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Cotswolds local and seasonal food - May 2017


As it fell upon a day, In the merry month of May, Sitting in a pleasant shade, Which a grove of myrtles made, Beasts did leap, and birds did sing, Trees did grow, and plants did spring...”*

After endless monochrome months, and an April which exposed us to extremes of temperatures from sleet and hail to balmy summer-time-at-Easter days, it is uplifting to feel the true signs of a return to Spring. Hedgerows and fruit trees are adorned with delicate snowflake confetti and the elegant heads of cuckoo flowers give a minimalist splash of soft lilac through lush meadows. The subtlety of these colours meet head-on with swathes of brash yellow oilseed rape, glossy fields of buttercups, mass shady gatherings of indigo-strong bowing bluebells and cherry trees dipped in blousy pink blossom. For a scattering of the dive-bombing martins and swallows, their 6,000 mile journey is now over until temperatures begin to dip at the tail end of the Summer. As Edwin Way Teale said, “all things seem possible in May" and the bright but chilly winds give a heightened sense of everything that is positive and exciting ahead. *Richard Barnfield 1574 - 1627

Remaining in tune with Nature and recent Spring conditions, our family of 30 mile produce suppliers have been planting out early potatoes, cabbages, lettuces, salads and chards raised under glass or in polytunnels and drilling beetroots, turnips, spring onions direct into well-tended, nutritious soil. Potting-on of tomatoes, chillis and peppers, and sowing cucumbers, sweetcorn and squash are all in the mix.

The one great seasonal plug of the hungry gap is the subtly flavoured, tender Spring asparagus shoot. This country has an unpredictable and limited season governed by changing weather patterns, so the delicious vegetable is up against stiff supermarket-driven competition year round from far-flung countries like Peru. However, you cannot equal the true value and goodness from freshly picked, slim-stemmed “sprues” grown here in the UK. Our chefs are buying from the 70 acre market garden business run by The Styan family in Evesham who fit perfectly into our ethos, based on their passion for producing the best seasonal produce. They have over 50 different lines of fruit and veg throughout the year and we will do justice to the subtle asparagus flavours on our specials menu and you'll see their Spring chard through various dishes.

This time-honoured approach to enjoying seasonal food continues to enjoy a resurgence with many vocal supporters: cook from scratch; enjoy real food; strip away the complicated layers of nutritional advice that befuddle us; and, get back to the basics. Michael Pollan, author of “In Defence of Food” gives some simple guidance on how to eat a healthy diet and enjoy it - which we like to endorse at The Priory Inn: 1) don’t eat anything your great grandmother would not recognise as food; 2) don’t buy anything with more than five ingredients; 3) only eat at a table; 4) eat slowly and communally; 5) distrust any food claiming health benefits.

Another endorsement of great seasonal things to come is that our regular “Barter at the back door” gardeners have recently begun to emerge from hibernation with trugs of rhubarb, late purple sprouting broccoli and some foragers have brought sorrel and wild garlic. This scheme is open to anyone who has a local source of their own home (or allotment) grown vegetables, fruit (or flowers). Our regular “barterers” earn hundreds of pounds to spend in the restaurant as we exchange vouchers at the current market value for their produce. Please feel free to join in and bring us your excess throughout the growing season.

For our vegetarian dish, we combine two great local suppliers. Little Hollows Pasta is a Bristol-based company, born through a love of fresh, simple food, after a hitch-hiking trip through Northern Italy. The dedicated team has a great range of artisan pasta on sale every week at Stroud. They have the old familiars, but also make more unusual pastas such as radiatori (Italian for radiator) cavatelli (little hollows – their namesake) and pretty little folded pasta know as agnolotti del plin. These are all made with love and share our drive for using local quality ingredients: their recipes use flour from Shipton Mill; and, local organic eggs from happy hens. The taste says it all. We will be combining their spinach tagliatelle with the gorgeous, highest quality, specialist oyster and shitake mushrooms grown by Marlborough Mushrooms. Focused intently on quality, freshness, traceability and exceptional customer service, we welcome Dewi Williams' team and delightful produce to our network of suppliers and we look forward to enjoying many future funghi! (littlehollowspasta.co.uk; marlboroughmushrooms.com)

Buzzing though Stroud's weekly market as soon as the stalls are set up to collect cheese, meat and vegetables for the restaurant, brings early bird benefits. This is a sure fire time to guarantee buying bouquets of fresh cut flowers from Julian Harvard's smallholding on Tewkesbury Road in Cheltenham. A true gentleman and exceptionally knowledgeble trader, Julian loves his seasonal flowers and imparts knowledge on how to get the best from them with the same enthusiasm to every single buyer. The quality of his cultivated bunches, masterly interwoven with wild offerings is delightful - some unusual species of narcissi and daffodils and now stunning tulips mixed in with Spring blossom are currently on offer. Julian often sells out by 10.00am so be there early.

Live Sunday music is an integral part of The Priory Inn's product and starts every week at 8pm - entry is free. On the 7th May, Lewis Clark's lyrical blend of folk and blues and soulful vocal will entertain, followed on the 14th by Bashema, niece of Jamaican Reggae Legend Keith Hudson and cousin of Acclaimed New York Hip Hop artist Keith "Tryfle" Hudson. Steve Page plays for us on the 21st May - Steve Page combining the best of modern country and old time mountain music with an emotional intensity that is all his own. On Sunday 28th May, Stevie Nicole Brown a singer/songwriter who delves into new lyrical honesty, explores the darker side of love. See our website for information on each performer.

"Everything that has a beginning has an ending. Make your peace with that and all will be well." Buddha