October is when you can't pretend it's late summer any more.
Everything races to harvest the last of summer's bounty. I've always wanted hazels and cobnuts from my trees, but squirrels have always had all the nuts before they are ripe. This year, my friend Jane suggested I made some little mesh and wire bags to put round the nut clusters. All good, nuts safe, then Tom saw a squirrel running across the grass with a bag in its paws...once we stopped laughing, I picked the rest of the bags and finally I have some nuts stored for the winter.
We harvest the maize end of last month or early this month - maize thinks September is summer too, and puts on a third of its growth then. It is such an odd crop - bare fields, not meeting in the rows till Midsummer at least, later this year, all the sun's energy wasted on bare ground, then it vaults skyward, becoming a forest heavy with cobs in a bare 12 weeks. Rich summer goodness for the cows when the sun is elsewhere.
Our thoughts are on next summer's harvest. We cultivate and seed the fields with wheat and barley, catching the weather windows before the soil gets too wet and tender. We are minimally cultivating, not ploughing the soil to preserve organic matter and soil structure. It's worked well in my garden not to turn the soil, so I'm happy we are running with it. The fields turn brown and we wait for the magical sight of new growth peeping through, each shoot so fragile looking, and then you glance at the view, fields now shot with a fresh green tinge that promises next year's harvest.
Back to this year, and the calves born this autumn are grazing in sheltered fields, supported by milk still. Their older sisters are exploring the further bits of the farm, harvesting the grass grown in the autumn flush. We leave them out until the weather turns, and bring in the littlest or any that are lagging behind first. We check the heifers born last August: are they big enough to go to the bull next month to calve next August?
COWS ON GRASS
The cows are enjoying the autumn flush of grass too. They had eaten it down so tight to the ground in August, it is coming up clean and fresh from the base, all new leaves. It is the most nutritious feed we can give them, even though the sun is weakening and the grass is more watery, with lower sugars. The clover is still giving a good protein lift to the grass. The cows will start their last round before closing some fields up to grow grass the cows will eat in February - it will need all that time to grow to a grazeable length.
In the dairy, the milk is good, still grass fed, and well balanced with still those lovely grass-fed flavours. Grass fed gives a distinctive aroma to the milk. Some people describe it as 'cow breath', which is one of the loveliest aromas of all. You get a hint of it in the cheese flavour, giving our cheese some of its complex flavours. We sent off cheese for Christmas around the world last month; now we start sending cheese for hampers and baskets in Britain.
We picked up Gold for our Mature and Ewes Milk Cheddar at the Taste of the West Awards, as well as Silver for our Extra Mature and Raw Milk, plus Bronze for our Oak Smoked Cheddar. At the British Cheese Awards we won Gold for Oak Smoked Cheddar, Silver for Mild and Bronze for Mature Cheddar.
Cheese makes a lovely present, telling the story of these fields, that harvest and our cows.
RECIPE - Diane's Cheddar Ale Soup
Diane Raymond does the most amazing display our cheese in the Cheltenham Wholefoods, and she gave me this recipe for a warming and nourishing autumnal soup. She used to personal chef in New York, and it shows!
- 2 medium leeks (white and pale green parts only) washed and cut into 1/4-inch dice (2 cups)
- 2 medium carrots, cut into 1/4-inch dice (1 cup)
- 2 celery ribs, cut into 1/4-inch dice (1 cup)
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped garlic (about 4 large garlic cloves)
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 tbsp butter (or a mix of olive oil and butter if preferred)
- 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups whole milk
- 1 3/4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth (14 fl oz)
- 12 oz ale
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon dry mustard
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 lb (4 cups) grated Mature Quickes Cheddar
- Bacon bits to garnish
Cook leeks, carrots, celery, garlic, and bay leaf in butter in a 4-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables begin to soften; about 5 minutes.
Reduce heat to moderately low and sprinkle flour over vegetables, then cook, stirring occasionally for about 3 minutes.
Add milk, broth, and beer in a stream, whisking, then simmer, whisking occasionally for about 5 minutes.
Stir in Worcestershire sauce, mustard, salt, and pepper.
Add cheese by handfuls, stirring constantly, and cook until cheese is melted, 3 to 4 minutes (do not boil).
Discard bay leaf.
Serve sprinkled with bacon bits.