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Cotswolds local and seasonal food - September 2016

September: it was the most beautiful of words, he'd always felt, evoking orange-flowers, swallows, and regret.”*

September for many feels more like the start of a new year than the calendar would have us believe. Alongside university places, new school timetables, incoming teachers and crisp uniforms, there are earthy smells in the air, heralding a striking change in season. An almost overnight disappearance of our feathered summer visitors to their wamer wintering climes and a distinct drop in the number of butterflies and bees is met by an influx of leggy insects and intricate spiders' webs in heavy autumnal morning dews. Sight lines across fields are again exposed as the stubble becomes the feature and bales are safely stored for the cold months ahead. Hedgerows are emerging as the fruitful stars of the season with their eclectic seasonal display: tangled strings of glistening blackberries; clusters of elderberries; pillar-box red hips and haws, and dusty blue-black damsons and sloes. Nature's carpet takes on an underfoot crunch as winter's natural larder begins to fall - beech nuts, acorns and highly polished conkers (despite the best efforts of the leaf miner caterpillar to munch its way through the magnificent horse chestnut trees). As the landscape and wildlife begins to prepare for colder temperatures, our thoughts also turn to an evocative season of slow-cooked, warming food in our kitchen. *Alexander Theroux

The general consensus amongst the marketeers at Stroud is that the Summer of 2016 will be remembered as a slow starter. The hungry-gap (the natural shortage of produce after the root vegetables are finished but before the spring produce has matured) seemed to go on forever. However once Summer finally woke up, the sunshine and rainfall combined to provide a well-nurtured supply of local fruit and vegetables.

Last year's bumper crop of apples won't be quite as good for the team at Days Cottage this year. They grow dozens of varieties (some unique to the county, such as Taynton Codlin, Flower of the West and Underleaves) and are now selling early ripening apples from their unsprayed orchards and delicate grapes from their huge polytunnel vine. Rather than compost the lowly little crab apple, our kitchen team this year are planning apple butter for the breakfast buffet. This is a highly concentrated apple sauce which is produced by long, slow cooking to the point when the sugar in the apples caramelize, turning the apple butter a deep brown. As strawberries die back, we must say adieu to the strawberry and blue cheese pizza but welcome in its place seasonal pears which make for a great pizza topping.

There are many beautiful local foods still available – Ros at Adeline Farm is supplying us a variety of lettuces, the best tasting tomatoes and HOT chilies are also in full flow. Even our part-time bee keeping resulted in some Adeline honey this year! The season for sweetcorn, squash and heritage cauliflowers is in full swing, with a focus on growing for flavour rather than uniform appearance.

Barter-at-the-back-door is running at full throttle with baskets of plums, courgettes, runner beans, French beans, redcurrants and figs regularly turning up. Any local gardeners can join in our community scheme and bring their surplus produce to us to exchange for vouchers which they can spend on well-earned meals and drinks with their families here at The Priory Inn. Just bring your fayre in the day of harvest and the chances are, it'll be on the menu by the evening.

Whilst the beautiful herbs in our garden are still attracting a few of the more tenacious honey bees, the colonies that we oversee are now ready for the long winter ahead. The dry and relatively warm May provided ideal conditions for them to swarm (and thereby reproduce their colonies). We retrieved some of these swarms and combined a couple of weaker colonies, leaving them with as much honey as they can make to see them through the months ahead. Any hives which are weakened in numbers are also vulnerable to wasp invasions – particularly upleasant encounters where the wasps eat eggs and emerging larvae and all the reserves of honey. They can often take over entire hives if there are not enough bees to defend themselves, leaving an empty shell behind. Our winter preparation involves: protecting against the evils of varroa (a parasitic mite which carries a bee-killer disease); feeding with a sugar solution until the temperatures prevent you from opening the hives; ensuring their homes are waterproof and well-ventilated and that mice or other predators cannot get in. Then we have to leave it to the bees and their intricate dances to stay centrally heated, crossing our fingers until the first sunny days. Possibly as early as February, the workers will emerge on cleansing flights and the Queen Bee will resume her laying. There is nothing better than seeing those first Spring flights as confirmation that the colony has made it through the toughest time of year.

Just in case you are wondering what the huge prehistoric herbs are in our garden – they are “cynara cardunculus” or cardoons and can grow to 2.5m high. They are now producing superbly bee-friendly purple flowers within their silver grey leaves. The leaves can be blanched in the winter for edible leaf ribs (unsure about this for our menus...) and can have medicinal uses.

Live Sunday music is an integral part of The Priory Inn's product and starts every week at 8pm - entry is free. On the 4th, Teri Bramah weaves her own particular magic on a whole bunch of Americana type covers and originals. This is followed on the 11th by Dik Cadbury performing a selection of his favourite covers and original material on 6- and 12-string acoustic guitars. Seth and Katie play for us on the 18th – a multi-instrumental folk duo who blur the edges between traditional music and contemporary styles. Rounding out September is Phil Cooper on the 25th – a contemporary singer/songwriter who has earned excellent reviews from the national press.

Summer ends and Autumn comes, and he who would have it otherwise would have high tide always and a full moon every night” Hal Borland