Saturday, 22 September 2007
An autumn dance
There is a public footpath that goes by our cottage and down through the orchards in the fields next to us. Public footpaths can be a nuisance to landowners over here in the UK, but I have always thought they were a beautiful way of allowing each person, landowner or not, the same right of being able to enjoy the beautiful walkways and sights of our rural landscapes. How right and proper is it that nobody should be able to keep this national treasure all to themselves . . .
We often have walkers and their dogs ambling past the end of our drive. At first, Jess used to get really excited and go out to meet each one, but now, after four years of it, she is quite used to their passings, and it is only the occasional one that she chooses to greet. We know the regulars and their dogs off by heart now, and their names. There is a particular border collie pup that comes racing through our garden every morning at full tilt. It is quite comical to watch him race through to the back and then out again, without stopping for an instant . . . he's there, and then . . . he's gone.
We love to walk across the fields and through the orchards this time of year, as much as any other. The trees in the orchard are full and dripping with fruits and amongst them you can hear the voices of the pickers as they chatter back and forth. The hedgerows are full of the last of the ripe blackberries amongst the brambles and other berries and fruits, such as pips and haws and sloes. I plan each year to make a batch of hedgerow jelly, but it somehow evades me, perhaps this will be the year that I actually do it.
The ground beneath our feet as we walk has become stony and full of the hard bumps of dried acorns, having fallen from the mighty oaks that line the hedgerows. They digg into the bottoms of our feet and crunch beneath our shoes with every step we take. I complain about it every year, as it hurts a bit to walk on them, but even I would not change it if I could. It is one of the rites of autumn . . .
Across the fields one can look and see the south downs, their colour slowly changing from the greens and yellows of summer into the warm golds and ambers of the fall. The air is filled with the smoke of the farmer burning brush and one is reminded of the smell of burning autumn leaves in days gone by and a longing to smell them once again.
All around us nature is in a dance as vivid and beautiful as any ballet, as it prepares itself for the cold winter months ahead, the seed pods every bit as beautiful as the flowers once were, and will be again . . . just different in their beauty, ready to take flight in the slightest breath of a breeze.
The birds are a lot quieter now. Even they are settling in for what they know is coming in the months ahead, the mating dance long over and baby fledglings having long flown the nests, now begins the preparations to either think about moving south or digging in for cooler days that can not be far off . . .
Yes, there is a different sound in the air now . . . gone is the twitter of birdsong and now here is the sound of crisp leaves that brush against each other as they fall from the trees and crunching acorns in the dry brush . . . I love this time of year.
In honour of the first day of autumn yesterday I made us a lovely salad for our lunch filled with autumnal flavours and scents . . .
*An Autumn Salad of Apple Dressed Pears and Walnuts with Blue Cheese Toasts*
This is a lovely salad to enjoy on a warm autumn day. The tart flavour of the cooking apple shines through in the dressing without being overpowering and goes very well with the savoury crunch of the toasted walnuts and the sweetness of the pears. The lovely blue cheese toasts are it's crowning glory. If you can't find walnut bread a french stick will do, but do try to find the walnut bread if you can. It really does add a special touch.
4 baby gem heads, washed and leaves separated, the larger ones torn into smaller pieces
8 thin slices of walnut bread
75g of mild cheddar cheese, cut into small cubes
75g of cashel blue cheese, cut into small cubes (you can use another strong blue cheese such as a stilton if you wish)
2 ripe pears
100g of whole walnuts
1 cooking apple, peeled, cored and cut into small chunks
1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped
50ml of walnut oil
100ml of good olive oil
1 tsp runny honey
1 TBS cider vinegar
seasalt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Heat a TBS of the olive oil in a small skillet and cook the shallot and apple in it, stirring, until golden. Remove from the heat and put into a blender along with the other dressing ingredients. Blitz until smooth. Check for seasoning, adjust if necessary, and set aside.
Toast the walnut bread on one side. Mix the cubes of cheese together and then divide amongst the slices of bread and toast under the grill until the cheese is all melted and bubbling and starting to brown just the slightest. Take out and set aside.
Toast the walnuts in a dry pan for about 30 seconds.
Peel, core and slice the pears. Toss the sliced pears with the lettuce leaves, toasted walnuts and apple dressing. Divide amongst four chilled plates, garnishing each with two slices of the cheese toasts.