This is good hibernating food, inclement weather or no, but bad weather definitely helps. When the sun is shining, I have always felt intense pressure to go out, to embrace the rays. Years of watching our little black and white TV in a darkened room while my mother stood in the doorway yelling “Turn that man off!” has complicated my relationship to daylight.
This was generally followed by her pulling back the curtains, flinging open the windows and shouting “Look! It’s a beautiful day outside!” The defense was nearly always the same: that this was our ‘favourite programme.’ But pretty much every TV show fulfilled this criteria – Charlie’s Angels, Swap Shop, Doctor Who, Dallas, Crown Court, Bagpuss, Juliet Bravo. However wonderful it was to play outside in the garden, or speed up and down the hills on our bikes, sadly nothing was as compelling as staring morosely at a screen eating crumpets.
I have had to fight this urge since returning to LA. It is October, the nights here are thankfully chilly, and there has been a bracing wind that makes everything rustle and bend. There is drama outside and this is a welcome distraction; it calls for a deep drift of blankets, and the roasting of root vegetables. It gets complicated during the day, when it is perfect. Warm, sunny, happy, solid, blank. I am back in a David Hockney painting. Tough little colours fight it out. I sit and watch, like a parade. Even the ladies’ swimming caps have a Kodachrome quality to them. I looked down at the pool today and watched this hot pink flower slicing through the water.
But I’m still clinging to afternoon tea and this is also when the sun dips behind the hill, ushering in coolness and flapping leaves. People crane to get the last few minutes of sun and heat here; towels are still draped at 4pm, chairs re-maneuvered every ten minutes. And so it seems perverse – even ungrateful – to say it, and it feels a guilty thing to want to admit to, but the dark is still my favourite time of day.
You can simply stop at the tea-soaked dried fruit stage if you like and omit the sugar. After you’ve let it macerate overnight, drain off the liquid into a pan and boil until it’s reduced by half, then pour this syrup back over the fruit. In this state (see top picture), it is lovely added to a ricotta cheesecake or served on its own with a dollop of mascarpone. Or with Greek yoghurt for breakfast. It gets plumper and more syrupy the longer you leave it too. This is inspired by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s apricot and tea recipe from Three Good Things on a Plate.
Fruit tea loaf
Adapted from Jane Grigson, English Food
375g (12 oz) mixed dried fruit (I used only apricots and raisins)
125g (4 oz) dark brown sugar
250ml – 300ml (½ pint) strained, hot and strong Earl Grey tea
250g (8 oz) plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
pinch of ground cloves and cinnamon
zest of 1 lemon
Stir together the dried fruit, lemon zest, sugar and hot tea. Leave overnight to macerate. The next day, beat in the dry ingredients, followed by the lightly beaten egg. Scrape the stiff batter into a lined and buttered 1lb loaf tin at 325F or 180C for about 1 hour, or until the loaf is firm to the touch and a skewer comes out clean. Serve thinly sliced (possibly toasted) with butter and a pot of tea. For the best flavour, keep the loaf airtight for two to three days. It gets better.