Mary Kemp:

It is not the first in­gre­di­ent you might think of – but rain is at the start of ev­ery­thing, says Mary

EDP Norfolk - - EDP NORFOLK MAGAZINE -

Is this the most im­por­tant in­gre­di­ent of all?

Iwould nor­mally write about our amaz­ing lo­cal produce and sea­sonal in­gre­di­ents, but this month my fo­cus is on the im­por­tant in­gre­di­ent which many in­volved in food and farm­ing des­per­ately need – rain.

The weather fore­cast­ers talk of rain, teas­ing us with the men­tion of some com­ing through from the west, but in re­al­ity there’s been no sign of any sig­nif­i­cant rain­fall. It’s not just farm­ers who would hap­pily learn how to do a rain dance at the mo­ment, it’s most gar­den­ers too.

While will­ing the weather to change, reg­u­larly log­ging on to MetCheck, watch­ing the weather fore­cast on var­i­ous TV chan­nels (as if watch­ing will make all the dif­fer­ence) there is lit­tle we can do other than wait.

The ex­pres­sion ‘weather fore­cast’ was first used by Ad­mi­ral Robert Fitzroy, the then Su­per­in­ten­dent of Bri­tain’s Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal Of­fice, in 1861, but for cen­turies be­fore these de­tailed fore­casts, farm­ers and sailors re­lied on their own instincts and ob­ser­va­tions. The changes of plants, the move­ment of an­i­mals and birds and the chang­ing seasons were closely ob­served to try and sec­ond-guess what the weather would be.

Grow­ing up, I re­mem­ber my grand­fa­ther watch­ing the seasons de­velop, telling me sto­ries and old say­ings which would pre­dict good weather, rain or snow. As we wait for rain I can’t help but look for the signs he would talk about; a red sky in the morn­ing, swal­lows flying low or the cows all ly­ing down in the fields. I’m ever hope­ful that one of these will bring a break to this drought.

Cows can often be seen all ly­ing down but this, sadly, is not a sign of rain. Cows are crea­tures of habit and will eat in the morn­ing and the evening and lie down for any­thing up to 12 hours to chew the cud dur­ing the rest of the day or night.

Swal­lows have al­ways been used as weather pre­dic­tors. They don’t nat­u­rally fly high. They hunt for flying in­sects, and

when air pres­sure is low and the at­mos­phere full of mois­ture in­sects fly much closer to the ground and in­stinc­tively so do the swal­lows. This could fore­tell rain, but it’s not re­ally very re­li­able; it just sig­ni­fies that con­di­tions may be a lit­tle more favourable.

A red sky in the morn­ing? No, this doesn’t guar­an­tee rain ei­ther. A red sky at night be­ing a shep­herd’s de­light is far more likely. The colours of the sky come from the dust and mois­ture in the at­mos­phere, which splits and scat­ters the suns rays into the colours of the spec­trum.

Mois­ture in the at­mos­phere makes the light dis­perse dif­fer­ently. In fact a vivid yel­low or an or­ange sky is more likely to mean rain but it re­ally de­pends on the type of cloud that gath­ers.

I gather the main prob­lem with fore­cast­ing in Eng­land comes from the fact that most of our weather comes from the west, af­ter travelling sev­eral thou­sand miles over the sea.

This means that the Met Of­fice doesn’t have a huge amount of in­for­ma­tion about what’s on the way, be­cause there are a lim­ited num­ber of re­port­ing sta­tions. Also, the air travelling over the sea gets changed; it might get warmer and more moist, more or less sta­ble, again mak­ing pre­dic­tion harder.

Many other fac­tors make fore­cast­ing hard, but on bal­ance it may be the best guide we have!

As I write, the weather fore­cast talks of rain this week. I hope they are right. If not I can see my hus­band Neville and many other farm­ers soon swap­ping their Farm­ers Weekly for a copy of the An­cient Art of Rain Danc­ing! Find out more about Mary Kemp’s cook­ery the­atres, demon­stra­tions and more recipes at www.marykemp.net

ABOVE: Is a cow ly­ing down a har­bin­ger of rain? Not usu­ally – she’s just di­gest­ing break­fast Photo: Getty

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