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Cotswolds local and seasonal food - February 2017


Winter, a lingering season, is a time to gather golden moments, embark upon a sentimental journey, and enjoy every idle hour." John Boswell

Nature seems at a steely stalemate this month – a waiting room for the frenetic months ahead when the air and soil temperatures rise and life emerges from its winter nap. When February's biting winds drop and hesitant rays of sunshine break through the slate skies, there is a mystical sense of a new season just a fingertip's distance away. This month can be harsh and unforgiving, but if you take time to look beyond the darker nights, soul-warming hints of new seasons ahead are emerging. This year the Old English term for February “Solmonath” (meaning “mud month”) provides an accurate backdrop, although a more appealing landscape would be driven by the Finnish term for February: “Helmikuu”, (“month of the pearl”) when snow that has melted on branches, forms droplets which re-freeze like pearls of ice. Maybe the achingly beautiful days of a frosted country landscape will return, but in the meantime, verdant shoots are poking their brave heads through the claggy soil and lanes are showing glistening white flashes of the “chaste Snowdrop, venturous harbinger of Spring...*” We must be patient to enjoy the bold crocuses emblazoned through monochrome gardens and the bright nodding heads of the much welcome, jaunty daffodils. *Wordsworth, To A Snowdrop

The recent “courgette crisis” resulting from floods and snowfall in Spain happily doesn't directly affect us, as we restrict our buying to fresh produce from local farms within 30 miles of the restaurant. This generates its own weather-related challenges, and recent frosty mornings and icing sugar snow-flurries have meant an early end to many of the brassicas such as brussel sprouts and cauliflowers and an onset of the “hungry gap”. When you live and eat by the British seasons, the hungry gap is the time between the end of the root and winter vegetables and before the early Spring crops start to emerge. Our 30 Mile Food Zone suppliers will stretch out their offerings as much as possible but we are still able to buy local salad leaves from Adeline Farm and will be inventive with cabbage, kale and whatever root vegetables are still able to be harvested.

Much of our initial contact with local producers and artisans is established by visiting local farmers' markets each week. Our Saturday morning trips to Stroud market over the past 13 years is how we got to know The Paget Family. They are 4th generation growers of high quality field vegetables, working out of Stills Farm in the traditional market gardening village of Bromham in Wiltshire (great for its sandy soils and early season vegetables). We buy a variety of vegetables from them for business and personal use and have found them top-notch in their quality and consistency. Seasonal availability from Stills Farm this month is focussed on the last of the root vegetables, beetroots, parsnips, potatoes and carrots - sweeter now the hard frosts have turned their starches to sugar. Leeks, cavalo nero, cabbage and kale are some of the few green vegetables that provide flavour and nutrition during these coldest months of the year.

The charcuterie on our menu when we opened our doors in 2005 was very difficult to source without reaching over to the obvious countries on mainland Europe. Thirteen years on, we are fortunate to be able to take advantage of the passion and commitment shown by dedicated small companies producing air-dried, cured, smoked and cooked products. The team at Trealy Farm in Monmouthshire are a good example, and we buy dried meats such as prosciutto, chorizo, bresaola, pepperoni and salami for our pizzas and charcuterie board. Following the same principles of many of our artisan suppliers, Trealy Farm's products are allergen-free, use no natural colours or flavouring and do not contain nitrates/saltpetre. Their pork, beef, lamb, venison and duck meat is free range and sourced from their farm or other select smaller UK farms, with animal welfare remaining a clear and high priority.

Whilst we continually strive to source as much of our food and drink as possible from within 30 miles of Tetbury, there are certain products that simply aren't available, and coffee is an obvious one. In order to ensure that our ethos of providing the highest quality product from small scale producers is met, we have worked with the Extract Coffee team for many years. They are based in a characterful roastery in Bristol where they source, sniff, cup, taste, slurp, restore, roast, educate and spread passion for this quality product. The coffee we buy sits within the top 3% of coffee in the world - 100% arabica speciality coffee - purchased through highly ethical and sustainable trading relationships with small family-run farms and estates. The team spends time making sure that the end-users do the whole process justice, by training us to pull great shots and texturise Woefuldane's delicious milk to ensure silky lattés and textured cappucinos.

February's significant mid-month date provides the perfect excuse for card companies and florists to make some extra revenue and hike up the price of the clichéd red rose. We prefer to offer somewhere that everyone feels welcome on and around the 14th - couples or friends, singles or groups. And rather than push an overpriced fixed menu on you, we will have a few interesting specials that may tempt you away from the normal dishes. But as is the way with this time of year, please book in advance.

The Seafish ceremony for the best fish and chip shops in the country was held last month in London. Stargazy Fish Bar made it into the UK's Top Three as Best Newcomer. Whilst we didn't return home with the trophy, we were immensely proud of the team's achievement as they managed to impress auditors and mystery shoppers who carried out in-depth visits assessing front and back-of-house operations, the food menu, quality and service. Stargazy is also now fully certified by the Marine Stewardship Council.

Live Sunday music is an integral part of The Priory Inn's product and starts every week at 8pm - entry is free. On the 5th February, we welcome a chilled couple of sets from Jamie Hawkins, followed on the 12th by Lewis Clark's lyrical blend of folk and blues. Beshema a soulful songstress plays kickass piano for us on the 19th and Teri Bramah rounds out the month with her own blend of Americana type covers and originals. See here for more information on each performer.

There’s a certain slant of light, / On winter afternoons, / That oppresses, like the weight / Of cathedral tunes.”
Emily Dickinson