It’s not easy to talk to someone in the UK without the weather making up part of the conversation, especially if you’re talking to someone you don’t know very well. And even if you do know them well, it’s likely the weather will get a mention. By February a lot of people are fed up with winter. The bad weather. It’s too Cold. It’s too Damp. It’s too Dark. It’s been going on for Too Long. Our hours of daylight vary hugely through the year and while they are nowhere near as extreme as more northerly places and we don’t have endless day or endless night, it can still have a real impact on people’s lives. If you work in an office it can be particularly difficult going to work and coming home in the dark. Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a real thing. If you are a sufferer of SAD, and luckily I’m not, the good news is it’s temporary. Winter will always give way to Spring. February may have the reputation of being the bleakest month but the days are already noticeably longer. There are signs of Spring everywhere you look. Bulbs are flowering, buds are appearing on trees and the sun, when it appears, has some real warmth in it.
Because I work for myself I can plan my days to spend some time outside during the hours of daylight, even when they are limited. I don’t mind running in the cold or rain (although running in the wind is a different story!). I like the differences between the seasons in the UK: we have four distinct seasons whereas a lot of places only really have a variation on one, or have two complete extremes. I like the winter to be cold(ish) and dark and the summer to be hot (well warm, at least) and bright. I like lighting the fire and the candles and having to draw the curtains mid-afternoon in the winter. It’s cosy and comforting. And I like hot days and daylight late into summer evenings outside. I like the way things change. I like eating different fruits and vegetables depending on what time of year it is, seeing landscapes change and being able to spend time outside in winter or summer: despite our complaints about the weather it’s never actually really too hot or too cold: we don’t have to stay inside in the winter because it’s dangerously cold outside, or in the summer because it’s unbearably hot. I don’t always like it when the weather is ‘unseasonal’ but even that is to be expected so it’s never really a surprise.
I try to embrace each season as it comes and focus on the positives that each one brings. One way to do this is eating the food that is available on a seasonal basis. Eating strawberries in February because you want it to be summer will actually only make you more depressed: I don’t know if it’s because they are imported from so far away or grown under such artificial conditions but their flavour and texture bears no comparison to that of a locally grown strawberry in the middle of summer. Pears are just about to go out of season here in the UK so make sure you enjoy them while they are still fragrant and juicy: they won’t be later in the year and you’ll be eating strawberries that taste incredible by then anyway… If you find they are already starting to lose their flavour or you just have too many then put some in a cake. Try making this warm chocolate upside-down pear cake when you are safe inside on a chilly, dark day and enjoy the end of winter before it’s gone for another year.
3-4 ripe pears
150g SR flour
50g ground hazelnuts
40g cocoa powder
Half a teaspoon of baking powder
170g soft brown sugar
50g milk (use an alternative to make this recipe dairy-free)
Set the oven to 175°C and grease, and line the base of, a 9″ springform cake tin.
Peel, core and slice the pears quite thinly. Use them to line the base of your prepared tin: either in a pattern of your choice or just scatter them evenly over the base, it doesn’t matter.
Sieve the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder into a large bowl and add the ground hazelnuts. Mix together.
Whisk together the sugar, eggs, oil and milk. Add the liquid to the dry ingredients and mix together, making sure there are no lumps.
Carefully pour the cake batter into the tin, making sure not to move the pears around too much. This will help them to keep their pattern and to remain on the base of the cake tin so you will still be able to see them when you turn the cake out.
Bake for around 35-45 minutes, until the cake is well risen and firm to the touch. A skewer inserted into the middle should come out clean.
Allow to cool for a few minutes in the tin, before carefully removing it and either serving hot or allowing to cool on a wire rack.
It’s delicious either served hot with custard or ice cream as a dessert, or as a slice of cake with a cup of tea or coffee.