May, with the rebirth of nature after dark winter months and the feeling of new life and beginnings it always brings, is one of the most popular and celebrated months of the year in Germany. Filled with festivals, processions and customs which differ not only from region to region but also from village to village.
Some are Christian traditions, others based on pre-Christian spring and pagan festivities beginning with Walpurgisnacht, on April 30th through to May 1st, when witches were believed to meet on the highest peak in Germany's Harz mountains and party until morning.
There is the Beltane festival of fire with its bonfires, marking the ending of the spring and beginning of the summer quarter of the year, while celebrations around May Day's raising and decorating of new May Poles live up to the ideal of Dancing into May.
And the month is also part of the brief time when a real Maibowle, May Punch, also known as Waldmeisterbowle Woodruff Punch, is enjoyed, a perfect match for those warm spring or early summer evenings. Served everywhere during May, and hopefully even a few days afterwards, it's made from fresh Sweet Woodruff, Waldmeister, a perennial spring herb with small white flowers which grows wild in Germany's forests.
Although in other countries it is best to use a cultivated plant.
In season only between April and June when the leaves are tender, the dried whole plant is used for traditional medicines, the sweet smelling dried flowers and leaves for potpourri, and the fresh herb for flavoring food.
Waldmeisterbowle, May Punch with fresh Sweet Woodruff
2 Bunches Sweet Woodruff (use young shoots which have not already blossomed)
2 Bottles light dry white wine (dry wine tastes fresher and the Bowle can always be sweetened later if necessary with brown sugar)
1 Bottle semi-dry sparkling wine
1 untreated or well scrubbed Orange, sliced
Wash the two bunches of sweet Woodruff and let them dry. If time allows it is better to wash the herbs the evening before they are needed and allow to dry over night, this intensifies the flavor.
Empty one bottle of wine into a large bowl, together with the slices of unpeeled orange.
Gently crush the leaves between the fingers then immerse the green part of the bunch of Woodruff into the wine, by tying and hanging from string. Don't let the stems submerge as they are toxic.
Cover and marinade for one hour in a cool place, tasting from time to time as the herbs vary in intensity and, if left too long, the mixture can become bitter.
Remove the Sweet Woodruff, add the remaining bottle of white wine and the bottle of semi-dry sparkling wine. Stir through. Sugar can be added to taste.
Place the Maybowle, which can be decorated with individual leaves and blossoms, (carefully inspected to make sure there are no "visitors" in there, on a bed of ice if possible to keep the punch cool.
Serve chilled with ice cubes in a glass with one of the orange slices.
As strawberries will just be coming into season a popular variation is adding these sliced or quartered to the glass when serving.
And now for an alcohol free version which is very refreshing on a warm day.
Alchohol free Maibowle, May Punch
1 Bunch fresh sweet Woodruff
1 untreated Orange
Juice of one Lemon
3 bottles or cartons (2 pint) white grape juice or apple juice
Wash the Waldmeister, sweet Woodruff, and bind together with string. Allow to dry, overnight if possible.
Cut the unpeeled orange into slices, place in a bowl.
Hang the bunch of Waldmeister on the side of the bowl after gently crushing the leaves between the fingers, and fill with the grape or apple juice and the lemon juice.
Allow to marinate for an hour, covered and in a cool place, tasting from time to time.
Remove the Woodruff and shortly before serving add chilled sparkling mineral water and sugar to taste.
PROST !..........and enjoy your Maibowle
Illustrations: Wild Woodruff in a forest, courtesy photographer "opi hans" via my heimat, Maibowle photo courtesy zurbuche.de
If you don't have a suitable bowl already then the Artland Simplicity 8-Piece Punch Bowl Set is just ideal. It is attractive, easy care and does what it was designed for perfectly.
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