Ode to June: peonies and Pimm’s

June is without a doubt my favourite month. It marks the transition between spring and summer. Fresh growth carpets the city; green, and bursting with life. The sun is bright and the days are long and warm; the nights temperate.

But it gets even better: with peonies and Pimm’s.

Peonies appear like clockwork at the beginning of the month, starting with the tree peonies followed, for a glorious few weeks, by herbaceous varieties.

peonies

(Source: Sarah Richardson, Chez CO)

The quintessential, perennial, peonies have it all going on. They’re easy to grow, drought-resistant and hardy to zone 3. They’re outrageously beautiful and sweetly fragrant when in bloom. When not in bloom they sport lush green foliage with handsome glossy leaves. And your peony may well live longer than you do. Some varieties have been known to live for 100 years.

Peonies

(Source: Sarah Richardson, Chez CO)

Peonies have inspired many a writer, and literary references abound. My favorite is that of poet John Keats. In his Ode on Melancholy, Keats wrote of the “wealth of glob’d peonies”— peonies in their final stage of development before they burst open—as a moment when anticipation of the beauty to be revealed by the opening of the bud represents the joy in life, even if it is fleeting.

And that’s the thing about peonies. They’re around for a month and then they’re gone. I have peonies in my garden, but never quite enough to harvest them en masse to fill the house for those few precious weeks when they are available. So I buy them.

Pale peonies

(Source: Sarah Richardson, Chez CO)

My absolute favourite source for cut peonies in Montreal is a small family-run flower stand at the Atwater market (across from the fish store). Starting in May, and only on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, they will sell you what is in their garden beginning with blossoms, lilacs and lily of the valley – and in June, buckets of peonies going for a song.

Peonies at the market

(Source: Sarah Richardson, Chez CO)

Even if it’s across town, it’s so well worth the visit if you get excited about the prospect of the early summer’s wealth of fresh local cut flowers!

Welcoming in the summer brings me to the second great pleasure I associate with June: Pimm’s. As soon as the weather warms up, Pimm’s becomes my drink of choice. It’s the perfect summer cocktail, made more perfect by the addition of seasonal strawberries, cucumber and mint.

Pimms bottle papermag 1

(Source: papermag.com)

Pimm’s originated in 1840 in an Oyster Bar owned by James Pimm in the City of London. He created the Pimm’s ‘House Cup’, later called the No 1 Cup, using gin, quinine and a secret mixture of fruit extracts and herbs to aid digestion. It caused quite a storm at the time, and remains as popular as ever. It’s a staple drink at summer events  in the UK,  such as Wimbledon where over 80,000 pints are sold every year.

pimms keep calm (keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk)

(Source: keepcalm-o-matic.co.uk)

I came of age in the UK and cut my drinking chops on shandies (beer and lemonade) and Pimm’s. When I moved to Quebec in the late 1990s, Pimm’s wasn’t available at the SAQ and so I stocked up each summer in Ontario. But things have changed and it’s now widely available throughout North America, including here in Montreal. I urge you to pick up a bottle this summer and mix up a batch of the Original Pimm’s No 1 for your drinking and entertaining pleasure.

Pimms spoonstosporks

(Source: spoontosporks.com)

Here’s how:

  • Fill a jug with ice.
  • Pour over the ice: 1 part Pimm’s No 1 with 3 parts ‘lemonade’ (in Britain ‘lemonade’ refers to a clear carbonated lemonade soft drink that has nothing to do with a home-made lemonade made with real lemons and sugar. British ‘lemonade’ is only available in specialty UK food stores. Good substitutes are Mountain Dew, 7-Up, Sprite or Ginger Ale).
  • Add mint leaves, thin cucumber slices, orange slices and strawberry (you can play around with the fruit accompaniments, but mint and cucumber are essential).

cut up fruit

(Source: foodcomas.com)

It’s so tasty that you will forget it’s actually alcoholic (25% proof).  You’ve been warned.

Happy June everyone.

– Sarah

2 thoughts on “Ode to June: peonies and Pimm’s

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