The heavy snows have melted and 18 inches below there has been movement - in fact full-scale construction going on. I walk Poppy through the four meadows and everywhere I go this guerrilla construction is underway, blocking my path. I've never seen such rapid development of mole hills. They must love the soft unhindered snow to work against in their mission to expand. Heedless of any planning permission they continue up the hillside and away from the stream. Fat cat joins us for our walk, slinking along in the shadow of the trees and when I spot her and call she turns her back and saunters home, tail held high in the air, like a child sticking out her tongue saying 'I don't care'.
I'm walking through the top meadow now and coming towards me with a long and easy gait is a World War 2 airman, his parachute neatly folded and hidden beneath a hedge, his leather helmet tight against his head. We stop and talk, the airman and I, and he is old and withered and gentle and correct in speech. We talk about the weather, the mole hills and the peculiar climate here on the top of the moorlands. 'Is there a community there in the village,' he asks, and I am surprised that one so close, who's farmed here so long, should not know.
Back home you are making marmalade, wallowing in the lengthy procedure and extraordinary pleasure because 'it is not every day you get the chance to fill the house with a lingering smell that starts as bright and clean as orange blossom on a cold winter breeze and ends, a day later, with a house that smells as welcoming as warm honey.' My favourite bit is on day two when you get the chance to squeeze the muslin bag and extrude the last bit of pectin from between your fingers into the preserving pan - there's something very therapeutic about this part of the procedure. Rows of neatly labelled amber jars on the shelf are a joy to behold, and we all like to feel a bit smug, occasionally.
Now here's a bit I might have to dispute with you about...'There is something heartwarmingly generous about marmalade makers. I can't tell you how many jars I have been given over the years. In my experience they like nothing more than passing their golden pots of happiness on to others.' All well and good, and I heartily agree with you. However, I think, like you, that the best part of the marmalade is in the making of it. In my experience, unless you are in a minority of households where there is a huge appetite for marmalade and toast for breakfast, most of us make far more jars than we could possibly eat. So we pass it on as gifts or offload it on unsuspecting village hall stalls to clear the space ready for the next batch. But maybe I'm being just a touch cynical here.
I'm looking for recipes in which to use up some old jars of marmalade, and I find one for marmalade cake. The recipe is taken from a wonderful book called 'Good things in England' by Florence White, published in 1932 and reprinted and published by the wonderful little publishing press Persephone Books; (whose books I would happily buy for their glorious printed endpapers alone, taken as they are from wallpapers and fabrics contemporary to their contents; - in this case 'Grapes' a 1932 screen-printed cotton rayon designed by Duncan Grant for Allan Walton Textiles).
Florence White founded The English Folk Cookery Association in 1932, and 'Good things in England' is 'an everyday book...an attempt to capture the charm of England's cookery before it is completely crushed out of existence.' One of the things I most like about her introduction to this book is the way that recipes were collated: 'A practical cook trained in historical research has travelled from county to county, talking to every one who appeared interested, stirring up their memories, and inspiring them to hunt up written and printed records. Articles have been written...letters have been published in The Times and advertisements inserted; some money prizes have been offered.'
The marmalade cake recipe is supplied by a Mrs Wickens of Burford in 1928. It is a fairly basic cake recipe with the butter being rubbed into the flour and the marmalade added with beaten egg. The instruction is to bake for 'l 3/4 hour in Junior New World Cooker'. I think this very plain cake would benefit, in these less austere times, from a cream cheese frosting like you would add to a carrot cake.Perhaps I'll give it a go.