On wet, windy and gloomy afternoons, the best place to be is in the kitchen. It is the warmest part of the house and there is something very comforting about the mingling aromas of dried fruit and spices. I no longer make Christmas puddings or cakes, but I still delight in making jars of candied peel and grinding spices for mincemeat. Afterall Christmas would not be complete without mince pies and even an ordinary fruitcake can be transformed into a non-Christmas cake by soaking the fruit in a mixture of tea and brandy. I can already feel the winter waistline beginning to expand!
I’m sure I’m not the only gardener confined to the house by this prolonged wet and windy weather, particularly as other parts of the country are enjoying the delights of “Hebridean” style winter storms. Wet and windy is one of the characteristics of winter in the Hebrides, and although the strength of the wind has not been unusual, the amount of rain has been prodigious.
The current winter gardening schedule is all about trying to predict a gap in the weather when there is sufficient time between the forecast arrival of the next depression and gaps between the blustery squalls to enable us to venture out. There has to be enough time to walk down to the vegetable garden, check the state of the polytunnel winter veg, dig some root vegetables or leeks and cut some kale. All the while keeping a weather eye on the horizon watching for rapidly approaching storm clouds. If we get the timing wrong we have the choice of sheltering in the polytunnel or getting wet! Hobsons choice?
Inbetween times we have to brave the storm and stagger out to the wood store to fill the log baskets, or raid the preserve store in the shed. I am also very good at picking the short straw when we need a bunch of herbs from the greenhouse. A wrestle with the farm size garden gate against the wind and a dash across the garden in wellies and a full set of waterproofs to get the essential ingredients for the chef’s dish of the day is either heroic, madness or a sign of true devotion.
After years of practice we have learnt how to keep the house well stocked with food and preserves, the log baskets full, the torches charged and the matches by the candles. My personal survial kit for when the electricity fails – cashmere bed socks, a pashmina shawl, a hot waterbottle and in extremis a wee dram! If you wish to brave the weather, mince pies will be on the tea time menu from mid December.