Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Shrove Tuesday

Seasonality - a good thing?

One thing I missed when I spent a lot of time in a tropical country was the lack of seasons in the weather. They had Dry: nine months of 25C during the day, 15C at night (this was at altitude, so not very hot); then they had Wet: same temperatures, but there was a cloudburst every afternoon at exactly 2:15 and then the streets would run with water for a couple of hours. No leaf fall season. Sky always either grey (clouded) or white with heat. Sun sets promptly at five-thirty in winter and six-thirty in summer. OK, the food and culture were great, but something was missing.

I love the greys of winter skies and the grey-greens of winter tree trunks, the tracery of branches and twigs reaching up to the sky when the light is barely there in the hush of December. I grew up in the country but not really plugged into the rhythms of the agricultural year, not being right in the midst of a farming community. There's some vestigial part of me that responds to it and misses it on some level, though, although I don't intend to leave the city anytime soon.

Now it's trying to be spring outside, some buds on the twigs of hedges and some crocuses under trees on flat lawns that get a lot of sun, on the days when we have sun. Today is the day to make pancakes, tomorrow ashes, then six weeks of contemplation and preparation, then feasting. I like this.

The last couple of months I have occasionally been cooking from a secondhand cookbook listing food for the seasons. Serendipity being another thing I like, I was particularly pleased to find this book in a charity shop on the south coast when I was supposed to be shopping for a cheap fancy dress outfit for a New Year's party. My first boyfriend's mother used to have a copy, although as a vegetarian at the time it wasn't much use to me. My grandmother also had one. I haven't gone so far as to make marmalade this February, although the photos of amber and jewelled jars of the orange stuff made me wonder about sterilising a few of the jars hanging around waiting to hold paintbrushes and turning out some mini-presents. I have tried stews and casseroles appropriate to unusual amounts of exactly the right kind of snow, and some fish dishes that are far more hearty than the usual healthy steamed white summer evening fare.

I don't usually eat sweet stuff except for special occasions anyway, so Lent is not about giving up chocolate for me, but when we get to Easter it'll be good to get into it for a while. I did make pancakes today, remembering as usual that they are OK but nothing special. (Of course that wasn't the point, the idea used to be to use up anything luxurious like butter. Favourite Mediaeval fasting fact: it was permissible to eat beavers on fish days as they lived in rivers and were therefore classified as fish.)