The Nut Brown Maid of Autumn

Walking up the hill one morning last week, the mist wreathing St Lawrence’s tower, the only sound the creak of a bird flying over the street, one could be forgiven for thinking Ludlow was either sinking into or emerging from an enchanted sleep.

Days later and we are experiencing the longest period of wind and rain we have had for months.  All is battered and buffeted. The Teme is up and roaring, bringing small trees, large branches to clutter the weir. The ducks and salmon are ecstatic. Not so sure about the walkers and their canine companions.

The chestnut by Pea Green gate has been moaning and wringing its hands, sending volleys of nuts to smash their spiny cases all over the car park, exposing their glossy treasure. There is no other word for a pristine chestnut, they glow, jewel like. I love the smooth feel of them too. I wonder how many children over the years have collected them? Apparently the game of “conkers” only became popular with the young (of all ages) in the late 19th century. Not so strange when you realise that they were planted first on private estates and in the gardens of the well to do. Due to their gregarious nature, they eventually escaped to be enjoyed and used by everyone.

During the second world war they were harvested for a starch the nuts produced which was used for something unpleasant I’m sure. Unlike the sweet chestnut, whose creamy flesh is a winter bonus, they are inedible for humans. But it doesn’t stop the fascination of collecting, either for the noble game, to make doll’s house chairs, or as a arthritis remedy, people just can’t resist them.

In the kitchen we use the other native stalwart, Hazel. That beautiful coppice we now drive by without a second glance, that bouquet of stems rising from it’s bole, making a swaying shade in summer, is now harvested. We make a hazel nut sauce for our vegetable pancake, one of our most popular vegetarian dishes.

Sliced blanched almonds are scattered on top of our honey cakes, a satisfying crunch to the sweetness. and walnuts add texture and taste to our apple and walnut cake. Before we know it the sweet chestnut will centre stage as accompaniment to brussel sprouts, in stuffing and just thrown on an open fire and roasted.

The Nut Brown Maid of autumn is stepping out with all of her bounty and colour. Take time to enjoy the homely delights of this most intimate season. I know that I will finding a good thick book, my favourite jumper, and enjoying the taste of the nuts and fruits on offer.

Enjoy our honey cake with a cappuccino or a cup of earl grey and a slice of lemon. Take one home for tea.

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