Saturday, 20 September 2008
An Autumn Song
Good-bye , good-bye to Summer!
For Summer's nearly done;
The garden smiling faintly,
Cool breezes in the sun;
Our thrushes now are silent,
Our swallows flown away -
But Robin's here in coat of brown,
And scarlet breast-knot gay.
Robin, Robin Redbreast,
O Robin dear!
Robin sings so sweetly
In the falling of the year.
Bright yellow, red and orange,
The leaves come down in hosts;
The trees are Indian princes,
But soon they'll turn to ghosts;
The leathery pears and apples
Hang russet on the bough;
It's Autumn, Autumn, Autumn late,
'Twill soon be Winter now.
Robin, Robin Redbreast,
O Robin Dear!
And what will this poor Robin do?
For pinching days are near.
The fireside for the cricket,
The wheatstack for the mouse,
When trembling night winds whistle
And moan all round the house.
The frosty ways like iron,
The branches plumed with snow -
Alas! in winter dead and dark
Where can poor Robin go?
Robin, Robin Redbreast,
O Robin dear!
And a crumb of bread for Robin,
His little heart to cheer.
All of a sudden, everything in the garden seems to be ready for the long winter's sleep, which is surely ahead. The leaves seem to be changing overnight. It seems like only yesterday they were unfurling. The tender green shoots of spring are now rapidly browning and yellowing . . . the tell tale signs of autumn, and the ground is covered with their fallen friends and foes. My feet scuff through them each morning now on my way to work, and I listen to them skitter across the pavement in the slight breeze . . . it is a sound I love . . .
It seems like only a few days since I was going and coming from work in daylight, and now, I am needing a flashlight . . . the days are drawing in quickly. The summer that barely showed us her face was in a rush to leave it seems . . . the sun holds little warmth when it does appear, it's weak and waning . . . as lovely as it is to see after all the rain of recent weeks . . . and the nights are cooler . . . as soon as the sun goes down a distinct chill is in the air. Around us is a smell, the autumn smell, unlike any other . . . it teases our senses and bids farewell to hot summer days and freshly mown hay and grasses . . .
The birds of summer, who entertained us so delightfully with their beautiful song these past few months are now quite silent. The song thrush that stood on the peak of our dormer roof and sang his melody has not been heard in days now it seems. I do love to listen to him, singing his heart out. During the day the tell tale sign of his presence, the odd empty snail shell laying here and there, I see . . . he is still about . . . but he sings no more, his gleeful tune is silent now and resting I suppose. Even the robin, with his cheery tune sings no more . . .
The hedgerows and bushes are full of ripening bramble and hips and haws . . . fodder for the kitchen jelly pot . . . hedgerow jellies and jams . . . autumn's bounty caught up in a jar, all purple and crimson, sitting in a row upon the countertop like a sultan's jewels . . . we must leave some for the birds and for the long cold months ahead that they must endure outside, whilst we warm our toes indoors by the fire . . .
The chestnuts ripen and fall to the ground and the cheery sound of clacking conkers are heard from the school playground . . . of an evening we can smell the tell tale smoke of a garden fire as someone burns the brush and trimmings of a garden they have neatened up in preparation for the colder months ahead . . . a smell I love most of all . . . it bespeaks autumn to me more than any other sign . . .
The Dahlias are bursting out in flaming colours, happier than it seems they were all summer long, and our garden wall is well adorned with their blossoms both in their glory and spent, living together in close harmony. The odd bumble bee flits too and fro, but even they are slower now and I suppose will soon disappear . . .
Yes . . . the garden gets ready to sleep, but cannot help but serenade us with it's last bursts of colour before it beds down for the winter months ahead. Gone are the pretty blues and pinks . . . here are the scarlets and yellows and browns . . . the orange of pumpkins . . . ripe and waiting to be picked. A different song, but one I love all the same . . . perhaps even more . . .
These are soup and stew days. The perfect supper to take the chill out of your bones and to warm your heart. I made the Leek, Onion and Potato soup for our dinner yesterday. It went down a treat along with some delicious Cheese and Chive Twists. A simple meal, yes . . . perfect with the autumn song that's now being sung . . .
*Leek, Onion and Potato Soup*
This is my Todd's favourite soup of all. If he has a choice, this is the one he always chooses. Oh sure . . . I could open a tin, but like anything else, homemade is always infinitely better. Adapted from the recipe in the book "Delia's Vegetarian Collection."
4 large leeks
1 medium cooking onion
1 large potato, or two medium potatoes
2 ounces butter
3 cups hot vegetable stock
(I use marigold swiss vegetable powder
to make my stock)
1 1/4 cups whole milk
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
a drizzle of double cream
2 TBS finely chopped flat leaf parsley
Take your leeks and trim them. Cut off the tough outer leaves and discard. Split the leeks in half down the middle, almost to the end, and run cold water through them to clean them really well. Shake dry and then slice them really fine.
Peel your onion and chop it really fine as well.
Peel your potato, or potatoes, and cut them into 1/2 inch dice.
Melt the butter in a large, heavy based soup pot. Add all the vegetables and turn them to coat them well in the butter. Sprinkle over a bit of sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper and then pop on the lid, turn the heat to low and allow them to sweat for about 15 minutes, giving them a stir once or twice.
At the end of 15 minutes add the stock and the milk. Bring up to a simmer, and then turn the heat back to low and simmer them very gently for a further 20 minutes, until the vegetables are all very soft and the flavours have melded really well. Using a stick blender, blend the soup to a puree. If you don't have a stick blender, you may use an ordinary blender, but do so very carefully as hot liquids in the blender have a tendency to explode, so do it in small quantities and with a heavy tea towel over top of the lid just in case.
Re-heat the puree very gently. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. I find I never need any salt as the bouillon powder does a very nice job of salting the soup, but a good grinding of black pepper is always a good addition at this point.
Serve hot in heated bowls with a drizzle of double cream over each and a sprinkling of chopped parsley. Delicious!
*Cheese and Chive Twists*
These are wonderful with soups and stews of any kind, or even on their own, slightly warm from the oven and spread with a bit of butter.
2 1/2 to 3 TBS buttermilk
(or you can use milk that you sour with a bit of lemon juice)
3 ounces of strong cheddar cheese, grated
1 rounded TBS freshly snipped chives
6 ounces of self raising flour
1/2 tsp dry mustard powder
1/2 tsp salt
a healthy pinch of cayenne pepper
1 ounce butter
1 large egg
milk for brushing on top
1 ounce strong cheddar cheese, grated
cayenne pepper to dust lightly
Pre-heat your oven to 220*C/425*F. Lightly butter a baking sheet and set aside.
Sift the flour into a bowl along with the mustard powder. Whisk in the salt and cayenne pepper. Drop in your butter and rub it well in with your fingertips until it is crumbly.
Beat together your egg and buttermilk or sour milk. Gradually add it to the dry ingredients, mixing first with a fork and then with your hands to make a soft dough, adding a bit more milk if necessary. You should have a smooth dough which leaves the bowl clean. Try not to over handle the dough though, as you do not want to toughen it.
Pat the dough out as evenly as possible into a rectangle which is roughly 3/4 of an inch thick. Cut the rectangle into 12 perpendicular strips. Twist them together and place them onto the baking sheet. Brush the tops of each with some milk and then sprinkle the cheddar cheese evenly over all. Dust with a bit of cayenne pepper.
Bake for 10 to 15 minutes on the top shelf of your oven until well risen and golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool for a few minutes before serving warm.