October on the Farm
A golden autumn – but will it carry on? The trees colour up as the life leaves them. The mornings are quiet without the dawn chorus. Migrating birds have left and our winter visitors haven’t arrived yet. Everything starts to settle into a new routine.
The harvest is almost all in, with the maize crop just harvested. That’s all our conserved crops in and the stores are looking fuller than we’ve had for years. Fodder beet remains in the ground, grown to feed to cows over winter. This month, we drill all the winter barley and wheat, striking the right balance between the overproud crops going into the winter that might get mildew and those strong enough to hold the soil against the winter cold and rain. We cultivate as lightly as possible to retain organic matter and structure in the soil. We’ve realised we do need to plough every three years, to avoid grass weeds taking over. We continue to learn the best way the nurture the soil – our most important asset.
The grassland is in its autumn flush. The plants are feeding their roots too, the wild drive to reproduce quieted (I know the feeling). I’m really happy with the magnificent grass and clover we’re growing behind our improved fencing. The fences train the cattle to graze well, so we get clean new growth. The clover goes crazy in the autumn, almost hiding the grass. As it grows, its roots make little nodules which host bacteria that draw nitrogen from the air. When those break down, they feed the plants around them. What I’ve always loved about being a farmer is that sense of sitting on top of these extraordinary processes where so many creatures make the world work, and observing and intervening to have it all produce wonderful food.
The calves gain confidence so quickly. Most of this autumn’s crop are a month or more old, and already sassy. They love the cooler weather, leaping about in their evening playtime, challenging you to state your business – and would you happen to have any milk about you?
It’s funny seeing the older heifers grazing the orchards. They can’t believe their luck and gorge themselves on apples, getting very mellow and contented; the trees are cider apples! We’ll also feed some apple pomace, left over from a neighbouring farm business that presses apples for cider. Happy heifers!
The cows settle into milking, producing a beautiful balance on the rich pasture. I love seeing their coats gleam and their shapes round up as they gain weight, getting ready for winter.
In the cheese dairy, we enjoy the cooler weather; cheesemaking becomes a joy not a challenge. Autumn grass produces some of the finest, well-balanced cheese. In the stores, we’ve been noticing an interesting, geometric pattern of mould on some cheese; they seem to be holding a slightly higher level of moisture. You learn more about cheese all the time. We’re sending our cheese on its international travels for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year. I love the milk of this valley’s grass finding its way around the world as cheese.
Don't forget: our third annual 'Apple Day' Food Fair takes place on Sunday 19th October, 11am until 4 pm. We’ll have lots of Devon apples, cheese and cookery demonstrations, plus activities for the children, a hog roast and mulled cider. Best of all: entry is free. See you there!
Recipe: Caramelised Onion and Goats Cheese Tart (Serves 4)
For the pastry:
400g plain flour
For the caramelised onions:
2 large red onions
For the quiche mixture:
1 x 23cm loose bottomed flan tin
- Preheat oven to 180-200°C. Chop the top off the garlic bulb, wrap in foil and roast in oven for 45mins.
- Rub butter and flour together until it makes fine breadcrumbs. Add water slowly until it becomes a dough which is not too sticky. Add a few drops more water if needed. Wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.
- Finely slice the red onions and add to a frying pan with oil. Let them sweat down on a low heat. After a couple of minutes, add the sugar and herbs. Leave to cook down, stirring frequently for 10mins on a low heat. When the onions soften and reduce in size, remove from the heat.
- Squeeze out five of the garlic cloves from the bulb and chop up on the board. If it is properly roasted, you should be able to make it into a paste. Mix the garlic paste into the cooked onions.
- Take the pastry out of the fridge and roll evenly on a floured surface to the thickness of a pound coin. Place in the tin and trim, leaving a little spare pastry at the edges.
- Blind bake the pastry for 12mins; it should be pale, but crispy. Remove from the oven to cool.
- Beat the eggs in a jug, and add the cream, milk and seasoning. Stir well.
- Add the onions to the pastry case (keep behind a tbsp of onions to decorate the top of the quiche).
- Pour the egg mix over the onions until covered, leaving about 5mm at the top of the pastry case.
- Sprinkle the top of the mix with grated cheese, thyme and rosemary.
- Bake in the middle of the oven for 20-25 minutes until golden brown on the top. Serve immediately, or allow to cool then eat with a side salad.
MARY QUICKE MBE