I’m hoping for a golden autumn to set us up for the winter. A bit of cold will colour the leaves, and some brightness to show them off: that’s my perfect autumn. The fallow bucks have stopped roaring in the woods, the successful ones’ semen safely stored in the females till they choose to conceive: clever does! The last riches of autumn hang brightly on the hedgerows, or lie in ruins on the ground, catch as catch can, sloes, hips, haws and crab apples. Life hunkers down for the lean months ahead: the dark days of winter and the hungry days of early spring, when the light returns before the warmth.
Young ravens wheel in the sky, making their ancient croak, as they play in their teenage gangs before they pair for life at the end of their first winter. I love to watch their acrobatics. Though they fly heavily, if looks like they enjoy their mastery of the air, rolling and furling their wings, daring each other to more extreme manoeuvres, like children skateboarding. Their parents call at us when we walk through their territory. These descendants of dinosaurs let us know we may have, perhaps temporarily, usurped their dominion across the globe, and this bit of woodland is theirs. It’s lovely to see these brightest of birds, darkest in plumage, once so rare, thriving in our woods.
The open autumn gave us chance to get the crops into the ground, and the new shoots are peeping like shot silk through the soil in that miraculous promise of the renewal of life next year. Stop a moment and wonder at the stately dance of our planet around the sun, turning and bowing as it goes, that makes our seasons. Take that thought one click out: our arm of the galaxy whirls around at unimaginable speeds. One-click further out and see us speeding away from our Big Bang origins even faster. Somehow, amongst all those bleak and brutal forces, we have a home on our beautiful blue world that nurtures us and supports our existence.
Of course, that thought doesn’t get the work done to persuade natural processes to feed us. That takes people working to encourage the microverse of the soil, to nurture the grass and other roots that grow the plants that feed the cows, that feed the rumen bugs that make the nutrients that make the milk that we harvest. Then we ask the starter bugs to sour the milk, and rennet to cut the protein to set the milk. We remove the whey and pile the curds, cut and salt them, and form them into cheese. We cloth them and put them to store for the enzymes to get to work to mature the cheese, and for the microflora of the store to create our distinctive flavours. Each step takes human work and judgement, in a stewardship of processes that we have no possibility of understanding fully. It’s a glorious and mind-boggling complexity as impenetrable as the galactic scale, although we humans have a say in how it goes if we engage in it.
So we make the judgements and set the fences to graze the animals, bring them in and feed and bed them in the barn when the soil gets too tender. We feed the calves, the next generation of cows. We, and the older cows, train the new heifers to milk, kindly, so they see us as providing a service. We make our cheese, hand-made, requiring strength and endurance. We make the rind, and care for the cheese, mature, select and cut it to grace your table. We hope you find it’s worth what it has taken to produce it, wondrously all the way from our origins in deep time.
MARY’S CHRISTMAS CAKE
Stir-up Sunday falls on 21st November. Let me share my favourite crystallised fruit Christmas cake recipe, a sugar-rich feast to zing the mind in another way. I crystallise some of the fruit and the mixed peel myself, and you can buy it if you don’t have the time or the space to dry it.
Soak all the dried fruit you fancy overnight in as little water as you need: apricots, mangoes, pineapple and peaches are particularly successful. Stew briefly. Put fruit and liquid in the smallest flat dish they will sit in one layer. Peel lemons, oranges, tangerines, and grapefruit if you like your mixed peel slightly more bitter. Chop finely. Boil in 2 changes of water till translucent and tender. Drain, rinse in cold water and take out as much moisture as you can. Use a separate flat dish. Add lots of castor sugar to the dishes, leave in a warm dry place or oven at 50oC and add sugar every few hours, moving with a flat implement, until it won’t absorb any more. Dry until it’s the texture you want. If keeping for some time, you may need to freeze. I treat Angelica stalks in the same way, and you need to have done that in the spring.
Christmas Cake recipe: I love baking with our Quicke’s Whey Butter, the buttery flavour really comes through. Use your normal Christmas Cake recipe.
Increase the crystalized peel, glace cherries from 4 to 6oz (110 to 170g). Take out the dark fruit, currants and raisins and use your crystalized fruit including crystallized ginger and angelica. Swap out the cinnamon and mixed spice for ½ to 1 tsp of vanilla essence, and cream this with the Quicke’s butter. Use golden syrup instead of black treacle. You end up with a golden cake that zings with fruit and delicious butter.
I feed it a little cognac once a week till Christmas to set off the sweetness. It is lovely with a slice of Quicke’s Vintage or Smoked Cheddar to provide some savoury and sharp or smokey notes.
DATE FOR THE DIARY- CHRISTMAS CHEESE & MULLED WINE EVENING
To help provide inspiration for the upcoming festive season of gifting and feasting, we are holding a Christmas Cheese & Mulled Wine Evening on Thursday 18th November between 4pm-8pm.
Stuart Dowle will be hosting the event in our Cheese Box in Newton St Cyres and will be on hand to lead you through a tutored tasting of our multi-award-winning wedges. There will also be plenty to sample from Capreolus’s magnificent charcuterie to Mrs Gill’s delicious fruit cakes.
The shelves will be packed with yuletide essentials, specially selected from local artisan producers - giving you the chance to buy local this Christmas and get your shopping all wrapped up in plenty of time.