of the mince pie.
Makes 10 pancakes
For the sugar syrup:
300 g sugar
150 ml water
1 tsp orange-blossom water
Juice of half a lemon
For the walnut stuffing:
150 g roughly crushed walnuts
1 tbsp caster sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp grated coconut
For the pancakes:
200 g plain flour
50 g semolina
1 heaped tsp corn flour
1 tbsp caster sugar
A pinch of salt
½ tsp instant yeast
1 heaped tsp baking powder
150 ml full-fat milk
250 ml warm water
150 g unsalted butter, melted
Prepare the sugar syrup first. Put the sugar, the water and orange-blossom water in a pan and bring to the boil. Once the water starts bubbling, pour in the lemon juice, reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Pour the cooled syrup over the pancakes
Blend all of the pancake ingredients except the melted butter together for 3 minutes. If working without a blender, put the dry ingredients into a large bowl, make a well in the centre, and pour in the milk and water in stages, slowly incorporating the dry mix from the edges. The batter is ready when there are lots of bubbles on the surface. In another bowl mix crushed walnuts, sugar, cinnamon and coconut for the stuffing.
Brush a non-stick pan with some of the melted butter and heat until the surface is very hot; then turn the hob down to medium heat. Pour a full ladle into the pan. The pancake should start forming bubbles on the surface. As soon as the surface has dried, take the pancake out and place on a plate. Repeat this process until all the batter is used.
While the pancakes are still warm, stuff each with a teaspoon of stuffing, then close the round pancake disc into a half circle by pinching and pressing the two sides of the pancake. Brush the stuffed pancakes all over with the melted butter then grill until both sides are golden brown and crisp. Pour the cooled syrup over the pancakes and serve immediately.
Look out for:
• Hedgerows and verges are full of the first foxglove flowers, wild honeysuckle, dog rose and blackberry flowers.
• In grassland look out for flowering ox-eye daisies and bird’s-foot trefoil.
• Birds will be singing less and spending their energy searching for food for their young chicks.
• June is the best time for visiting the limestone grasslands of the north and the chalk downlands of the south. Look out for bee orchids, common spotted orchids and pyramidal orchids, as well as cheddar pinks, bellflower, betony, common milkwort, horseshoe vetch and meadow saxifrage.
• This is the height of moth season, and of bat season too, and night walks or moth-watching evenings will be well rewarded.
• Meadow brown and marbled white butterflies can be seen in long grass. And look out for marsh fritillaries.
• Flag irises are in flower around lakes and rivers. Look out for beautiful demoiselles and banded demoiselles taking to the air as they emerge in mid-June.
• Thrift and sheep’s-bit are in flower on seaside clifftops.
• Farmland birds that can be seen this month include yellowhammers, corn buntings, linnets, goldfinches and greenfinches.
The Almanac by Lia Leendertz is published by Unbound