With shortening days and cooler nights, October brings a gentle but undeniable shift in the working year at The Small Holding kitchen and one-acre farm in Kilndown. The prolific gluts of summer are over, and now chef owner Will Devlin and his team are busy preserving, pickling and laying down stores for the winter months.
The 26-cover AA rosette awarded restaurant has been named one of the best in Kent at the Taste of Kent Awards and is set in one acre of land, permitting a unique connection between farm and table. Growing, foraging and cooking the best ingredients is at the core of The Small Holding, with daily changing menus, using home-reared and home-grown ingredients from the farm, which is less than 10ft from the kitchen.
“We are now preparing for squash and gourds in all shapes and sizes to harvest, new season onions and shallots and wild mushrooms in the woods,” says Will. “And of course, the brambles all along the lanes in Kilndown near the restaurant are teeming with ripe and plump little blackberries. The berry that launched numerous crumbles, pies and puddings can also be used in a savoury context. These recipes aren’t quite wintry and they don’t demand hours of prep, but we do start to see our menus at the restaurant move towards the cosy and comforting around about now.”
Autumn is the start of the British game season but Will says people are often put off it if they have had tough and overly strong meat. “We need to forget that. Game birds such as pheasant, grouse, partridge and mallard live off the land in the countryside, all eating naturally, meaning they are more ethical and have superior flavour. For this recipe I’ve partnered the tender and mildly gamey pheasant with fruity wild blackberries, which the hedgerows near The Small Holding are teeming with. I hope you enjoy it!”
Roast pheasant and blackberry sauce
Prepare 10 minutes plus resting
Cook 20 minutes
- 1whole, oven ready pheasant
- Few sprigs of thyme
- Splash of rapeseed or olive oil
- 50g unsalted butter
- 180g of blackberries, preferably wild
- 100ml ruby port or fruity red wine
- 2 tablespoons blackberry jelly or jam
- 100ml fresh chicken stock
- Pre-heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Remove the pheasant from the fridge at least 30 minutes before you plan to cook, rub all over with the oil and season well inside and out with salt and pepper.
- Heat a heavy bottomed pan suitable for the oven and brown the pheasant all over, turning often, concentrating on the legs, so not to dry out the breast.
- Put the butter and thyme inside the bird and roast in the oven for 16-18 minutes until just cooked through. Baste with the melted butter in the pan and remove to a shallow bowl to rest, breast side down, covered loosely with foil.
- While the pheasant is resting, return the same pan to the heat and deglaze with the port and stock. Add the blackberry jelly and simmer over a high heat until syrupy. Stir in the wild blackberries to warm through.
- Slice the whole breasts and legs from the pheasant and serve with mashed celeriac, blackberry sauce and wilted greens.
Squash salad with Kentish Blue, walnuts and sage
Serves 4 as a starter or 2 for a light main course. Delicious served with honey roast ham.
- Half a squash or pumpkin, peeled and diced, approximately 500g (save the seeds to roast)
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 orange, zest and juice
- 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive or rapeseed oil
- 100g of Kentish Blue
- Handful of large sage leaves
- 50g toasted walnuts
- Mix the squash pieces together with a little olive oil, fennel seeds and the orange zest and arrange in a flat layer on a baking tray. Season well and roast at 160C for 30-40 minutes until the squash has just softened and is slightly catching on the edges.
- Whilst the squash is cooking, make a quick vinaigrette, whisking together the extra virgin olive oil and juice from the orange with a little crunchy salt.
- Shallow fry the sage leaves and drain on kitchen paper. Toast the walnuts and roughly chop.
- When the squash is cooked, remove and arrange on a serving platter and dress with the orange vinaigrette. Crumble over the blue cheese, walnuts and sage leaves and serve immediately.
This is a lovely chutney we serve in the autumn at The Small Holding with local Kent and Sussex cheeses such as Burwash Rose and Kentish Blue.
