Sweet treats are abbreviating these long, cooped-up January days | Grace Dent


I have eaten the Waterfield’s Lancashire plum cake that was in the bread box, and that I was saving for Sunday. Forgive me, it was delicious. So sweet and full of plump vine fruits. I ate the Mrs Botham’s landlord fruit cake steeped in Timothy Taylor pale ale, too. It’s a riff on Christmas cake, but brazenly tipsier, and apt: the Christmas season made almost no impact on me, but sweet treats are abbreviating these long, cooped-up January days.

In the Lakes, the nurses who check in on my mam cannot accept fruit loaf or restorative cups of tea: their plastic head shields over face masks prevent refreshments. Not even a tempting square of Lathams’ blackcurrant flapjack with its claret-coloured jam lying slickly across the bottom of the traybake, transforming sugary oats and syrup into something fleetingly joyous. Each day, I promise myself: “Less sugar, fewer carbohydrates”, but I am yet to measure out mam’s morphine at 2am and then crave a rocket salad with an oil-free dressing. My mother, 84, and with more comebacks than Status Quo behind her, feels similarly. Occasions such as this need the big guns. Hot buttered toast laden with enough marmalade to make Paddington rethink the chest size of his duffle coat. Baked rice pudding smattered with cinnamon, and with crisp patches of caramelised skin. The sight of forced rhubarb on the shelves at Booths invites me to make a rudimentary crumble – an off-piste, recipe-free crumble made from a wonky Brownie guide memory. The results are claggy and stickily indulgent, and served with a pint of mascarpone custard that is, essentially, pourable happiness – a quick machine-gun-fire of teeth-rattling happiness, temporary, but nevertheless valid.

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