May Day in Britain

May Day Celebrations

Maypole Dancing at Chatsworth House
Barry Lewis / Getty Images

Sadly we have no traditional food today to mark May Day unlike times past. Carol Wilson in her book Porters Seasonal Celebrations describes eating milky puddings, creamy desserts and cheesecakes and a popular Irish dish of Hasty Pudding on May Day. The pudding was a blancmange type dish, and as the name suggests, made in a hurry. The dish - believed to have originated in colonial America and called Indian Pudding - uses a sweetened porridge made from flour, tapioca or oatmeal and milk and often served with treacle.

Carol also records how in medieval England, particularly the Yorkshire Dales, peasants and serfs had the right to the milk for the whole week after the spring equinox, which normally would go directly to the Lords of the manor. This meant they could make cheese and butter for their own use throughout the coming year.

One festivity for May Day is the lovely custom of Maypole Dancing. The Maypole though introduced by the ancient Britons became popular in the Middle Ages and many villages throughout the UK do still have them. Long poles decorated with flowers, streamers and ribbons stand in the middle of the village green. Pairs of boys and girls alternately hold the end of a ribbon and weave in and around each other, in opposite directions, until the ribbons are woven together around the pole.

For my celebrations I like to make Trifle. The pudding is a classic dish throughout the British Isles.

I have two recipes for it; the classic version and a quick one– what I sometimes call my Hasty Pudding.