Sharing the gift of spring: The tradition of making May Baskets for May Day

The most prolific basket maker of my acquaintances is Amy Clarke of Greenfield. Today, she plans to deliver 26 small baskets. Her baskets are simple creations of paper hung on doorways.

The most prolific basket maker of my acquaintances is Amy Clarke of Greenfield. Today, she plans to deliver 26 small baskets. Her baskets are simple creations of paper hung on doorways. CONTRIBUTED photo

Bluets in bloom.


By May 1, daffodils are usually in full bloom.

By May 1, daffodils are usually in full bloom. PHOTO BY TINKY WEISBLAT


For the Recorder

Published: 04-30-2024 2:25 PM

May 1, May Day, arrives almost halfway between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice. Although spring officially arrives on the former day, our weather often doesn’t feel springlike until April … and, as recent weeks have shown, it can sometime feel downright wintry even in that month.

By May 1, however, daffodils, bluets, and jonquils are usually in full bloom. Dandelions and chives pop up in the grass.

May 1 has long been celebrated as a beacon of happy days. In Great Britain and in many other European countries, it is celebrated with dancing, May poles and flowers.

In many parts of Europe and America, May Baskets were once a beloved tradition. One of the first food articles I wrote discussed that tradition in my hometown of Hawley.

The late Shirley Raymond McMullin told me that here in the Pudding Hollow neighborhood, May Baskets extended throughout the month of May during her youth in the 1940s.

Children would gather each evening to construct a little basket out of whatever they had (often paper) and fill it with sweet treats and/or flowers. They would then hang the basket on a neighbor’s doorknob.

“The idea was,” recalled Shirley, “we would choose the fastest runner to do the hanging because you put the baskets on the doorstep and knocked on the door and then you ran like crazy and hid.

“And whoever you were hanging on … of course you put your names on the baskets, so they knew who was there. And they had to come and find you, catch you. And then after you were caught, you sat on their doorstep until they had caught everybody, and then sort of had a party.”

The baskets were simple and inexpensive, crossing class boundaries. The tradition disappeared sometime after Shirley grew up, but she never stopped missing it. She died in 2001.

Today, I think May Baskets may be making a comeback. Several people I know make and give them.

Lauretta Paul Graves of Shelburne and her husband exchange small baskets. “I usually put a little candy in his. He usually puts bluets from the yard in mine. So fun!” she told me.

The students at Buckland-Shelburne Elementary School once created May Baskets. As of last year, Principal Hayley Gilmore informed me, they have switched their celebration to a slightly later date and make Bloom Fest Baskets for May 9 (May 10 if it rains).

“Our Baskets typically include some depiction of a flower (craft, drawing, poem, etc.) created by the children. It depends on the age of the child who creates the flower (so they are all different),” said Gilmore. “We deliver to all our neighbors including Highland Village.” Highland is a community for seniors and people with disabilities. I’m sure the residents appreciate their baskets.

The most prolific basket maker of my acquaintances is Amy Clarke of Greenfield. Today she plans to deliver 26 small baskets.

Children in her neighborhood exchanged May Baskets back in the 1960s when she was growing up. She has continued the tradition for decades. Her baskets are simple creations of paper hung on doorways.

One May, after Amy’s five children had grown up and left home, she stopped delivering May Baskets. “Friends called to say, ‘Where’s my May Basket?’” she recalled with a laugh. “So we started again … just me, and then my husband helping when he retired, and now we deliver with our grandson, Will.

“It’s a tradition we love, bringing a few candies and flowers (and once in a while a nip of Baileys or whatever if that’s a favorite) on May Day, especially to friends our age and older who also happily remember May Day.”

Many of Amy’s memories of May Days past are humorous. When her children were growing up, she recalled, they were told that “if a person caught you delivering, they gave you a kiss.”

She added, “Our daughter, Emily, was mortified at age 11 or 12 when the doorbell rang and our next door neighbor, Rolley, said ‘I’m sorry, Em, but I saw you sneaking over and Lynne says I have to do this!’ and gave her a kiss on the cheek.”

Amy purchases the nibbles for her May Baskets at Richardson’s Candy Kitchen so I was left on my own for a recipe. This year, I decided to make glazed pecans. They offered a little heat and a little sweetness (the latter provided by maple syrup).

They were tasty, and they were made with heart. That’s the first requirement for any food gift.

May Basket Glazed Pecans


1/4 cup (1/2 stick) sweet butter

2 tablespoons maple syrup

3/4 teaspoon coarse salt (plus a bit more to taste later if you like)

3/4 teaspoon chili powder

1/3 teaspoon crushed red pepper (more if you like spice)

3 cups raw pecans


Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Melt the butter over low heat in a 10- or 12-inch cast-iron skillet. Stir in the maple syrup, the salt, and the spices. Add the pecans and toss them well to make sure they are coated.

Place the skillet in the preheated oven and bake the nuts for one hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Taste a nut after 1/2 hour to see if the seasonings suit your taste; if not, add a little more salt and/or a little more spice.

When the hour is up, remove the nuts from the oven and let them cool on wire racks lined with brown paper. They will be soft at first but will crunch up as they cool.

When the nuts have cooled completely store them in a tin, a jar, or a sealed plastic bag. Add them to your May Basket for a semi-savory snack.

Makes about 3 cups.

Tinky Weisblat is an award-winning cookbook author and singer known as the Diva of Deliciousness. Visit her website,