May is named after the goddess Maia, who is identified with spring, growth, fertility, and birth. May is when spring becomes predictably warmer and tamer, yet explodes with color from plant life. It’s also the month when millions of green-thumbed Americans succumb to seasonal mania and plant tomatoes a wee bit too soon. Unless you’re in southern climates, folks, just hold off until Memorial Day.
So, vine-ripened tomatoes are still a good way off, but in the meantime, we have grilling, strawberries, and Vidalia onions in store. Click through the gallery to see the best of May’s food holidays.
Sara Bir is Paste’s contributing food editor. She is more than ready to go pick strawberries. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @Sausagetarian.
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May 1 is May Day. This springtime celebration of fertility and renewal has pagan origins and, in Europe, is still observed with rituals like the Maypole (phallic!). Somehow, in translating May Day to suit our Puritan roots, this all morphed into the curious North American habit of leaving a small basket of flowers and treats on the doorstep of a friend, neighbor, or crush. The giver rings the bell and runs away, but if the recipient opens the door and catches the giver in the act, he or she is entitled to a kiss. Isn't that quaint? Once quite popular, May Basket Day began to fall out of favor in the mid-20th century, but it lives on in a million May Day Basket projects on Pinterest boards. Suggestion: fill the basket with fine cheeses, olives, and fancy crackers and leave it on my doorstep. Potted herbs would be very sweet, too. (Pictured is first lady Grace Coolidge, circa 1920, enjoying a May Day kiss).
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May is National Burger Month, National Barbecue Month, and National Beef Month. Not incidentally, May also marks the unofficial start of grilling season. Very few sensations stir the appetite like the smell of grilling beef wafting over from a nearby patio on a sunny day. If you'd like to break out of the burger rut, consider grilling one of these cuts. And whether you're going full-blare with the flame or low and slow for great backyard barbecue, you'll need a decent grill. Here's our basic-to-bombastic wish list of grills (I'm a Portable Kitchen fan, myself.)
Valters Krontals CC BY
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May 5: Cinco de Mayo. Look, there's nothing wrong for an excuse to get wasted on Corona and margaritas while stuffing your face with chips and queso. But do know that in Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is not a big, sloppy food day. The holiday commemorates a victory of the Mexican Army over the French at the Battle of Puebla, and thus today in the city of Puebla you'll find the most elaborate Cinco de Mayo festivities. Puebla is the home of mole poblano, and in recent years the city has hosted the Festival Internacional del Mole, with chefs, panel discussions of Mexico's gastronomic heritage, and lots of tasting events. Can't make it this year? There's always Taco, er...Thursday at your apartment (Cinco de Mayo falls on a Thursday this year).
Chelsea Nesvig CC BY
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May 8: Have a Coke Day. If that sounds familiar, it's because "Have a Coke and a Smile" was a Coca-Cola slogan back in 1979. It's miles ahead of 1906's "The Great National Temperance Beverage." (I'd like to annotate this holiday with a wise quote from a friend: "If you have a Coke for breakfast, your day can only get worse.") Good thing there's not a day for every single slogan Coke has used, because if you glance at this official slogan list from Cocoa-Cola's site, you'll notice there might not be enough days in the year.
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May 8: Mother's Day. Anna Jarvis, who was the proponent of the first Mother's Day celebrations starting in 1908, wanted the holiday not to celebrate motherhood as an institution, but the individual relationships between daughters or sons and their mothers. Jarvis was horrified to see how commercial the holiday soon became. So instead of merchandise or crowded, overpriced brunch buffets, why not take it back to the basics? Grill mom a nice steak for dinner and share a relaxed meal with meaningful conversation. And you can't go wrong with a kiss, a bar of good chocolate, and a homemade card. Still stumped? Paste's Keri Lumm has some other ideas, too.
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May is National Strawberry Month. In many parts of the country, they are in season right now. There are few foods more pathetic than out-of-season strawberries, so be sure to eat up a ton of these juicy and flavorful little suckers as you can. May 20 is Pick Strawberries Day and May 21 is National Strawberries and Cream Day. How convenient! Need ideas of what to do with all of the strawberries u-picked but didn'r devour with cream? Here's a handy list of creative ways to preserve them.
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May is National Sweet Vidalia Onion Month. What makes these onions different from slightly cheaper, plain yellow onions? Chef Bobby Flay calls them "the most famous onions in the world," and he may well be right. Sweeter, milder, and juicer than other onions, Vidalia onions were a serendipitous development in the spring of 1931 when farmer Moses Coleman planted onions in his Toombs County, Ga. field and was pleasantly surprised when what he harvested had a mellow character. Vidalia onions are now the pride of Georgia, but other sweet onions competitors across the country include Washington's Walla Wallas and Hawaii's Maui sweets. The classic way to enjoy a sweet onion is in thick, raw slices topping a burger, but they also stand up to grilling nicely.
Mike Mozart CC BY
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May 11: Eat What You Want Day. Yeah, it's a free country, so that's actually EVERY DAMN DAY OF THE YEAR. What better way to celebrate than visiting the most American of dining institutions, the all-you-can-eat buffet? And playing Devo's Freedom of Choice while you're at it?
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May 12: Limerick Day.
There was a young lady of Cork,
Whose Pa made a fortune in pork;
He bought for his daughter
A tutor who taught her
To balance green peas on her fork.
(Look, I know it's not great, but hopefully you're inspired to make up a better food limerick.)
Nick Harris CC BY-ND
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May is National Bike Month. In Portland, Oregon, a group of brave souls have mounted grills on their bikes and have coals burning while they are on the move. Those who don't want to contend with sparks on their rides should check out The Culinary Cyclist: A Cookbook for People Who Love Bikes by Paste contributor and avid cyclist Anna Brones.