There are several different ways in which the first day of Autumn is defined, the date varying significantly depending upon which method you choose.
The simplest is the meteorological method by which the year is equally divided into four, each season three months long, Autumn being September, October and November. But we often have wonderfully warm early Septembers that feel much more like summer than autumn, so perhaps the astronomical definition using equinoxes and solstices, the position of the earth relative to the sun is a better one. So, astronomically and to be exact, this year Autumn started in the Northern hemisphere at 10.21am on the 22nd September when the sun crossed over the celestial equator into the Southern hemisphere.
Astronomical autumn is therefore about three weeks later than the meteorological autumn; both are fixed in the calendar and don’t take into account what is actually happening in nature.
However, the Woodland Trust has been collecting information that gives us a more fluid and natural definition of the seasons.
Nature behaves differently every year. It is charming, complex and difficult to predict and recording these changes, of plant and animal behaviour, is known as phenology. The time the swallows depart for Africa, the changing colours and falling of the first leaves, the appearance of ripe sloes, elderberries and blackberries are different every year. Carefully recording happenings in nature have shown significant trends are emerging. One example is that our native trees are fruiting 18 days earlier than a decade ago, a clear indication that our climate is changing.
Fall is a rather lovely name for autumn, referring to the lowering of night temperatures, shorter days and the falling autumn leaves of golden yellows, oranges, reds and browns.
But most importantly for farmers, autumn only starts when the harvest is safely in. The most significant day of the year is when the fruits of their labours are safely gathered in and it is time to celebrate abundance at the Harvest Festival.
It is a time of plenty, of gluts, a time to preserve, pickle and pot so that our larders are full and ready for the winter. At Thyme, we are delighted to be welcoming both Olia Hercules who will be showing us fermenting as a way of preserving the autumn harvest and Kylie Newton who will be taking a class with recipes from her book 'The Modern Preserver'.
Game is also firmly on the menu with grouse, partridge, pheasant and wild deer.
Grouse are the king of the game birds. They are wild, never reared, living on the heather moorlands of the Scottish Highlands, northern England and Wales. However, we look forward to our first partridges shot on the farm towards the end of September. We walk on stubble fields where the birds feed on fallen grain and wide margins are planted with a mixture of wild flowers, herbs and more providing cover and feed for both the game birds and wild life alike. Not wild, but almost, the partridge are red legged and specially reared for the season. However, we must keep a look out for the wild grey legged English partridge that have dramatically increased in number over that last few years. Different not only because of the colour of their legs but also by the pattern of their flight.They tend to fly in coveys, tightly packed together and distinctively chattering as they fly like mini fighter jets over the hedges.
Our first day’s shooting this year was sunny and warm but windy enough for the birds to fly well. The guns blended well into the autumn fields and hedgerows, their traditional breeches, sporting colours of autumn fields and hedgerows; green, orange, pink and plum,.
So please try our warm salad of partridge in our restaurant at The Swan or at home. It continues our theme of preserving using both a brine and light smoking. With nasturtium leaves and flowers, fresh green coriander seeds and sweet grapes from our vines it bursts with favour. Blackberries, elderberries, damsons or cobnuts would be good seasonal additions: they all have those hedgerow flavours which have a natural affinity to a classic autumn game bird.
Game is still so often overlooked as a wonderfully healthy addition to the diet. Not only is it low in fat it is a significant source of selenium, a natural antioxidant that boosts immunity and has been linked scientifically to lifting your mood, making you happy.
So do come and stay with us at Thyme, walk in the fields, be close to nature, eat game, and enjoy this truly seductive season.