Natural history adventures sailing the culinary seas...

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Marching towards spring

While March continues to fling the occasional snow shower over the hills of Edinburgh, determined daffodils in green corners are quietly insisting that spring is on its way. Watching the seasons has become something of more than idle interest, as my PhD research is all about phenology, or seasonal timing.

Waiting and watching for budburst and blossom, spring will find me wandering woods, tracking trees and gazing into the canopy with my binoculars. Before the first leaves are unfurled, there is much time to anticipate the seasons to follow, remembering the busyness of June skies, when the butterflies come out to play.

One glorious weekend last year, a pilgrimage to Collard Hill and a trip to the Cotswolds with a certain Large Blue butterfly botherer, brought lepidopteran adventures.

There were clouds of Small Blue (Cupido minimus)...

... Electric Adonis Blue (Lysandra bellargus)...

... and a Grizzled Skipper (Pyrgus malvae) or two.
As well as seeing a bashful Cotswoldian Large Blue, which was part of the generation that had been reintroduced using individuals from Collard Hill and other sites in 2011, orchid spikes were scattered across the slopes. Sweet pink Fragrant orchids were interspersed with my first Fly orchids, and back at Collard, some the 'Wasps' had appeared again.

Super Fly (Ophrys insectifera)
Six-spot Burnet moth caterpillar creating its cocoon
Back in the wind-blown present, an essential part of braving the woods and occasional hail is having cake wrapped up in paper, ready to be eaten with cold fingers in five minutes of crisp sunshine. Today this was 'wrinkly apple cake', a vegan version of my childhood favourite. Made with the ageing apples left at the end of a long winter...

3/4 cup non-dairy milk
1tsp apple cider (or other) vinegar
2 1/4 cups plain flour of your choice (I used  1 1/4 cup rye, 1 cup plain white, wholewheat would be nice too)
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sunflower oil
1 tbsp golden syrup or treacle/molasses for a darker cake
2 tsp ground nutmeg (freshly grated is perfect)
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 cup slightly stewed wrinkly apples (sweeten to your own preference)
a handful of sultanas/walnuts if you like them

Preheat the oven to 160C
- Mix the milk and vinegar in a bowl and leave to one side while preparing the rest of the ingredients.
- Mix the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda in a large bowl and set aside.
- Whisk the sugar, oil, syrup, spices and vanilla thoroughly in a bowl.
- Pour the milk and sugar mixtures into the flour, and beat everything for at least a minute.
- Add the apples and dried fruit or nuts if you are using them and mix everything well.
- Pour into a lined loaf or cake tin, sprinkle with brown sugar and bake for ~50 minutes.
This cake is best cooled and eaten the next day on a chilly walk, or with lots of tea at home.

The Woodland Trust and their Nature's Calendar project are partners in my phenology adventures, and I'll be posting updates like this on the Woodland Matters blog as the research progresses, or stalls. I may even report on what baked goods are being taken on jaunts to the woods...


  1. Oh I remember those two days in June well, we had a great time. We much catch up soon, I am looking forward to Spring so much. Especially looking forward to late May and June when I can once again become a Large Blue botherer for the season.

  2. I should start planning my blue bothering pilgrimage for 2013! Roll on spring :)