Ahhhh, May is here! I feel a sense of winter tension being released whenever this month arrives. It is my favourite month of the year, thanks to the abundance of blossom on the trees, the increased activity of our wildlife and the bright yellow fields of oil seed rape which are at the peak of their resplendent yellow glory right now.
We know that we are just about out of the woods, cold weather-wise, and the race is on to see who will be the first to boast about leaving the central heating off for more than 24 hours at a time. On a fine day, we can hang the washing outside knowing it will be dry by the end. When we gather it in, we inhale its unique fresh smell which simply cannot be matched by indoor drying (although sometimes I wonder if my neighbour takes my washing on the line as a sign to burn his garden rubbish).
May was also a favourite of my dad’s, as he explains in his column of 5th May 1979: “I consider this the most attractive month of the year, a time when the year seems to beckon us to enjoy life. Perhaps I am biased because my birthday falls during this month, but I think I am not favouring May for that reason.”
In fact, my birthday is exactly a week after my dad’s, which meant I felt an extra special connection to him, so maybe I am biased. But how can you not love May?
There is much folklore about this glorious month, and country dwellers know to treat it with respect, and not take any fine weather for granted. There is a saying that goes “A hot May makes a full churchyard” and another “Shear your sheep in May and shear them all away”, but the following little ditty is one of my favourites:
“He who bathes in May will soon be laid in clay;
He who bathes in June will sing a merry tune;
He who bathes in July will dance like a fly.”
Going by this, we Yorkshire folk had better postpone our annual baths until at least next month then.
Following my column from three weeks ago where I talked about ‘beastlings’ I had some lovely reminiscences sent in by readers. They are memories that could be lost forever, so by documenting them here, I hope I am doing my bit to preserve them.
Helen Hatton wrote: “I spent many magical hours of my 1950s and 60s childhood visiting a farm in High Farndale. A highlight was being taken in the horse and trap to deliver the milk to the Milk Marketing Board collection point lower down the dale.
“If a cow had calved, a bottle of ‘bisslings’ (a two-pint vinegar bottle), would be dropped off at the other farms that milk was collected from. This would be returned unwashed, but with salt in. I didn’t ever see curds being made but did eat the curd tart made from it. My understanding is that the curd was made by heating the bisslings with milk from the kitchen jug. Raw milk of course! Milking was done by hand at this time.”
And Chris Lumley contacted me with the following: “I grew up on a smallholding near Pickering in Ryedale. We had a small dairy herd and all our milk, except what we used at home, went to the Milk Marketing Board. When one of our cows calved, its milk could not go to the MMB as it was often bloodstained and we called it “bislings”. Mother used it to make curd tarts or ‘cheesecakes’ as you describe. It was also used to feed the newborn calves for their first few days and I never heard it said it was not suitable for this purpose. Like your Dad we still like Yorkshire curd tarts and often buy them in town.”
Amazingly, he also goes on to reveal a connection to my dad: “I joined the old North Yorkshire Constabulary in October 1956 at the same time as your dad. We had consecutive ‘collar numbers’. I was 574 and he was 575. We went through training at Newby Wiske Hall and I was posted to Malton when your Dad went to Whitby…Keep up the good work continuing his column.”
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