Yesterday, the first day of autumn, was bright and clear – a huge blue sky, fluffy white wisps of fast moving clouds and strong sunshine. However it is evident from the chilly breezes coming through the open window that the sunshine isn’t quite strong enough to completely erase the the snap in the air. Summer has succeeded once more to Autumn in that epic aged old battle.
This day last week, a similar sort of sunshine with a similar sort of air wrapped around me as I stood on a small patch of tall grass, in a gully between a very high old brick wall and a line of thick hedge, every inch of me wrapped up in a white protective suite as I waited for Louise to open the top of the smallish white house-shaped beehive in front of us.
I had the pleasure of attending a gathering at Deans Court, a nearly 600 year old estate set within the charming village of Wimborne. This gathering, ‘Honey & Harvest’ was a true celebration of the efforts of the year and indeed the efforts of many over many hundreds of years before. The history of such things, the legacy of the land and the efforts of those who work to ensure its success is not lost on me and truthfully only enriches the experiences and deepens my appreciations.
Deans Court, it is idyllic in all the ways you imagine the country to be, should be. It is nothing short of an oasis. The stately old home sits at the heart of it all but somehow does not overshadow the charming outbuildings, cottages, a store and cafe and wonderfully English gardens. Indeed, perhaps my most favorite of all, a veritable Eden encircled by serpentine brick walls, which have seen their share of of seasons. On these walls grow various espalier trained fruit trees in in the middle all manner of vegetables, flowers and fruits.
Guests gathered around an enormous table, lavishly dressed in linen, voluptuous autumnal flowers and foliage foraged from the grounds and gardens. The glassware sparkled in the early afternoon sunlight an simple but elegant white plates graced each setting.
Ali, William & Lottie, our hosts for the day, each gave wonderful descriptions of the life and history of Deans Court before a seemingly endless array of dishes were passed around. Each dish inspired by and made with ingredients produced on the farm – all manor of orchard fruit; pear, plums and apples, eggs, kales in various shades, leeks, tomatoes, potatoes, herbs and perhaps best of all roast figs straight from the fig trees inside the walled kitchen garden.
The recipes for this post are inspired and adapted from a few of the dishes prepared by Julia at Deans Court for the spectacular country lunch. I can think of no better way to showcase the flavors of the season than simple straightforward dishes which capture the bounty and richness of the harvest season.
For the tart, I have adapted the recipe for spelt crust from the plum galette to work here – I like the rustic texture and nutty tones it lends to dish. I also substituted buttermilk for the cream – its not as lush as the cream would be but its still delightful and a lot lighter. If you wanted a complete meal, a dessert wouldn’t go a miss here as this tart is quite light and the kale salad hints at the sweetness of fruit but goes in a more savory direction –
Baked apples or crumble with a few blackberries thrown in or a few beautifully executed types of local cheeses and a small glass of fortified wine if you are serving this as an evening meal perhaps.
Beetroot & Goats Cheese Tart
inspired by Julia from Deans Court
adapted from a recipe by Valli Little
For the Pastry
200g spelt flour
100g cold unsalted butter
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1/2 tsp or about 20 grinds from a pepper mill of black pepper
3 Tbsp ice cold water
Fort the Tart
400g (ish) beetroot
2 red onions
60 ml unfiltered apple cider vinegar
2 tsp thyme leves + a few extra sprigs for serving
1 tbsp caster sugar
150g goats cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground corriander
3 tbsp olive oil
prepare beetroot and pastry crust
for the beetroot – place trimmed, scrubbed beets in a pan of cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a gentle simmer and cook until beetroot is fork tender – this will depend on the size and age of the beets your are using – when beets are easily pierced by a fork through to the center. Remove from heat and let stand at least 15 minutes. When cool enough to handle, peel under cold water and dice into 1/4 pieces – set aside
for the pastry –
in a large bowl mix together flour, thyme & black pepper. Either with a food processor or with your fingers rub in the butter until the mixture resembles corse bread crumbs. Make a small well in the middle of the dry mixture and slowly dribble in the iced water a little at a time until the dough comes together in a loose ball. Be very careful not to overwork the dough
Pat it into a disc shape, wrap in parchment paper and chill for 30 minutes. Lightly grease a 30cm loose bottom tart pan.
On a lighly floured work surface, roll out the dough, about 5mm (just shy of 1/4in) in thickness – line the tart pan and cut away any excess from the edges. Then chill again for 15min
Assemble the Tart
preheat oven to 180°C
Line chilled pastry shell with parchment paper and pastry weights and bake for 10 mins. Then, remove weights and paper and bake an additional 5 minutes or until dry.
Heat olive oil in a pan then add the onions, thinly sliced and 1 tsp salt, cook covered, stirring occasionally until softened, aprox 8 minutes. Add the vinegar and sugar to the mixture and cook aprox 3 minutes. Then add the chopped beetroot & 1 tsp thyme leaves and stir to combine. Cook and additional 3 minutes until the mixture has thickened and liquid has reduced.
Spread mixture over the tart shell and crumble goats cheese over the top. In another bowl whist together the egg, buttermilk, nutmeg & coriander. Pour over the beetroot mixture and top with the remaining 1tsp thyme leaves
Bake aprox 35 minutes or until set. Serve warm or cold but keep chilled if making ahead
Kale Salad with pickled Onion & Pear
1 large bunch of Lacinato Kale
1 large firm pear
1/2 red onion, pickled
1/4 cup tasted hazel nuts or cobnuts if in season, cut in half
Juice from half a lemon
1/4 cup unfiltered apple cider vinegar
3 Tbsp good quality olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp black pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper
For the pickled red onion
place 1/2 red onion thinly sliced in wedges from top to root in a nonreactive bowl sprinkle with 2 tsp of salt and let it stand 10 minutes. Then cover with red wine vinegar and 1/2 tsp sugar. Let stand at least an hour or place in a jar overnight
Wash kale and remove the thick center rib. Rough chop into 3 inch pieces and set aside
In a large bowl, mix the spices and add the cider vinegar. Whisk in the olive oil until emulsified. Add Kale to dressing and massage until the kale begins to break down and soften a bit. Let it stand while
Top and tail the pear, cut in half, core, then slice thinly and toss with lemon juice and a sprinkle of salt. Add this to the kale mixture and top everything with the toasted hazelnuts jut before serving so they stay crunchy
taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if needed.
Serve a slice of the tart with a portion of the salad.