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Daffodils and aconites on the rec. , Cowley Street, Derby

Yes, here is the Golden Age has not quite vanished.

Here are the last, faint footprints of the Goddess …

(Publius Vergilius Maro, writing between 70 and 15 BC, loosely translated by M. E. Rose)




Rhubarb is a surprisingly good cake ingredient.  There are many recipes for rhubarb cake but this one is the simplest.  It is made in a rather old-fashioned way, but sometimes, the old ways are the best.  


Before you start…

Take 3 large eggs and weigh them in their shells.  Whatever their weight it, you need that amount of butter, sugar and flour.


  • Eggs, 3 large
  • Butter, see above. It must at room temperature and soft.
  • Sugar, see above
  • Self-raising flour, see above
  • baking powder, 1 tsp
  • Rhubarb, about 3 sticks
  • Mascarpone, 125g (half of a 250g tub)
  • Icing sugar for dusting

You will need 2 x round cake tins 18 cm or 7 1/2 inches

 To make

  1. Heat oven to 180/350 or Gas Mark 4.
  2. Grease the cake tins and line with grease proof paper.
  3. Chop the rhubarb into pieces about the length and width of your little finger.
  4. Weigh out the ingredients, as described above.
  5. Cream the butter and sugar together, until the mix is light and fluffy.
  6. Add the eggs one by one, beating well after each egg.
  7. Sift the flour and baking powder together, and gently fold in to the mix with a large metal spoon.
  8. Put the mix into the two tins and scatter equal amounts of rhubarb pieces on top of each, enough to cover in a single layer. The rhubarb sinks into the mix as it cooks.
  9. Put in the oven and cook for about 25 minutes, until the cake feels firm to the touch.
  10. Remove from the oven, allow to cool in the tin for a few minutes.  Then carefully turn out onto a wire wrack and peel off the greaseproof paper.
  11. When cool, spread the mascarpone in the middle, sandwich together and dust with icing sugar.

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A word to the wise: this cake will be eaten very quickly!


Alder cone & immature catkin2
Alder, or to give it its botanical name, alnus glutinosa

A very lovely elderly lady I used to garden for, had a stand of five alder trees at the bottom of her garden, next to a brook.  She called them her guardians, and there is indeed something solid and reassuring about this tree.

Alder binds up river-banks.  Like willow, it flourishes naturally  by the edge of rivers, with its roots in the water.   This preference of the the wild tree can exploited by planting alder along river banks to prevent the erosion.

Alder has an ancient reproductive system , harking back to a time before angiosperms. Like hazel and birch, it has catkins, but alder is the only broad-leaved deciduous tree to have cones as well.  You can see them on the photo above, persisting from last year, along with the unopened catkins and the young cones.  In the late-winter sunlight, alder trees have a purplish haze to them, because they are covered with purple catkins.


Alder catkin

The catkins are the male part of the alder’s reproductive system.  They are produced in the winter, and as mentioned before are a purplish brown.  In the early spring they become long and dangly and are full of yellow pollen which is dispersed by the wind.  The female parts are the little nubbly structures which you can see in this photo.  They will be fertilised by the wind-blown pollen from the catkins and will swell into cones.

You can understand what D.H. Lawrence was banging on about in ‘Women in love’: trees are surprisingly sexual.

And here is a bit of local lore: alders can form alder carr, which is a dense thicket or stand of alder, usually small in height, growing on wet swampy soils.  And Aldercar is an old area of what is now a joint parish with Langley Mill, just north of Derby.

Our history is in our place names.


Here’s a poem  written by Shakespeare, one winter 400 years ago.


When icicles hang by the wall,

And Dick the shepherd blows his nail,

And Tom bears logs into the hall,

And milk comes frozen home in pail;

When blood is nipped and ways be foul,

Then nightly sings the staring owl,

Tu-whit, tu-who! a merry note,

While greasy Joan doth keep the pot.


When all aloud the wind doth blow

And coughing drowns the parson’s saw,

And birds sit brooding in the snow,

And Marian’s nose looks red and raw,

When roasted crabs hiss in the bowl,

Then nightly signs the staring owl,

Tu-whit, tu-who! a merry note,

While greasy Joan doth keep the pot.



Rooks sail on black rags; ragged, flapping, soaring

With broad, black-backed awkward grace.

Flakes of black ash strike the wind on edge.

Sooty tatters slice grey Boreas’ whistling rattle.

Rollicking swoop down the torn arc,

Scooping shovelfuls of grey sky.

Greasy corsairs of the air,

Death’s tarry plunderers bucaneering earthwards.



Woodruff, or Galium odoratum to give it its botanical name, is a pretty little plant which can be found growing in beech woodland.  It forms dense mats, and so is a good ground cover for gardens, looking very fresh and lovely when it flowers in the middle of May.


Fresh, the plant has a mildly pleasant smell.

BUT… when you dry it for a few days, it gives off a powerful aroma of almonds and maraschino cherries, and as such it is the key ingredient for Maibowle, or Bowl of May, a traditional German punch to celebrate the coming of the summer.

To dry the woodruff: pick a small bunch of about 9 stems, tie some string around them and hang up in an airy place for a few days.



  • Woodruff, a small bunch
  • Strawberries, sliced
  • A bottle of sweet German wine
  • A bottle of sparkling white wine, ideally Sekt

You will also need a large glass bowl.

  1. Pour the sweet white wine into the bowl, add the strawberries and the woodruff, and steep for about an hour.
  2. Add the sparkling wine and stir gently.
  3. Ladle into glasses, say Prost! and welcome in the summer.
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A word of caution: two glasses is delightful, but don’t overdo it.