February is a month of mixed emotions. The sense of utter urgency that winter finally be gone is often the prevailing one. A feeling that enough is enough, too many grey skies, too many blustery days, coupled with an almost painful longing to feel warm sun on bare skin. And yet brief daily forays into the garden to look after the chickens reveal that every day we nudge just a bit closer to spring. These small signs - tiny buds on the peach tree, nascent flowers forming quietly on the magnolia, the rhubarb crown unfurling through the still cold soil - bring about a wave of almost euphoric happiness. The daffodil bulbs poke barely a centimetre through the ground and yet every time I look at them I am reminded that life is on the cusp of a glorious explosion, that we have very nearly come, once again, through the long dark tunnel of winter.
Eating in February is also an up and down affair, the ways of eating and cooking, as always, working so closely in tandem to the mood of the moment. I want to begin to eat fresher more sprightly things yet I am not quite ready to give up the comfort food my body has grown so used to over the past few months. Comfort eating to me is generally about celebrating fats in all their wonderful guises. Rich creamy sauces wrapped around long ribbons of pasta, unctuous stews made with gelatinous cuts of meat, warming puddings generously dressed with sweet vanilla custard. So I dig deep into the freezer and look for the ever useful supplies of spring-green vegetables, the peas and the broads beans, that can always been found lurking there. I couple them with rich oozing cheeses, perhaps tossed into an omelette or stirred through a risotto to produce a comforting winter meal with one toe dipped barely into spring.
The transition from winter to spring is also reflected in the puddings I make, needing both to deliver something sweet and gentle, yet acid-sharp and lively. Lemon meringue pie, that childhood favourite, seems to fit the bill perfectly. But today I have no lemons, only limes, and it is to them I turn to create my winter-with-a-hint-of-spring Sunday pudding. I am proud to say I flicked through my copy of Delia’s Complete Cookery Course for the basic recipe. Just as you can always rely on winter turning to spring, so you can rely on Delia. She may not be as fashionable as she once was, but her recipes really work and that is the reason her’s is one of my most well thumbed books. The only thing I changed was substituting limes for lemons. The result was an overwhelming success. In the words of a 6 year old: “Mum, I just can’t find the words to describe how amazing this is!”. He went on to eat more than a quarter of the pie in a single sitting. Happiness, for mummy at least, is a well fed child.
Try it yourself, and bounce your way happily through the last month of winter.
Lime Meringue Pie
based on the recipe in Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course.
For the pastry:
110g plain flour
50g unsalted butter
For the filling:
3 ripe juicy limes, zest & juice
275ml cold water
3 level tablespoons cornflour
40g unsalted butter
2 large egg yolks
50g caster sugar
For the meringue:
2 large egg whites
110g caster sugar
Preheat et oven to 190oC/Gas 5.
Make the pastry by whizzing the flour and butter in a food processor to form fine crumbs. As just enough cold water to bring it together, just two or three tablespoons should do it. Wrap in cling film and allow to rest in the fridge for 20 minutes.
Lightly grease a 23cm tart tin and roll the pastry into a circle big enough to line it. Don’t worry if it cracks a little, just patch it up in the tin using a little water if you need to stick it together. I find that the best, crumbliest pastry is often the least promising looking when raw in the tin. Line with baking paper and baking beans and bake blind in the oven for 20 minutes.
Remove the pastry case from the oven, and immediately lower the heat down to 150oC/Gas 2.
Next, prepare the filling by measuring the water into a jug and adding the cornflour and sugar to a bowl. Using a little of the measured water to mix the cornflower to a paste then pour the remaining water in a pan along with the lime zest. Bring up to the boil then pour over the cornflour paste, stirring all the time until it is smooth. Pour the whole lot back into the saucepan and simmer for a minute or so until it has thickened. Pour the lime mixture into the pastry case and smooth with a knife. Set aside while you prepare the meringue topping.
Place the egg whites in a large bowl, or the bowl of a food mixture, and whisk until they form stiff peaks. Add the sugar and carry on whisking until you have a thick glossy meringue. Using a wide knife smooth the meringue over the lime filling, taking care to seal the edges. Add a few artistic swirls if you fancy, and I always do. Bake in the oven for around 35-40 minutes or until the meringue has turned a lovely golden beige.
I can’t tell you why but for me this is a pie that just has to be eaten cold. But feel free to eat it in whatever state you prefer. There are no rules here…..