The reasons for seasons…

We’ve had several glorious warm and sunny spring days this week – so lucky for everyone enjoying an Easter break down here in Devon, or indeed for those of us fortunate enough to live here! I love springtime and the whole cycle of rebirth and renewal heralding the arrival of longer days and (hopefully) more sunshine – so uplifting!

Somehow, seasons used to be more clear-cut when I was a child. Summers were warmer, it always snowed at Christmas and I am sure all of that is probably poppy-cock – it’s just childhood memories that seem to change as you get older. But what really makes our seasons and the weather that they bring? I thought I’d investigate…

What causes the seasons?

The seasons are a result of the tilt of Earth’s axis in relation to the Sun as we orbit around it. This tilt (all 23.5º of it!) means that throughout our orbit around the sun (which is our calendar year) certain areas of the earth are tilted towards the Sun, while other areas are tilted away from it. This creates a difference in the amount of sunlight that reaches different parts of the Earth and that’s how we get the seasons.

When does spring officially start?

Well, that depends on whether you are referring to the astronomical or meteorological spring.

The date on our calendars that marks the start of spring refers to the astronomical season which is a result of the Earth’s axis and orbit around the sun. However, organisations like the Met Office use meteorological seasons based on the annual temperature cycle as well as coinciding with the calendar to determine a clear transition between the seasons.

Since the astronomical seasons vary in length, the start date of a new season can fall on different days each year. This makes it difficult to compare seasons between different years and resulted in the introduction of the meteorological calendar. This splits the calendar into four seasons of approximately the same length. The astronomical seasons run approximately three weeks later than those of the meteorological calendar. So now you know!

Which is your favourite season?

Do tell me your favourite. I think I could make a case for each season in turn and I am very grateful to live in a country where there are actual seasons rather than constant sunshine… would one of you remind me I said that in the depths of next winter please!

 

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Time to ‘spring forward’ – why do we change our clocks twice a year?

Time – there’s never enough of it, sometimes it flies past and at other times, it drags… Ah, we do like to talk about time and we mess around with it too – this weekend it is time to ‘spring forward’ into British Summer Time (BST) so I thought it was a good time(!) to have a search online and find out why we change the clocks twice a year…

British Summer Time is a thorny subject and something that people get very heated about. The Scots would quite like a different time to the rest of us, and those of us in the West Country are ahead of you in East Anglia, or is it the other way around? I was amused to discover that at the beginning of the 20th century, Sandringham Time (30 minutes ahead) was used by the royal household. King Edward VIII put a stop to it an effort to reduce confusion, but I rather like the idea of Queen Victoria trundling along in her own time zone… Perhaps I can introduce ‘Joanna time’? Ah, Richard says ‘no’!

Back to the facts – British Summer Time was first introduced by the Summer Time Act of 1916, after a campaign by builder William Willett. His original proposal was to move the clocks forward by 80 minutes, in 20-minute weekly steps on Sundays in April and by the reverse procedure in September – somewhat complicated!

In 1940, during the Second World War, the clocks in Britain were not put back by an hour at the end of Summer Time. In subsequent years, clocks continued to be advanced by one hour each spring and put back by an hour each autumn until July 1945. So during these summers, Britain was TWO hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and operating on British Double Summer Time (BDST). The clocks came back to GMT at the end of summer in 1945. This DBST gave much lighter evenings for everyone, but the dark mornings must have been awful.

An inquiry during 1966–67 led the government of Harold Wilson to introduce the British Standard Time experiment, with Britain remaining on GMT+1 throughout the year. This took place between 27 October 1968 and 31 October 1971, when we reverted to the previous arrangement. I must say, I don’t remember this at all… I was obviously far too young to take it in!! 

Much of the reason for this experiment was to try and reduce road accidents in the dark early evenings. Analysis of accident data for the first two years of the experiment showed that while there had been an increase in casualties in the morning, there had been a much greater decrease in casualties in the evening, with a total of around 2,500 fewer people killed and seriously injured during the first two winters of the experiment. Strong evidence to keep GMT+1 all year you would think… but it wasn’t that simple as the period of the experiment coincided with the introduction of drink-driving legislation so the estimates were later modified downwards. 

I can remember that for years we were always out of sync with the rest of Europe or, ahem, should I say they were out of sync with us. Working out when to phone people abroad was always terribly complicated as for the odd week or two, we were on the same time, or two hours ahead or behind, or…  and it is only since October 1995 that the dates of starting and ending daylight saving time across the European Union have been aligned – amazing it took so long!

And so… the arguments for and against switching to permanent BST rumble on to this day. As well as being ‘safer’ for people on the roads, campaigners also say that it would save a great deal of energy. But then groups like farmers and other outdoor workers, and many residents of Scotland and Northern Ireland, strongly object. In northern Britain and Northern Ireland, the winter sunrise would not occur until 10am or even later.

Me, I’ll just keep trying to remember to ‘spring forward’ and ‘fall back’ and, if that fails when I am old and potty, I jolly well shall introduce ‘Joanna time’ and have done with it!

