I find that one of the best antidotes to January is to make marmalade. Over a few days the golden Seville oranges from Bills are converted into a steamy, pungent, sticky mess that is captured in the warmed jars for eating with thick butter on my mate’s oatcakes.
Now the 20 jars sit alongside treasures accumulated over recent seasons: Sophia's plum jam from the young tree on our allotment, pickles and chutneys from summer veg surplus, exotic swaps from friends. In the freezer we're coming to the end of the blackberries and stewed apples and the transluscent red wild plums from the tree by the Tally Ho pub. Summer fruit always seems like a chore to preserve at the time but is so welcome in the midwinter. Down in the food store that we converted from the coal hole last summer, my last pumpkin was made into a nutty soup for my sister in law last weekend and the last two Bramleys from my neighbour's tree are waiting for the final crumble.
Just in time, frothy green shoots are appearing in the hedgerows to supply me with the spring greens my body is craving after a winter of roots. Dandelion, nettles and Alexanders will go into soups and salads along with the greens that have sat patiently through the winter in my polytunnel, anticipating the lengthening days to bring me bitter salads of chicories, endives, turnip tops, parsley, corn salad and small heads of the hardy lettuce Valdor, whose seeds I collected from a bolted lettuce that survived last winter under snow.
It's Imbolc next week, the turn of the year when our ancestors welcomed the tender glimpse of spring, the lengthening days and the first tentative blossoms. Gradually, over the years, I've aligned myself with the seasons and their harvests. With less central heating and light but more wood fires, blankets and hot water bottles, I've enjoyed withdrawing into this winter, accompanying my honeybees, clustering in their hives. Now I'm just starting, slightly reluctantly, to feel the pull of the sun, drawing outside on to the land, just as the bees will, I hope, soon be foraging among the first crocuses and catkins.