It definitely feels autumnal here at Highclere. The trees are beginning to be edged with ochres and reds and the horses are already rugged for colder nights in the park fields. We still have some figs to collect, and a lot of cooking apples to pick, use and freeze. I am not sure the quince tree looks very happy: I think it may have quince leaf blight which can partly be managed by raking and collecting all the dead leaves and thinning the tree out. Sadly I can see no quinces!
In the diary we have a few private weekends coming up as well as the various events booked in the Castle. It’s a good time to plan the autumn, look at menus, think about what the season brings and generally take stock. All of this is implied in the old fashioned term “Michaelmas”, officially celebrated each year on September 29th. Originally a feast day to mark the end of Harvest, and one of the rent quarter days, it commemorates the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels (Highclere’s church bears the same name). University and school terms still refer to the “Michaelmas” term in the UK and even the US Supreme court sits on the first day after Michaelmas. Here at Highclere, leases would commence again and the farming cycle still begins again for the following harvest next summer as the fields are cleared to plough and seed.
I am busy helping organise a harvest festival service to take place in the church in early October. Apart from autumn flower arrangements, I thought we would take down some chickens (in a cage!), sacks of grain, dogs, sheep and a Shetland pony as well as some refreshments for after the service. I thought I would ride to church with few friends so it is all a bit more fun.
In the Castle we always try to create menus to reflect the season and there is nothing like a good autumn soup. One of my favourites is a spinach soup with a little round of delicious warmed goats’ cheese. My husband oscillates between a cream of cauliflower soup with a blue cheese dumpling or a classic onion soup. We both love Highclere’s white bean soup with a dash of truffle oil which has the advantage of being popular with the young as well.
Highclere Castle’s White Butter Bean Soup:
The night before, soak the butter beans in lots of water, and let the beans swell.
Next morning pinch the skin off the beans and rinse the beans clean.
In a pan heat some pomace oil and unsalted butter.(Pomace oil is a second pressed olive oil without the strong flavour, and you need 2/3 tablespoons of it).
Add some chopped shallots, chopped celery, chopped white of the leek and crushed garlic and cook until softened but not coloured. Add the beans, season with salt and pepper and stir gently.
Add some thyme or a little rosemary and cover with homemade chicken or vegetable stock.
Cook for maybe 30 minutes and then test a bean to see if it is soft. Blend with a hand blender and if you wish, push through a sieve to get a really smooth finish.
Add cream if you desire or a little truffle oil (my usual choice) to finish.
(Quantities: the above uses about 200g of the dry white butter beans and then when it comes to cooking them, about 1½ litres of stock)
All images (C) Highclere Castle.