Although the sun shined
long and hot, the autumn
whispered with an acorn drop.
Occasionally, a September day in England ignores the compression of the seasons. The sun no longer has the heavy beat of the summer and instead it gently warms. It is a tranquil, if a little bit solemn time of transition into cooler months. Wordsworth spoke of the departing summer assuming ‘the gentlest look of spring’, Hopkins of ‘silk-sack clouds’ and Dickinson a little more gloomily of its ‘dissembling breeze’. If I didn’t live in a city this time of year would mean counting the jam jars filled from the hedgerow, instead I notice the shortening days by the sunlight on the tops of trees and change the thickness of my socks, but before the leaves turn, there is time to enjoy the final embers of summer.
A few sunny days appeared from the grey and so did a hastily planned trip down to Sussex and Hiders Farm. Habited by my good friend Josh (whose surname Cobb’s etymological roots ‘a man of particularly impressive features’, provides an ideal description of his height, hair and beard), the house is a beautifully aged amalgamation of texture and colour. White panelling, rust-red shingles and assorted bricks. It is framed by three mature oak trees whose airy cages catch and frame the light on the lawn. We had the weather, we had a little time, now we just needed some food.
An omelette made with fresh eggs from ‘Ben Stokes’ (the chicken not the cricketer) and parsley, tarragon and chives welcomed us the day. Sourdough donuts were already in production and a newly-constructed ‘wabi-sabi’ outdoor oven, yet to be used, would be inaugurated with our own wood-fired pizza. The doughnuts, made with sourdough starter, eggs, butter and flour, are fried in oil and then rolled healthily in a cinnamon sugar mix. They're truly delicious. The making wasn't quite as smooth as we wanted. The plan was to walk down the chalk path to the beach, leaving the dough to rise and rest, but the chickens were playing hardball and produced one less egg than we needed for the recipe. In need of doughnuts, but also sea, we decided to take the eggless dough with us to the beach, picking up the required egg on the way and adding it into the mix whilst driving through the Sussex countryside. In that strange moment, backseat baking was born. Returned with salty hair, we baked and ate the doughnuts by the vegetable plot, with some strong coffee. Full, but always in need of more dough, we pursued the pizza.
Our pizza would have a distinctive British feel. Firstly, we couldn’t resist the nominative determinism of buying ‘Wessex Cobber Flour’, secondly, we would be using local Sussex mature chedd, thirdly, tomatoes picked from the greenhouse would make the sauce and finally, the main event was the leftover barbecued shoulder of Welsh lamb from the night before. The pizza was more Anglo-Saxon than Neapolitan; but the nuttiness of the dough, the tangy chedd, sweet toms, tender lamb, all topped with some slowly caramelised onions was emphatically delicious and delicately balanced between decadent and acceptable.
Night arrived, quicker than expected, reminding us of the season and a cool breeze suggested Autumn’s arrival, but the sun had extended the summer in September.
Ted Hughes, September
We sit late, watching the dark slowly unfold:
No clock counts this.
When kisses are repeated and the arms hold
There is no telling where time is.
It is midsummer: the leaves hang big and still:
Behind the eye a star,
Under the silk of the wrist a sea, tell
Time is nowhere.
We stand; leaves have not timed the summer.
No clock now needs
Tell we have only what we remember:
Minutes uproaring with our heads
Like an unfortunate King's and his Queen's
When the senseless mob rules;
And quietly the trees casting their crowns
Into the pools.
Recipe for ‘Backseat’ Sourdough Doughnuts:
300 g flour 30 g sugar 5 g sea salt 30 g lukewarm milk (2 tbs) 100 g sourdough starter 125 g egg (3 small or 2 big eggs) 50 g room temperature butter Frying Oil/Vegetable oil Sugar Ground cinnamon 1) Mix flour, sugar and salt in a big bowl, then make a well in the centre. Pour milk and sourdough into said well and crack the eggs in (preferably in the backseat of a car). Work the ingredients together a little at the time, until you have a relatively smooth dough. Let rest in room temperature for 30 mins covered by a damp cloth or plastic wrap. After 30 mins, quickly knead the dough. Add the butter with your hands and knead until everything is mixed. Put the dough back in the bowl and cover. Let rest for 2-3 hours. Split the dough into 20 pieces, shape them round and place on an oiled tray w baking paper. Leave it to rise for 2-5 hours, preferably in a turned off oven. Place a tray with boiling water at the bottom of the oven. The humidity will prevent the donuts surface from drying which makes it harder to rise. Prep a mix of sugar and ground cinnamon on a plate or tray. Heat the oil in a deep cast iron pan on the stove until the temperature reaches maximum 180 degrees. Make sure to always keep an eye on the stove so that the oil doesn’t turn too warm. Fry a few donuts at the time, each side approximately 1-2 minutes. Roll the freshly fried donuts in the sugar mix.
Eat while still warm! Tip! The donuts will stay fresh for one day, after that they tend to get a bit dry. If you intend to keep them for longer it works perfectly fine to freeze, take out and reheat in the oven on a low temperature before serving.
Words by EP
Photos by MZH