Ahead of his forthcoming demo, chef Neil Forbes celebrates the food and fires of the Celtic festival of Beltane
The Beltane festival has its roots deep in the pagan past of the Celtic people of Britain and Ireland. Commonly held on 1st May, its festivities traditionally marked the start of summer, with fire-based rituals performed to protect cattle and encourage growth and fertility. The festival has recently been revived in Edinburgh, home to Neil Forbes and his sustainable restaurant Café St Honoré. Neil will be in the Demo Kitchen on Friday 28th April, marking Beltane with a menu inspired by the changing of the seasons. Here, he explains his excitement at this most elemental of celebrations:
“This coming Sunday we’ll be celebrating the ancient, almost mythological, Beltane festival in Edinburgh.
“At the top of a hill in the centre of the city, thousands of people gather to celebrate the beginning of summer. The festivities are rooted in our Gaelic past, and it’s brilliant to watch the wild dancing and breath-taking fire displays.
“The climax of the evening is the lighting of a huge bonfire, which offers the cue for everyone to start dancing. It’s a pagan display, like something from another world, with the sky across Edinburgh turning red for the night. It’s truly wonderful.
“One part of all this madness that particularly interests me is the feasting. There’s no better time of year to be celebrating all the magnificent produce we grow, forage and breed as it becomes ready for the table.
“It’s a delight to be a cook just now. The welcome scent of wild garlic after a long winter inspires us to start looking above ground for our ingredients again.
“Poking their way through the earth we rediscover those majestic asparagus spears, just as new season lamb that has been munching the fresh grass becomes available. Nature is giving us some very clear signs of what to cook and eat. And how I look forward to seeing those first British tomatoes.
“Eating the seasons is a great way to celebrate the abundance of produce available in the British Isles. Whether you’re shopping at Borough or your local farmers’ market, asking the stallholder where their produce comes from is a great way to build a relationship and share some of that Beltane festival spirit.
“So, this weekend, light a fire and eat like a king. Let’s celebrate the start of the summer with a feast of good food.”
Image: Stefan Schäfer