Even a dedicated TV dodger like me knows that the country has gone a bit baking mad. I’m not quite sure how many people who watch other people baking on telly then go and bake something themselves, but nevertheless the nation seems better able to maintain a conversation about raising agents than at any other time in my living memory. Citizens up to their elbows in flour, austerity, far-rightists giving people the creeps – it’s like the 1930s without the rural charm.
Anyway, I’m not sure how we missed this last year but baking seems to me an obvious contender for an autumn/winter activity. As with food generally there are seasonal versions, so whilst on a summer weekend we might, if we have the ability, present a light Victoria sponge to be consumed with dainty forks in front of the tennis, this time of year calls for something heavier and heartier to chomp down. I have this book which gets a lot of outings at this time of the year
It has recipes for Bara Brith (a fruit tea loaf), Welsh Cakes, Cinnamon Cake, Treacle Scones and other delights. Making these is so comforting it’s a bad weather no-brainer; being holed up in a warm kitchen as a form of shelter from icy grey Welsh (or Yorkshire) weather, smoke from the hearth dissipating into the drizzle outside. After which you get to fill up on still-warm sweetness, the rain lashing against the window an essential counterpoint to your happy coziness.
This imaging works very well with something else that has been going on in my neighbourhood lately. A man who has bought and is renovating one of the old houses in the cemetery behind our house has been burning green wood from trees that had grown too close to the walls. For a few days there have been thick drifts of pungent wood smoke permeating the low mist that has characterised the last two weeks. These have woven together in a very atmospheric blanket behind which even the cemetery chapel has all but disappeared at times. I have neither a good enough camera nor the photographic skill to do this justice; instead I will tell you that it made me think of the charcoal burners in Russell Hoban’s excellent novel Riddley Walker:
‘Smoak and steam coming up in the rain from the harts and huts all huddelt they wer crouching in the wood like girt old shaggy wet naminals sleaping. The harts with rou backs and the huts with humps.’
Murky weather features heavily in this unique post-apocalyptic, post-industrial tale with endless days of rain and ‘gurzel’ (drizzle). I’d recommend it to read at any time of year, but particularly now.