Having lived in Devon for nearly ten years, I am no stranger to the rather dank winters that we often get in this part of the world. This perhaps is the reason that I find myself enjoying the longer days and the new green appearing in the hedges that surround the lanes near our house.
I am one of the few people who genuinely enjoy winter, with its brief daylight and long, cold nights. And, yes, even the rain clouds that lurk permanently overhead. Winter, though, is one of four seasons: a necessary part of the balance of the year – and just as last year’s potatoes have gone a bit green, and the onion pile, once seemingly limitless, is getting remarkably small, and even I am getting a little sick of near-constant welly-wearing, there is a shift. A gentle, almost imperceptible change. And with this change comes the arrival of spring, and, better yet, a jolly good excuse to stuff one’s face with indecent quantities of chocolate heaves into view. In Old High German or modern paganism, Ostara. To the Anglo-Saxons, Éostre or Éastre. I speak, of course, of Easter.
Ostara, the vernal equinox, is celebrated around 21st March and represents a sense of renewal and returning strength. Prior to the arrival of Christianity, Éostre was the AngloSaxon goddess of spring, and it is to her that the modern Easter egg owes its origin. The egg is a symbol of new life, and, metaphorically, of the new year and the light and energy it brings with it.
For me, the spring equinox is part of the turning of the year. It is a chance to take note of the changing seasons and growing light, to walk outside in warmer days and lighter evenings, to bring snowdrops into the house and to collect newly laid eggs from chickens, who also enjoy the lengthening days. Oh, and, as you’ve probably already guessed, to invent new and exciting ways in which to consume one’s own body-weight in confectionery. I like to use the odd recipe to mark various celebrations throughout the year. In addition to dyeing eggs pretty colours and picking catkins and perhaps a few pussy-willows, I also turn to chocolate: perhaps unsurprisingly, given the Easter eggs that appear in shops approximately two hours into Boxing Day.
Mixed with vanilla, spices and milk, chocolate becomes something else. Something even more delectable. Something that, for a family that is no stranger to greed, lasts a bit longer than an ordinary bar would. In short, hot chocolate: the drink of gods and the stuff of life. So, if you fancy a change from chocolate eggs, our recipe goes something like this:
Real hot chocolate
YOU WILL NEED
2 cups of milk; soya (or another alternative to dairy) works fine
1 cup of water
About 12 squares of dark chocolate (or more, depending on how much you feel you can justify; for us, this is virtually without limit)
A pinch of cayenne pepper (trust me on this!)
A good sprinkle of cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice
2 generous teaspoons of dark brown sugar
A splash of vanilla (or a pod, if you’ve one to hand)
Put everything in a pan and heat gently for about 10 minutes. As the chocolate melts, the most fantastic aroma comes out of said pan, making you want to dive straight in, but if you call up previously unknown inner strength, you should find you can hold out until it’s ready to pour into waiting mugs.
This recipe normally does two generous mugs with a small quantity left over for a refill, though it’s a brave soul who can summon up the energy to move after one cup!
Tamsin Kilner O’Byrne lives in Devon with her husband Rob and daughter Juno, as well as two slightly peculiar cats and a plethora of chickens. She has recently completed a PhD in Victorian literature, and spends most of her time procrastinating, a skill perfected as a research student. She counts cooking, growing vegetables, pottery, knitting and crafting amongst her interests, and is currently engaged in trying to downsize the book collection acquired during her time in academia.
First published in Issue 17 of JUNO. Accurate at the time this issue went to print.