Spring presses on, in spite of those chilly winds. There are many signs of its arrival: daffodil, crocus and primrose in flower; skylarks singing over the fields; frogs on the move, heading for their breeding ponds.
Seeing the year’s first blossoming tree is always a special moment. Usually it’s the cherry plum, a Balkan native whose dark, tangly form is easily overlooked in winter. Then one March day, white stars spread along the cherry plum’s branches and soon the whole tree sparkles with blossom and fresh leaves.
To make carlings the dried peas are soaked overnight, rinsed, then fried in butter and seasoned with pepper.
It is possible to feel the sun’s strength now, providing you’re protected from those easterlies, and after Friday’s vernal equinox we’ll enjoy more of its light. The actual moment of equal day and night, when the sun crosses the celestial equator, occurs at 10.45pm.
As befits such an occasion, the old weather lore has something to say about it. The 20th is St Benedict’s feast, a day for predicting the wind. Whichever direction the wind is in then will be the prevailing direction for the next three months.
Now, a warning: the morning of March 20 will bring a sight that would have filled our Viking ancestors with dread. A giant wolf will try to swallow the sun.
Skoll will catch up with the sun around 8.30am, and he’ll gulp it down bit by bit, taking a whole hour to devour almost all of it.
You’ll want to see, but take care – don’t look at the sun directly, because that risks permanent damage to the eyes. Anyway, there’s no need when it’s so easy to project the sun’s disc onto paper, or even onto the pavement.
Simply make a small hole in a piece of card – stick a safety pin through it – then hold the card between sun and pavement. The sun’s disc will appear on the ground where you can observe it safely. And if you’re worried, clatter some pans to frighten the wolf away: that always seems to work.
Care and carlings
March 22 is Passion Sunday, the fifth in Lent. In the north it’s also called Care or Carling Sunday, because this is the day to eat a special meal of carlings.
So what is this special ingredient? Carlings are a type of pea, an old variety that’s fallen from favour and is now used mostly to feed pigeons. They’re maple peas, mottled brown with a nutty flavour. To make carlings the dried peas are soaked overnight, rinsed, then fried in butter and seasoned with pepper.
Nobody knows how this started, but in ancient times pulses symbolised immortality and ritual dishes of beans were served to guests at funerals. So carlings were appropriate fare for Passion Sunday — carling is thought to derive from care, which used to mean sorrow and grief. Passion Sunday and the following Care Week is a solemn period for Christians, who are contemplating the approaching death of Jesus.
Carling Sunday survived into the twentieth century in less affluent villages and urban areas, where pubs served carlings in paper cones to drinkers spending their “carling groat”. The custom was widespread in Cumberland and from the Scottish borders to the Humber, but there are no records of it further south.