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All on a Summer's Eve

Text by: Jacque Crosswell Watene

The iron tongue of midnight hath told twelve; Lovers, to bed; 'tis almost fairy time.
-William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, 5. 1
A party is a party. But a party on a Summer's Eve…
-Mr. Elton from the movie Emma (a Jane Austen adaptation)
Lore has it that on the eve of the summer solstice, June 23, ancient Europeans would celebrate the commencement of the season by staying awake from dawn 'til dusk to greet the sun on the shortest night of the year. They would keep a bonfire smoldering throughout the night, which served not only to ward off evil spirits but also to burn incense and herbal offerings, invoking blessings on the forthcoming harvest. People often jumped through the fire for good luck, and would dress as magical figures, such as unicorns, as they danced and celebrated. They would eat, drink, and make much merriment to honor their sacred holiday dedicated to the god and the goddess. This holiday was known as St. John's Day, or Midsummer's Eve, to the ancient people.

According to British faery lore, this night was second only to Halloween in its magical properties and importance to the fairies that enjoyed stirring up trouble on such a fine summer's night. If one desired to see these fairy folk, one had only to gather fern seed at the stroke of midnight and rub it gently onto the eyelids. But be cautioned — 'tis important to carry a bit of rue in your pocket, lest you be carried away by the pixies!

Women desiring a fountain of youth would rub the dew from a rose onto their cheeks under the light of the moon, which was said to make her look one year younger. Young maidens hoping to manifest a lover's proposal of marriage, or divine a future lover, would pick the fragrant herb verbena under the moon.

© Polite Society Magazine Archives

Today, though we may not be as suspicious-minded as our ancestors, we can still create a little magic of our own on this, the shortest night of the year. Gather friends and family for a lively evening of fun and celebration as you welcome the sun for yet another beautiful summer! Dance, sing, play, make daisy wreaths for your hair, dress up as a magical fairy, elf, sprite, or nymph, or even assign and read aloud bits of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Eat summer berries and melted Belgian chocolate, a deliciously sensual combination. Drink an herbal elixir, and make wishes on stars. See if you can't conjure up a little magic of your own.

Lemon Blackberry Tartlets

  • 1 jar lemon curd or lemon pie filling
  • 1 jar high quality blackberry preserves
  • 2 refrigerated pie crusts
  • 32 mint sprigs
  • 32 fresh blackberries (optional)

Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees. Spray 3 mini muffin tins with oil to prevent tarts from sticking to tins.

Let pie crust dough rest at room temperature for 15 minutes before unrolling onto lightly floured surface.

Unroll pie crust dough, and cut into 32 rounds with a 4-inch cookie cutter (or lid from a glass tumbler). Gently push dough into mini muffin tins, allowing a bit of dough to ruffle around the tops of each muffin mold. Put into oven and allow to cook until light, golden brown (about 10-15 minutes). Remove from oven, and set on cooling rack. Once cooled, remove tart crusts from muffin tins. With a teaspoon, place a dollop (about 1/2 teaspoon) of lemon curd or pie filling into each tart crust. With a teaspoon, place another small dollop (about 1/4 teaspoon) of blackberry preserves next to the lemon curd or pie filling (so that both the lemon and the blackberry can be seen).

Garnish each lemon and blackberry tart with a fresh blackberry (optional) and a sprig of mint.

*Makes 32 single servings

Herbal Summer Elixir

  • 2 pints freshly brewed chamomile tea
  • 6 mint leaves
  • 4 slices fresh ginger root
  • 1 pink grapefruit, juiced
  • 3 Tablespoons agave nectar

While chamomile tea is hot, add mint leaves and ginger root slices, and let steep for 10 minutes. Allow the herbal infusion to cool, and remove mint leaves and ginger slices. Stir in pink grapefruit juice and agave nectar (add more nectar to taste, if desired). Garnish with pink grapefruit slices and fresh mint leaves, and serve chilled over ice.

*Makes 8-10 servings