May Day is such an obliging holiday. For the child, there are May baskets, woven of construction paper filled with spring flowers and hung on a neighbor's doorknob; for dancers, the Maypole and for sedentary adults, the May bowl.
Traditionally, the May bowl is based on sweet woodruff which, as far back as 1597, Gerald's Herbal was reporting "is . . . put into wine to make a man merry and to be good for the heart and liver." Along the way, May bowl recipes have picked up enough additions to change from light toasts to spring to concoctions that could knock you into September.
"You can add brandy," acknowledges a staff member at the German embassy, "but the taste disappears as well."
The taste, and half your guests.
For a gentle season, the old-fashioned May bowl is a gentle celebration. If your garden isn't crawling with sweet woodruff, you can buy plants for $1.50 at the Washington Cathederal Greenhouse, or from Earthworks Greenhouse, 923 N. Ivy St., Arlington, for 95 cents. They are perennials, pretty green rosettes which make an attractive groundcover till you need them next May.
More immediately, you can buy a whole flat of the plants and shear them for your Maybowl, as Earthworks reports some customers did last year, or substitute 1/6 cup of dried woodruff for each bottle of wine. (Dried woodruff is available at Georgetown Coffee, Tea and Spice, 1328 Wisconsin Ave. NW.)
Use a fistful of fresh woodruff for each bottle of chilled Mosel and refrigerate for several hours. The wine will have a tart, woodsy flavor. For a still light, but slightly sweeter taste, marinate hulled strawberries in German May Wine, which already has woodruff added.
Or make both May bowls, placing one at each end of a table and in between set out a cold roast turkey, biscuits and herb butters -- one mashed with fresh parsley and chives, another with chopped fresh mint.
For a salad, toss spinach and toasted pine nuts with an oil and vinegar dressing and sprinkle with freshly grated permesan cheese. Next, cheese scattered with flowers to honor a May Day tradition reported in a London newspaper in 1827:
"On the first day of May, at the Village of Randwick, near Stroud, there has been . . . the following custom: Three large cheeses . . . decked with the gayest flowers of this lovely season, are placed on litters, equally adorned with flowers and boughs of trees waving at the corners. They are then borne through the village accompanied by a jouyous throng."
When your joyous throng has worked past the cheeses, test the theory that there is no such thing as too many strawberries. End the buffet with strawberries and wine and strawberries without wine -- unhulled berries surrounded by small bowls of sweetened whipped cream for dipping.