A Story and a Recipe

By Dorothy Johnson

 

Today is May 1st, May Day in many countries in the Northern Hemisphere. The early colonists brought many of their national customs to America and they celebrated May Day with dances school skits and other festivities.  My mother told me that her family, as youngster, celebrated May Day by sneaking around and hanging May baskets on the doors of senior citizens.  Then the kids would knock on the door and run away before they were caught. The baskets contained little homemade goodies or May flowers and this custom was great fun for everyone. 

Today I received a May basket from the Riverside Rebekahs of Baileyville. Gilda McPhee, Pauline Burlock and Jane McCollister delivered it to the farm, but there was no knocking on the door and running off for any of us. My basket contained cookies, candy and fruit and I was very surprised and pleased to be remembered.  I expect the “older” ladies who lived where my mother and aunts delivered their baskets felt the same way.  The Rebekahs enlisted the fifth graders at Woodland Elementary School to make their baskets. It is just a personal opinion, but I believe that perhaps our young people need to keep alive more of these old customs.  It seems that this custom brings pleasure to both the giver and the receiver.

While looking around the farm today, I thought that it would be hard to find any May flowers this year.  In spite of a relatively mild winter, spring has been cold and dry.  In B.C. days, common people scraping to get by did not have the fancy forecasters and computers that we have today.  When they noticed things in nature, they invented stories to explain what they saw. These stories are now called myths and even though they are not true, they show remarkable imaginations were alive and well in B.C. years.

One such myth was the explanation of the growing seasons. The story goes that Zeus, the chief god of the Greeks, had a short affair with the lovely Demeter, goddess of agriculture, the harvest, the earth and crops, and this brief union conceived the goddess of spring, the beautiful Persephone.  One day, while Persephone was in a meadow picking flowers with her mother, she was seen by Hades, the god of the Underworld, who was taking dead souls to his kingdom.

As these gods have infinite power, if not infinite wisdom, Hades wanted Persephone for his wife so he took her to the Underworld.  Demeter was so sad she shut down her growing business and the world became barren. Zeus, who was responsible for all humankind, feared all people would die from lack of food so he sent his messenger Hermes to bring Persephone back to earth. Hades knew he had to do as Zeus wished, but this foxy king of the Underworld tricked Persephone into eating six pomegranate seeds.  These seeds forced her to return to the Underworld for six months out of every year. 

The Greeks believed that the six months Persephone was in the Underworld, Demeter was so sad that the earth was barren.  This is the non-growing time of last fall and winter.  Then when Persephone returns to earth for the six months with her mother, the earth becomes fertile and crops begin to grow again, along with the flowers, leaves and weeds. Bugs also come alive and populate the world. The earth flourishes and that is how the Greeks explained spring.

Of course in this day and age, we have scientific explanations about the earth tilting on its axis and the sun’s rays hitting the earth just so and that is why the darkness lasts longer until the earth begins to tilt the other way, and the earth warms and light lasts longer each day.

The Greek myth, though, shows that the citizens took the sorrow of a grieving mother into their consideration for their story. They understood that the psyches of both Zeus and Hades had to be factored into their story so the earth could once again be productive.

Many of my former students despised mythology, while some of them really appreciated the thought and reasoning and imagination that produced it. Readers may see signs of Persephone’s presence and Demeter’s happiness as they travel Washington County in the next few weeks.

 

The recipe for this week was taken from the recipe book of Rachel Hamilton and it is for spectacular ham balls.  This recipe will be one your whole family will enjoy.

Ham Balls

Ingredients:

One pound ham ground

One pound ground pork

One pound beef ground

One cup graham crackers

Two eggs / Three-fourths cup milk

Mix all ingredients above and form into balls.

Topping

Ingredients:

One-half cup brown sugar

One-half cup vinegar

One teaspoon mustard

One can tomato soup

Mix topping ingredients.  Pour over top of ham balls and bake one hour in a 350 degree oven. 

 

This recipe makes many ham balls.