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Herbs and bees
Strawberries Over FarmBarter The Priory Inn

Cotswolds local and seasonal food - June 2017

What is one to say about June, the time of perfect young summer, the fulfilment of the promise of the earlier months, and with as yet no sign to remind one that its fresh beauty will ever fade.”*

As the year rolls on to its heady midway point, we can truly immerse ourselves in a full complement of Nature's wild offerings. There is an abundance of life in every hedgerow and a freshness of young lush summer in every corner of every field. Overhead, we welcome the seasonal visitors massing on telegraph wires and dive-bombing through a haze of insects. There is a wealth of opportunities for nectar and pollen collecting bees and soft, contented buzzing is rife in our herb garden. Warm June air over the swaying fields is exploited by heavenly skylarks' displays - the miracle of their aerial suspension matching the stamina of their glorious baby-blue sky song. And higher still, buzzards circle on early summer thermals. *Gertrude Jekyll

This month astronomically heralds the first days of summer when the sun is at its most northern point in the sky. June therefore provides a perfect chance to relax into long summer evenings and herald glorious early sunrises. The Summer Solstice, which represents the longest day of the year falls on Wednesday 21st, when the sun will rise locally at 05.24am and set at 21.31pm - treating us to 16 hours of daylight. Solstice means 'sun-stopping' - the point on the horizon where the sun appears to rise and set, stops and reverses direction after this day. Each day from then will become slightly shorter until the Winter Solstice on Thursday 21st December when we will have only 7 hours and 50 minutes of daylight. June's full moon on the 9th is known as the Strawberry Moon. It is a 'Micro Moon' as it is almost 30,000 miles further from Earth and appears around 15% smaller than Winter's 'Super Full Moons'.

In celebrating growth and life associated with these long days of daylight, June produces lush grass, healthy crops and nutritious soil. Alongside the warmer weather conditions and long daylight hours, there are perfect conditions for nurturing juveniles - helping crops and livestock transition into young adults. Spring conditions have been relatively good for growth – some lengthy dry spells interspersed by downpours and thunderstorms to avoid the need for lengthy irrigation - interspersed with healthy levels of sunshine. The produce that we are now beginning to enjoy in our kitchen has a delicious taste of summer – strawberries galore, shortly to be followed by raspberries and gooseberries. Baby beets, carrots, chard, radishes, spring greens, tomatoes and onions are also coming through alongside local baby potatoes.

There are some gorgeous lettuces maturing under nets in the sunshine at Adeline Farm on The Fosse Way and Ros is the brain and hard grafter behind this fabulous project. She (pretty much single-handedly) grows fruits and vegetables to sell to local businesses via Sherston Market and a local box scheme. This income allows her to fund the charitable side of the business, delivering valuable educational and therapeutic visits for local schools, disadvantaged and disabled groups. Ros sells us diverse and delicious salad leaves for both The Priory Inn and Stargazy Fish Bar and as the season progresses we will be taking advantage of the high quality broad beans, tomatoes, brassicas and other vegetables she tends throughout the year.

As one seasonal treat - asparagus draws to a close, we welcome the arrival of succulent summer strawberries. More a fruit than a berry, what we know as the modern strawberry was first cultivated in France in the 1750s from a cross between a wild North American and South American variety. Part of their appeal is the relatively brief outdoor growing season from June to early August. The ubiquitous Elsanta is the most common variety mainly due to the supermarket and agri-businesses focussing on high yields and shipping qualities. This is not necessarily Elsanta’s fault as commercial pressures favour easy handling over taste or juiciness. A crucial element of our ethos is selecting strawberries from small-scale family growers who put quality before mass production and who plump for lesser-known varieties with a better flavour. We have now re-introduced our strawberry, basil and Brinkworth Blue cheese pizza which is an annual pleasure that has to be tried. As with any “glut”, this is the time to plan ahead for the long months when berries from within 30 miles are no longer available, so we are also making sauces and preserves for those inevitable cold months.

The rising air and soil temperatures have made a significant difference to the herbs in our front garden and the kitchen is working hard to keep them harvested. Just in case you are wondering what the prehistoric-like plants are, they are “cynara cardunculus” or cardoons and can grow to 2.5m high. They will produce large thistle like blue/violet flowers within their silver grey leaves which the bees and butterflies love. We have previously experimented with braising the smaller leaves - to a mixed reaction - and they can also have medicinal uses.

In line with our commitment to local food, bartering at the back door has been a part of everyday kitchen life at The Priory Inn since 2011. Local gardeners, or owners of nearby allotments, bring us their surplus fruit and vegetables or 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, drinks – or even room nights with us at The Priory Inn. So turn back the clock, bring your fruit and veg to us - and enjoy the fruits of your green fingers in our restaurant.

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, Chester plays a combination of traditional, the popular, the original and obscure. Teri Bramah is back on the 11th weaving her own particular magic on Americana type covers and originals, followed on the 18th by With Nell and I
a duo playing soft jazz/funk/R&B. The final Sunday in June we welcome Larkham and Hall's tight harmonies, mandolin, guitars and harmonica. See our website for information on each performer.

“It is the month of June,
The month of leaves and roses,
When pleasant sights salute the eyes,
And pleasant scents the noses.”

Nathaniel Parker Willis