Makes 4 large jars
Prepare 30 minutes
Cook 2 hours
- 6 large quince
- 500g sugar
- 500ml white wine vinegar
- Juice and zest of 2 lemons
- Juice and zest of 2 oranges
- Half a teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- Put all the ingredients, except the quince, in a pan and simmer to reduce by two thirds.
- Peel, core and chop the quince into bite size pieces and add to the vinegar pan and cook until soft.
- While still hot, spoon into sterilised Kilner or jam jars with lids and store. The chutney will mature as it ages so try to leave for a few months and eat within a year.
The ubiquitous butternut squash, grown worldwide and exported, means we’ve grown used to squash as a year-round staple, but autumn is when British squash is at its best. Seek out farm shops, such as Eggs to Apples and Cherry Garden Organic Farm, who grow and sell different varieties.
Right now, there are the little cricket ball sized acorn squash (bake like potatoes and pour in melted butter and fried sage leaves), the mottled green kabocha and the beautiful silver-blue skinned Crown Prince which has a firm texture and a fantastic nutty flavour. All squashes partner beautifully with other earthy flavours such as sage, nutmeg and blue cheese.
My favourite is Kentish Blue from Kingcott Dairy, which will work well with some crunch from walnuts or pine nuts. We’re lucky to have a couple of walnut trees in Kilndown, but you could use Kentish cobnuts or hazelnuts instead.
A NATURAL APPROACH
Autumn is a prime time to go foraging for wild food. Will Devlin, chef owner of The Small Holding in Kilndown, takes small groups out on its Farm and Forage experiences to explore the woods and hedgerows near the restaurant.
The day starts with coffee and homemade pastries before pulling on wellies for a walk around the farm to learn more about the 200 varieties of fruit and vegetables being grown on site for the restaurant. After feeding the pigs and chickens, guests venture down the lane to the woods and fields to go foraging with Will to find what’s in season including blackberries, crab apples, sloes, damsons, mushrooms and cobnuts and maybe even a truffle or two, if you’re lucky.
Returning to The Small Holding, the guests will be greeted with a glass of award-winning Squerryes’ English sparkling wine before being seated for a five-course Half Acre tasting menu.
The Farm and Forage days are available on Wednesdays and Thursdays throughout the year priced £145 per person, including a five-course lunch and arrival drink and a goody bag with seasonal treats to take home. Bookings can be made direct via www.thesmallholding.restaurant or by calling the restaurant on 01892 890 105.
Guidelines for responsible foraging from The Woodland Trust
From the landowner and avoid sites which are important for conservation, or are habitats for rare or vulnerable species, or where there are problems with over-picking. These sites can be identified through signage on site, but please always check before setting out.
Know what you’re picking
Never consume a wild plant or fungus unless you are absolutely certain of its identification. It could be rare and protected, inedible or even deadly poisonous. Use reference books to identify. Fungi can be notoriously difficult to identify, so if you’re unsure it’s best to leave alone.
Only collect from plentiful populations Pick flowers, leaves, fruits and seeds where they are in abundance. For fungi, only take mushrooms that have opened their caps (so are likely to have dropped their spores). Do not collect small ‘button’ mushrooms.
Leave plenty behind for other foragers and for wildlife
Wild food is vital for the survival of the UK’s wildlife and it is important to forage sustainably to ensure there is enough left for birds and others, and to allow the plant or fungus itself to produce seeds and spores that grow into the next generation.
Beware poisonous species
Make sure you know what you are collecting before setting out.
Do not collect rare species
Only take plants and fungi where you are certain you know what they are. Take a good field guide to confirm species in the field and avoid confusion. Some species are protected by law, so know what not to collect. Ancient woodlands in particular can contain many rare species so take special care.
Minimise the damage to the nearby habitat and species
Do not just collect everything you see and sort it out later, and take care not to trample down areas you are collecting from.
Take no more than those you plan to eat Uprooting plants is harmful so pick leaves or berries with care and moderation and avoid damaging the plant’s roots.
For further information from The Woodland Trust visit www.woodlandtrust.org.uk