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