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A beautiful cake – perfect for Valentine’s day!

Wouldn’t this make the most fabulous Valentine’s cake? The icing is done with a 2D nozzle in a piping bag and little rosette style swirls – I think it’s a great effect!

INGREDIENTS:

Cake:

  • 100g Stork or butter
  • 300g white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa
  • 4 tablespoons red food colouring
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 235ml buttermilk
  • 310g sifted all-purpose flour        
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar

Icing:

  • 450g cream cheese
  • 115g butter
  • 100g icing sugar
  • 5ml vanilla extract
  • Heart-shaped icing decorations 

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF (175º C). Grease two 8-inch round cake tins.
  2. Beat the Stork or butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar until very light and fluffy. Add eggs and beat well.
  3. Make a paste of the cocoa and red food colouring; add to creamed mixture.
  4. Separately, mix the salt, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and buttermilk together. Combine the flour and creamed mixture alternating with a spoonful of the buttermilk until incorporated. Mix soda and vinegar and gently fold into cake batter. Don’t beat or stir the batter after this point.
  5. Pour the mixture into the greased tins. Bake in preheated oven until a tester/skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool cakes completely on wire rack.
  6. To make icing: Cook 5 tablespoons flour and milk over low heat till thick, stirring constantly. Let cool completely! While mixture is cooling, beat sugar, butter, and 1 teaspoon vanilla until light and fluffy. Add cooled flour mixture and beat until frosting is a good spreading consistency. Sandwich the two layers together with icing and decorate the cake when completely cool.
  7. We added tiny heart-shaped icing decorations as the finishing touch. 

 

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There’s no need to gild the lily…

My garden is a constant source of inspiration – whether it’s for colour, scent or form. Just by looking at it out of the kitchen window, nature reminds me that so often, less is more, and it’s best to keep things simple.

I have included edible flowers in various recipes lately and, especially in the height of summer as now when we are all eating lots of salads, a delicate sprinkling of blooms or petals can make an ordinary meal look amazing. I threw this nasturtium and calendula salad together when we were working on a recent photo shoot for the blog and I thought how stunning it looked.

Although I have quite a range of edible flowers in my own garden I recently discovered a local company called ‘Greens of Devon’ who sell boxes of beautiful edible flowers by mail order. They also have a great website that includes a guide to all the edible flowers they sell – and there are a lot – and quite a few that I didn’t know were edible. For example, did you know you could tuck into tulips? That was a new one on me! They also include some very tasty recipes that you could try. Click on each flower in their guide and it tells you what the flower tastes like and suggests how you might use it – really fun!

Their boxed flowers are very much special occasion prices (!) but it is so easy to grow them yourself, cost should not be an issue. All these very common flowers are edible:

Pansy, borage, viola, pea, mallow, primula, dianthus, chive, rose and sunflower. Note that I am talking flowers and petals here and NOT bulbs – that’s a whole different area.

Just as with anything you do design-wise, think about colour and form to get the best effect with edible flowers. For the salad, as I was using big bold nasturtiums, I didn’t want to confuse things with a mix of colours, so used a similar coloured calendula to keep it striking and simple. Other times, when I have sprinkled petals, or tiny flowers like violas, over cakes I might go for a range of colours to give more of a naturally scattered look – but hey – the choice is yours! Experiment! Go mad and chuck a few petals around the kitchen! Richard, poor chap, is used to me doing such things, so never bats an eyelid on his way to make a coffee. Hey ho! 

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Keep your cut flowers looking good for longer

Whether you’ve been presented with a bouquet, bought them or grown them yourself we all want to keep our cut flowers looking good for as long as possible. Here are some useful tips on how to get the best from your blooms: 

  • Cut flower stems at an angle to prevent the stem resting on the bottom of the vase and sealing itself over. Angular cuts also create a larger surface area for water uptake.
  • Strip any leaves from stems that would sit below water level in a vase as these will simply decay, becoming slimy and smelly – ugh!
  • Always use a thoroughly clean vase as bacteria can survive in dirty vases and reduce the life of your cut flowers.
  • Cut stems at an angle.Always use tepid water in your vases. Cold water has a higher oxygen content, which can cause air bubbles to form in the stems of your flowers, blocking their water uptake. Spring bulbs such as tulips and daffodils are the exception as they prefer to be placed in cold water.
  • Add a splash of bleach to the water to inhibit bacterial growth and make your flowers last longer… I know it sounds odd, but… You only need to add about ¼ teaspoon per litre of water.
  • Try adding a tablespoon of sugar as this will help to nourish the flowers.
  • Position your vase carefully. The vase life of your cut flowers will be reduced if you put them too close to heat, draughts or direct sunlight. 
  • Keep cut flowers away from fruit bowls as fruit produces ethylene that causes cut flowers to die prematurely.
  • Remove any dead heads or fading blooms to prevent bacteria damaging the healthy flowers.
  • Change the water every few days, refreshing any flower feed and preservatives at the same time.

 

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