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Cotswolds local and seasonal food - December 2016

'Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store. Maybe Christmas . . . perhaps . . .means a little bit more...”*

The Winter solstice or “Yule” falls this year on Wednesday 21st December - specifically at 10.44am. It represents the shortest day, and longest night of the year. The Summer solstice in June gave us 16 hours 37 minutes and 50 seconds of daylight whereas this month, the shortest day will provide only 7 hours 50 minutes and 10 seconds. However as Hal Borland said, “ winter lasts forever; no spring skips its turn” so we must be patient and light will bring new life after Nature's natural pause. How The Grinch Stole Christmas - Dr Seuss

Our ancient forefathers lived and died by the seasons, so the longest night for them signified the rebirth of “The Oak King” the “Sun King” or “Giver of Life” to warm the frozen earth. Bonfires were lit and crops and trees were "wassailed" with toasts of spicy cider. The Druids cut mistletoe that grew on the sacred oak trees and gave it as a symbol of life and a blessing in the dark winter months. The Yule log was burned to conquer darkness and the ash scattered across fields to bring luck for the coming year’s harvest. Weather-lore has it that “a clear, star-filled night on Christmas Eve will bring good summer crops”, so wassail your hearts out, enjoy some spicy cider and look to the stars this Christmas for another great crop in 2017 for our farmers, menus and tables.

December is a busy month in our industry, with production of farm, brewery and artisan products reaching over-drive. Our little van is full to the brim of farm-fresh products from Saturdays' Farmer's market in Stroud and our suppliers' trucks buzz in and out of our yard, corresponding to the festive demands. December is a good time to reflect on the past year so we thank all our exceptionally hard-working staff both front and back of house who are dedicated to delivering great food and service. Our thanks also go to our “30 Mile Food and Drink Heroes” for their on-going commitment to providing us with such high quality products and service. We are also very grateful to our “Barter-at-the-Back-Door” contributors bringing their baskets of home-grown goodies, and of course, you, our guests for your support, company and comments which continually help us improve what we do.

Phill Taylor who recently joined our Stargazy team has taken it upon himself to organise a Charity Hamper raffle this month. It features items generously donated by our 30 Mile Food and Drink suppliers: bottled lager and branded glassware from Cotswold Brew Co; Native Breeds artisan air-dried meat; a Christmas cake from Beau's Bakehouse; flour and a dough scraper from Shipton Mill; cheese from Brian and Liz at Godsell's cheese; cider from Days Cottage; and, some delicious pickles from Tracklements. The proceeds will be split between the RNLI and Wiltshire Air Ambulance and we would love you to support this great effort by buying a strip of tickets for £5 from any of our staff. The draw will take place in January.

It will be an exciting start to 2017 for Stargazy as our fish bar has made it into the UK top 3 as Best Newcomer Fish and Chip Shops in the National Awards. Stargazy has faced an in-depth visit from an awards auditor to assess front and back-of-house operations and mystery shoppers. The winner will be announced at the Seafish ceremony held in London.

For our turkey-eating Christmas Day guests, you'll be pleased to know that we are again buying our bronze birds from Woolley Park Farm, a family run business near the historic town of Bradford on Avon. For over 40 years their Christmas begins in May when they begin rearing turkey chicks. The welfare of their birds is paramount. They live in small flocks so it is possible to give them the real care and attention they need to live a happy life. They develop lots of flavour from roaming around the farm, foraging naturally sourced protein from the insect world. The farm's processing ethos naturally results in locked-in flavour and succulence, which means that a bird from Woolley Park Farm Poultry could not be further away from the mass production of supermarket poultry.

This New Year's Eve you can eat and drink with us as normal: no fixed menu or entrance fees; normal service with the pizza menu running; disco lights and music after 10pm; party poppers on the tables; and, naturally the midnight countdown to welcome in 2017. We still have early tables available and the full dinner menu runs from 5pm. Please be sure to book if you are looking for an early slot (soon) as we will be jam-packed on the night!

The two beautiful Christmas trees taking pride of place this year are from The Charlton Park Estate, just outside Malmesbury. We selected them one bright, frosty November morning from within the vast walled gardens which historically supplied food for many Earls of Suffolk, from the late 16th Century.

Live Sunday music is an integral part of The Priory Inn's product and starts every week at 8pm - entry is free. Sunday 4th December we welcome The Honeyfire - two sisters playing guitar-based enchanting harmonies and textured guitar lines On the 11th Elliot Hall and Rapunzel play original songs by Elliot Hall, along with covers in the same genre from artists such as Johnny Cash, The Band and Bob Dylan. December's music finishes on the 18th with Steve Degutis, whose guitar accompanies a journey through a wealth of self-penned songs with an eclectic style to suit all tastes influenced by soul, rock, jazz and

December's staff awards: Values Champion: Becky Davey ~ Star Newcomers: Kris Chamberlain and Phill Taylorr

Happy Christmas and a very peaceful and prosperous New Year from all of us at The Priory Inn.

 “I wonder if the snow loves the trees and fields, that it kisses them so gently? And then it covers them up snug, you know, with a white quilt; and perhaps it says "Go to sleep, darlings, till the summer comes again.” Lewis Carroll