Oxhill News

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South Warwickshire, England.

The Oxhill News

September 2010

This months News



Nature Notes

September is the month of plenty; hops, apples and other fruit, and was the month of reaping, although these days the harvest is cut and stored by the beginning of September.  There was a tradition that the last sheaf had to be cut in a particular manner.  In some counties it was reaped by the youngest maid or lad on the farm and must not touch the ground before being carried home in much triumph and rejoicing.  In many other areas about a square foot of standing corn was left and plaited together, and all the reapers threw their sickles at it until one managed to cut it down, whereupon he cried “got the mare” or “cut the gander’s neck”.  Regardless of how it was cut, the last sheaf was often dressed in women’s clothes or plaited into a corn dolly.  ‘She’ then presided over the Harvest Home feast and was carefully kept for luck until the next harvest.

It would appear that this year is yielding an abundance of fruit, and with the fruit come the wasps, and like the fruit they seem more abundant this year.  The workers have now finished looking after the young and are attracted to the ripening fruit.  Most people seem to hate wasps, but they should not be destroyed unless their nests are very close to the house where there are very young or old people, or people who are allergic to their stings.  Bees feed their young on pollen and nectar, but wasps feed theirs on animal matter, including a great number of insect pests and dead carcasses, and their role as biological control agents is largely unappreciated.  Unlike bees, wasps do not make their nests from wax but instead scrape wood fragments from gates, fences or sheds, chew it to a pulp and create ‘paper’ which they use to construct the nest.  If you have never seen one, they are one of nature’s wonders (the wasps vacate them and die by the end of Autumn).  The name wasp is from Old Teutonic, waeps or waesp, and is related to ‘weave’, which refers to the way the nest is created.  In the sixteenth century ‘waspish’ described irritating, aggressive or tetchy behaviour – ‘if I be waspish, best beware my sting’ – The Taming of the Shrew, Act 2, Scene 1.

Harvest suppers or Harvest-home dinners, variously called ‘horkeys’, ‘mell suppers’, ‘kern feasts’ and ‘clyacks’ were generally held everywhere by the end of the first week of September.  What a great pity we seen to have lost this tradition. 

“To make a rich frumenty for ten persons.  Steep one pound of whole grains of what in water overnight, and then boil the steeped grains in one pint of milk until the whole be soft.  Add thereto raisins and sultanas, honey, a nutmeg freshly grated, a little cinnamon, brandy and cream: and serve it forth hot or cold.”

(Mistress Barton’s Cookery Book, 1680).

Grenville Moore

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Last modified: August 30, 2010