So: ‘Summer’s lease hath all too short a date’,
as Shakespeare did thus, yea verily, rightly protest. The fragile blue of autumnal skies are silent but for the sweet, mournful chorus of a lone robin whose salmon-hued breast puffs proud in the chill of dawn; air which only yesterday held giddy clouds of whirling swallows who wheeled & soared & swung in proclamation of their high-pitched excitement, expressed in a final flourish of daring aerobatic antics before departing at the waning of the Harvest Moon: inevitable for them, miserable for us. For the first time, as I cleaned down Nanuk’s run, I found myself sweeping a flurry of golden-brown beech leaves which had swirled down on the restless breeze from the two massive trees overhanging the driveway at the back of the farmhouse. Those trees are truly beautiful specimens: gargantuan trunks gnarled & silvered with age, twisted roots protruding from the already ancient drystone wall, the whispered breath of the wind caught in the hushed rustle of their dancing leaves. And now those leaves are floating to the floor beneath, crisp hulls of browned beech mast crunching underfoot, ushering in another autumn to bid the year goodbye.
Mindful of the encroaching season, I spent September’s last day sweeping the hearths, preparing the woodburners for the long Winter ahead. Cleaning the soot-stained glass is never a pleasant job; but the satisfaction of a roaring fire in the grate while the wet, windy weather howls around the house like a banshee outside, makes it all worthwhile. This evening we heralded in October with the annual ritual of lighting the fires for the first time; soon the house was warm as toast (which, incidentally, is what accompanied our hearty bowl of cawl – Welsh lamb broth – at suppertime). I suspect I’ll be lighting the fire in the snug far more this winter, as it has become our temporary study; rather than its essential function as an elegant dining room, it’s currently stacked with scruffy piles of paperwork. Last year this room was sadly under-utilized & I’m determined we’ll make the most of it this year – regardless of the method in my madness (or is that the madness in my method…?!).
Anyway, for those of you craving a good home-cooked soup to warm their ‘cockles’ over the impending chilly Autumn evenings (or so we hope – thus destroying those pesky, Bluetongue-burdened midges), here’s a heartwarming recipe for the delicious dish of the aforementioned traditional Welsh cawl (unfortunately the essential pronounciation is ‘cowell’ – as in the demoniacal ‘Simon’, but infinitisimally more tasty) – which is a rib-stickingly substantial meat & vegetable broth. When predominantly prepared with lusciously large leeks, it is dubbed cawl cennin. Whilst the modern version is essentially served as a lamb dish, in days of yore it would have been more commonly prepared with pork which would have been a more readily-available meat for the average household (which is a little-appreciated fact, in fact!): thus –
CAWL (Welsh Winter Broth)
For four-six reasonably hearty servings, you’ll require: 2 lb neck of Welsh lamb; 3 pints rich lamb or vegetable stock; ½ lb peas, shelled; ½ lb broad beans, hulled; 1 wee cauliflower, broken into florets; 1 fine Welsh leek, sliced; 1 knobbly carrot preferably pulled fresh from the garden, diced; 1 pungent onion, chopped; 1 squatly-chunky turnip, diced; 1 plump little parsnip, also diced; 2-3 crunchy, slugless lettuce leaves, shredded; salt & pepper, to your discerning taste; plus a good handful of fresh, fragrant chopped parsley plucked from your herb wheel (or roll-top bath, as in our somewhat slightly eccentric case), to garnish.
If necessary, trim your cheeky chunk of plump little lamb (or in Wales – because our ‘trade secret’ produces even more exquisite flavour – robust mutton) to remove any excess fat. Place said mut – oops – meat, in a substantial saucepan with a dash of oil, & brown it all over. Cover the meat with your chosen stock (N.B. lamb or at least meat stock will make the broth ever more hearty) & bring it to the boil, skimming as & when necessary. Prepare all the vegetables, setting aside the plump cauliflower curds & the lettuce. Add the rest of the veggies to the meat, & season as required. Cover & gently simmer the liquid in the pot on top of the stove for around 3 hours (you’ll have to force yourself to resist eating it, as the smell will prove utterly appetising!). Add the cauliflower curds & lettuce to the broth about 20-30 minutes before the end of your estimated cooking time. When it’s done, sprinkle said tasty concoction with chopped parsley & serve this delicious broth, piping hot, with warm, crusty bread. For an even more substantially earthy dish, include some chunky unskinned local potatoes with the veg; & for a really hearty meal soak some dried broth grains (a mixture of beans & pulses) overnight, & add these to the stock along with the vegetables – though I’d recommend adding about another ½ litre of liquid & cooking the cawl for an extra half-hour, if you do this (although is it now strictly a cawl, with these added ingredients….?) hmmmmm. Regardless, mwynhau (enjoy)!