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November The Priory InnThe Priory Inn pizzaMarket November

Cotswolds local and seasonal food - November 2017

"November - with uncanny witchery in its changed trees... with dear days when the austere woods were beautiful and gracious in a dignified serenity of folded hands and closed eyes...days when an exquisite melancholy seemed to hang over the landscape.”*

'Serenity and exquisite melancholy' are a perfect way of describing the peaceful late October days in the run up to this month. The focus for wildlife has now changed – summer visitors have already embarked on their migratory journeys, whilst others, anticipating a sharp fall in temperature, seek out a refuge for their impending hibernation. Rookeries are noisily reinforced and flocks of smaller birds fly en masse to woodland roosts. Trees turn dramatically naked as they shed their kaleidoscope of leaves after reabsorbing the nutrients for storage in their roots. And many local bird lovers are now eagerly waiting to count the numbers of Bewick swans who return from the freezing conditions of the Russian tundra, to winter in the Severn Estuary and at Slimbridge Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. *LM Montgomery

One of the best mornings of the week is our trip to the Saturday Stroud Farmers' market where we load up The Priory Inn van with: seasonal vegetables and fruit; many cheeses and yoghurts from our network of 30 mile dairy suppliers such as Brinkworth Dairy; trays of Melkirt Farm nutty mushrooms; charcuterie from the Monmouthshire artisans at Trealy Farm; and apple juice and honey harvested from the ancient Gloucestershire orchards at Days Cottage. A mild morning at this bumper time of year brings hoards of shoppers with their wheely trolleys sending out sociable queues from many stalls. One of the stallholders (who doesn't often do business with restaurants as he sells out every week to discerning Stroud shoppers) is Jim from Hotchpotch Organics. Jim is described online as “Peasant extraordinaire - likes nothing better than resting on his hoe and surveying his brassica patch - proud cauli grower and a whirling dervish behind the market stall”. His vegetables are organically grown from seed, fertilised from grazed clover, irrigated from the sky and helped along if necessary with a minimum of fossil fuels. A combination of his farming methods, picking at their peak, and Jim's enthusiastic knowledge results in a taste sensation with all of his produce.

Whilst buying vegetables for ourselves at home, Jim has got us hooked on spigariello. This has become a key part of our seasonal vegetable offering in the restaurant and on some special pizzas. Native to Southern Italy, chefs from Napoli would immediately recognise the iconic, leafy-green heirloom variety. It is considered to be the parent of broccoli rabe, with white flowers and a sweet, slightly peppery taste. The leaves are edible and the stems also delicious when sautéed or lightly steamed - there is minimal waste. It continues to grow after the more sensitive broccoli has finished, is slightly frost resistant and will produce multiple harvests per plant. The main growing area outside of Italy is Southern California where it is the new trendy green veg and sought after by chefs. Jim is leading the way in Gloucestershire and we are happy to join his journey!

The bread and pizzas that you may eat here at The Priory Inn are all baked in our Italian wood oven. We burn well-seasoned, sustainably forested wood and the embers are re-stoked once a day when the pizza chef arrives for his lunchtime shift. The dome-shaped oven absorbs heat from the fire and radiates it to cook the pizzas at temperatures of around 400° centigrade. The special shape and materials encourage fast, even heating, acting like a natural convection oven. One turn of the pizza inside the oven using a long-handled 'peel' or 'paddle' ensures optimum cooking of the toppings and perfectly melted mozzarella cheese. The high density of the oven floor is designed to retain heat perfectly and results in a crisp, caramelised base. Once a pizza is removed from the oven, the spot on which it was cooked has lost heat and won't be used by a skilful pizzaiolo until that heat is replaced by reflection from the dome. After the evening shift ends (often after around 200 pizzas are cooked), the oven is left to cool down, resulting in a ideal residual morning temperature for the breakfast chef to bake the day's wholemeal and white bread loaves. Of course, the bread and pizzas would be nothing without great ingredients, and flour is clearly crucial to the process. So we use the freshest organic flour from Shipton Mill (just 5 minutes drive from the restaurant) as the basis of all our dough, and we ensure that the most precious of ingredients - time - is ever present in the preparation.

We are pretty much at the end of our 7th year of running “Barter At The Back Door” which is a scheme asking local gardeners and growers to bring us their surplus fruit, vegetables, and even flowers for us to use in our restaurant and kitchen. In exchange, we hand out vouchers to the current market value of the produce which can be used against food and drink at The Priory Inn. The growing year of 2017 was a pretty good one for the 50 gardeners who have contributed to the scheme, receiving a total of over £1,200 in vouchers. The “winner” received just over £200 and enjoyed family get-togethers during the summer. The top three products received this year were strawberries (at 130 kilos they maintained their top slot from last year) closely followed by courgettes, and a big gain this year in the form of 110 kilos of rhubarb. Runner beans, pears and kale were also close runners at 77 kilos, 65 kilos and 57 kilos respectively . We wish all our barterers a productive winter tending to the soil that is the “engine” and heart of their operation, and we hope to see them and any new gardeners after the hungry gap in 2018!

The Christmas Party season is almost underway and we have a really tasty festive menu in place with choices that will suit everyone. The menu on our website is available every day for either lunch or dinner from now until January 2018 for groups from between 6 and 60. However, if you want to really let your hair down, then reserve a table on our dedicated Christmas party night on the 14th December. This "ups the ante" when it comes to a festive party atmosphere with the obligatory crackers, twinkly lights and an in-house DJ spinning your choice of discs! Please call to reserve a table.

Live Sunday music is an important part of The Priory Inn and starts every week at 8pm - entry is free.  On the 5th John Ross plays with a style tinged with folk influences. Blind River Scare singer/songwriter Tim Manning plays on the 12th November and is followed on the 19th by Teri Bramah weaving her own particular magic on a whole bunch of Americana type covers and originals. Steve Page the consummate guitarist and clawhammer banjo player plays November out on the 26th. See here for information on each performer.

November always seemed to me the Norway of the year.” Emily Dickinson